Elevating Luxury Hotel Marketing: Olivier’s Exceptional Digital Approach for Eden Reserve Hotel and Villas

Written By Ulrich Franke

Sep 7, 2023

Exclusive interview by Ulrich Franke, Managing Director of Acronym Europe  with Olivier Gerber, General Manager of Eden Reserve Hotel and Villas and the marketing mastermind behind the digital marketing success of Eden Reserve Hotel and Villas.

Olivier Gerber, an International Hotel Manager with extensive experience in managing boutique hotels in the luxury segment, has worked in Switzerland and abroad. He has a proven track record of opening and repositioning operations, implementing growth strategies, and introducing corporate cultures based on the highest customer service standards. Olivier is known for his competence both professionally and personally in all areas of management in the hospitality industry.

Eden Reserve is a luxury retreat offering a boutique hotel, private villas and exclusive holiday apartments. A collection of stunning architectural masterpieces set in the rich green landscape of Gardone Riviera, overlooking Lake Garda.

Dive into the fascinating journey of Eden Reserve Hotel and Villas’ digital marketing transformation, as Olivier reveals his expertise on search optimization, strategic partnerships, and capitalizing on unique architectural allure to captivate luxury-seeking guests.

Ulrich: Hello, Olivier. Allow me to introduce you briefly. You’re Olivier Gerber from Eden Reserve Hotel and Villas at Lake Garda in Italy. We’ve collaborated for several years across different hotels and countries. You started at Eden Reserve in Italy in 2020 and the hotel and resort is relatively new, having been built seven years ago. What challenges did you face when implementing your digital marketing strategy?

Olivier: The main issue was the outdated website. It was difficult to accurately portray the resort due to its various components such as boutique hotel, apartments, villas, and the overall concept. When I first came here for the job interview, what I saw on the website was entirely different from what I saw in person. The website had been reworked, but it wasn’t up to date or contemporary. Limited content was another issue. Part of my job was to improve the marketing aspect, and the website was a significant factor.

That’s when we got in touch, and I never imagined it would take a couple of years. The process involved photography and rebranding, but it was an important journey. It took time to understand the property, its uniqueness, and its market perception.

Villa David Chipperfield Ovest - of Eden Reserve Hotel and Villas
A unique villa designed by the famous architect David Chipperfield
Image credit: Eden Reserve Hotel and Villas

Ulrich: I experienced the same thing – the old website didn’t match the on-site experience. The new website, which is still in progress, provides more insights and a better sense of what to expect.

Olivier: Absolutely. We added a destination guide and created content tailored to this area, which was an important part of our new digital marketing direction. The results show that we’ve been moving in the right direction.

Ulrich: The numbers since launching the new website last year are impressive – a 400% increase in search engine visibility and a 300% increase in direct clicks. What tactics do you think contributed the most to these results?

Olivier: Ulrich, your expertise in SEO, SEM, and website development significantly contributed to our success. The rebranding process was beneficial, and the design firm did an outstanding job with the UI and branding. I believe our collaboration was perfect, as your experience with large hotel chains and smaller boutique properties played a crucial role. You undertook the project, delved into keywords and content strategy, and revamped the website structure. All of this was accomplished despite the challenges we encountered with multiple languages on our website.

Ulrich: Thank you. And have you noticed a change in your clientele since updating your marketing messages and implementing new tactics? Are you attracting the right people now?

Olivier: The age of our target group has remained more or less the same, but we’ve managed to attract clients with higher spending power through our targeting and pricing strategy. We’ve also broadened our market focus beyond just the German-speaking market, making our website more international and cosmopolitan. This change is reflected in the clientele we now reach. Sales activities also contributed to our current success, as combining all these different elements was crucial.

Ulrich: Thank you for the insights. It seems like the holistic digital marketing approach we helped you implement has successfully attracted the right audience and improved your target market reach.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but when you started, wasn’t there a certain dependency on OTAs (Online Travel Agencies)?

Olivier: Actually, we did work with OTAs, but we weren’t on the Global Distribution System (GDS), and we didn’t have a booking engine. Most bookings were coming directly. Now, with GDS connections and partnerships with popular vacation rental platforms and online travel agencies, the OTA booking share may have increased. However, it was necessary because focusing solely on direct bookings wouldn’t have been sustainable.

Ulrich: So now, with a mix between OTAs and direct bookings, how are the bookings divided? Would you say it’s 50-50, or is there a different ratio?

Olivier: I’d say it’s about 60-40. Sixty percent is still direct, while the remaining 40% includes a mix of travel agencies and OTAs. Our partnerships with luxury travel networks and customized travel service providers have contributed to this distribution as well.

Ulrich: It sounds like a healthy mix.

Olivier: Absolutely, it makes sense now, especially during the off-season and midweek days when relying solely on direct bookings was challenging. To increase visibility in different markets, we’ve expanded into the UK market and collaborated with tour operators to generate bookings during the shoulder season. This expansion was made possible by diversifying our channels. I believe we have a healthy mix now.

Ulrich: That’s quite fascinating.

So, it seems to be the opposite of what we typically observe, where there’s a significant dependency on online travel agencies, leading to a decrease in direct bookings. However, your overall performance has improved significantly as you’ve managed to increase the total booking rate.

Based on your experience, would you say that five-star-plus hotels utilize different distribution channels compared to traditional mid-range hotels or vacation company?

Olivier: Certainly, partnerships with networks consisting of high-end travel agencies are crucial for reaching distant markets such as the US, Australia, and South America, which would be challenging to access through direct sales activities alone. While similar networks exist for four-star hotels and other segments, the luxury market has a more pronounced presence due to the way these partnerships are organized within the industry.

In terms of commission, working with an agency might cost around 10%, which is less than what you’d pay an OTA. However, it’s essential to include agency partnerships in the business mix, particularly in the luxury segment, where it’s easier to achieve success.

My prior experience at a city-centre hotel, where you and I collaborated as well, differed due to its location, which attracted a diverse range of visitors. In contrast, for a resort property like ours, gaining critical visibility and a sufficient number of inquiries relies heavily on diversifying channels and forming strategic partnerships.

Ulrich: Given this context, what advice would you offer to other hotel brands regarding the use of digital marketing opportunities?

Olivier: Based on my experience, including my time with well-known hotel chains and smaller properties, I believe the key to a hotel’s success lies in several factors. Firstly, search optimization is crucial, which involves image and content optimization, along with the website setup focusing on responsiveness.

In today’s digital landscape, mobile responsiveness is also essential. While it’s necessary to have a mix of activities, I recommend prioritizing the digital aspects. Of course, the budget plays a significant role in determining the extent to which direct sales and other marketing efforts can be pursued.

We had a reasonable budget for both digital and direct sales, which helped us focus on different aspects of our distribution strategy. Overall, I suggest concentrating on the digital side and gradually building up other elements as your budget allows.

Ulrich: That’s quite interesting. Since you mentioned the importance of content, let me ask you about the destination guide we’ve been helping you create for several years now. How does this guide, in combination with your regular newsletters, help engage your existing guests? Have you seen a higher return rate or increased engagement with your location?

Olivier: While I believe that engagement heavily depends on the experience, service, and product offered, the destination guide and content certainly played a role in attracting new clients and even drawing them away from competitors. The more visible we are in the market with relevant content, the more reasons people have to visit Lake Garda – be it for food and wine, sightseeing, or sports and activities.

This visibility has indeed helped us. In the past year, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of people who visited us because they stayed at other properties, read about us, and saw our website. Once they visit, they’re more likely to choose our property for their next stay.

I believe the exponential increase in visitors is directly linked to our improved visibility in the digital marketplace.

Ulrich: That`s brilliant. Since you mentioned people visiting and perhaps enjoying a nice dinner at your restaurant, the architecture with designs from renowned architects like David Chipperfield, Matteo Thun, and others, how does this aspect reflect in your marketing and the feedback you receive from your audience?

Olivier: When visitors see our property firsthand, they’re often amazed by the villas, the architecture, and the designers behind it. This unique aspect of architecture has been and will continue to be a significant factor in increasing our visibility, as it serves as a unique selling point.

With the recent addition of a landing page focused on architecture, we’ve been able to tap into a new market segment. For instance, since David Chipperfield received the Pritzker Award, we’ve had two bookings specifically for the Chipperfield Villas. There’s certainly a market of travellers interested in design and architecture who would visit properties like ours just for that reason.

Our architectural distinction sets us apart from other properties in the area and even within Italy. It’s rare to find a project where different architects have collaborated like this, and we plan to emphasize this aspect in our marketing efforts in the coming months.

Olivier Gerber & Ulrich Franke, at the Eden Reserve Hotel and Villas

Ulrich: I assume many photos are taken and shared on your guests’ social media channels, which serves as an effective marketing tactic as well.

Olivier: Definitely. In the past, we were more secretive about showing off our villas to every guest, but now we selectively showcase them. By doing so, people talk to others about the stunning architecture and views, as well as how the design is integrated into the local context. This aspect is quite unique in a traditional setting where contemporary architecture isn’t as prevalent or dense as it is here.

This approach has become a significant selling point and will help us reach new target markets by leveraging the power of word-of-mouth and social media sharing.

Ulrich: Olivier, thank you very much for the insightful conversation. Is there anything else you’d like to add from your perspective?

Olivier: Yes, looking back, I believe what was crucial in our success was our ability to combine various elements, such as content, website structure, and different disciplines, in collaboration with your company. This approach was essential in overcoming challenges we faced during the rebranding process. The combination of digital aspects, responsiveness, and content was fundamental and played a key role in our achievements.

Ulrich: Thank you, Olivier. Your input is invaluable for our work, and we appreciate the time you’ve taken to speak with us.

Olivier: Absolutely, that sounds great. I look forward to speaking with you again soon.

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