A Masterclass in Luxury Hotel Marketing: Insights from Schloss Elmau´s Marketing Director

Written By Ulrich Franke

Jan 30, 2024

In this interview, we delve into the evolving world of hotel marketing with Naomi Jödicke, Marketing Director of Schloss Elmau, Germany’s most spectacular resort.

Nestled in the breathtaking Alps, Schloss Elmau is not just a resort but a distinguished hideaway and retreat, renowned for hosting the G7 SUMMIT twice, in 2015 and 2022. It stands apart as the only hotel in the world to offer a full season of concerts and festivals featuring the greatest artists of our time in the legendary concert hall. Naomi Jödicke brings a unique perspective to the table, enriched by a background in journalism and a forward-thinking approach to marketing.

In this interview done by Ulrich Franke, Managing Director of Acronym Europe, you can learn about:

1. The evolution of hotel marketing strategies beyond traditional methods.

2. The role of storytelling and emotional connections in attracting diverse clientele.

3. The surprising effectiveness of newsletters in driving hotel bookings.

4. Emerging trends in hotel marketing, including the use of AI.

5. The importance of creating a unique guest experience and building brand identity.

Schloss Elmau – Luxury Retreat & Cultural Hideaway (Photo: Website Schloss Elmau)

Ulrich: I came across your website and was intrigued to discover that your offering not only embraces classical music but also incorporates jazz, yoga, wellness, and spa offerings—a comprehensive package that could serve as a unique selling point for hotels. I’m really curious about the strategy behind this mix. Are you targeting specific groups, or do they overlap in terms of the personas you aim to attract?

Naomi: Our approach isn’t just a stroke of luck; it’s built on over a century of cultural engagement. Initially rooted in philosophical and political discussions, it evolved to include chamber music in the 1960s. In 2023, we hosted over 220 concerts and readings. We have recently reintroduced dance, especially Latin dance and standard dances such as the waltz, with week-long dance retreats. Our unique selling point relies on our capacity to support such initiatives. We often say our hotel finances our cultural pursuits. Through our “Play To Stay” program, artists perform here in exchange for a vacation, benefiting both parties.

Schloss Elmau – Famous Concert Hall (Photo: Website Schloss Elmau)

Ulrich: Engaging artists seems more meaningful than just relying on influencers.

Naomi: While we do have a critical view of influencers, it’s shaped partly by my background in traditional journalism. Influencers are great for highlighting our spa and culinary experiences, and we’ve seen effective results there. Our guests are indeed active on social media platforms like Instagram, but our marketing isn’t solely influencer-focused.

Our target group is diverse. It’s not just about income levels; we see a range of guests, from those who save diligently for months or even years to afford a stay, treating it as a dream vacation, to various demographics, including couples, singles, families, and multi-generational groups. We also attract those drawn to wellness and spa facilities, as well as outdoor sports enthusiasts.  It’s a challenge to categorize them into a single group.

Ulrich: The diversity of your guests is commendable. Your concept seems to have evolved beautifully from the traditions and history of your hotel, which is quite remarkable. Moving on, could you share the role of content marketing in your strategy and the channels that contribute most to your bookings?

Naomi: Content marketing is indeed vital for us. It’s all about storytelling. We have a plethora of stories to tell, and our approach is deeply emotional and creative. Our team, myself included, comes from a background that blends journalism and design, with a strong emphasis on visual communication. This creative mix is a bit different from the more number-driven strategies you might see in other marketing departments. We don’t just focus on the figures and metrics; our primary aim is to stir emotions and craft compelling narratives. That’s the core of how we connect with our customers and drive our bookings.

Ulrich: Focusing on channels, do you primarily utilize social media for your marketing?

Naomi: Our biggest customer driver is our newsletter. It might come as a surprise, but we send them out weekly. Yet, our guests seem to really appreciate this regularity. The numbers speak for themselves – we have an impressive open rate of over 70%, which is quite remarkable for newsletters. And we’re seeing more people subscribing than unsubscribing.

So, in a nutshell, our newsletter is our top marketing tool. We also have a traditional magazine, but we’re adapting to changing preferences, like the decreasing popularity of print due to environmental concerns. That’s why, while our newsletters continue to be a cornerstone of our strategy, we’re also enhancing our digital footprint, notably through social media campaigns and online advertising. It’s the latest evolution in our approach to reaching our customers.

Ulrich: It’s impressive how your newsletter drives customer loyalty. Do you find that it significantly impacts bookings?

Naomi: Yes, the newsletter has a surprisingly positive effect on our bookings.

Ulrich: In the broader scope of hotel marketing, are there any trends you’ve identified?

The trend that stands out the most is the focus on wellness and well-being. While we don’t have a medical team like some hotels do, we offer a wide variety of well-being services. Our approach is holistic, encompassing yoga, meditation, tai chi, qigong, and other practices rooted in far eastern traditions. Focusing on these holistic health services is a pivotal part of our vision for the future.

Schloss Elmau Retreat: A place where far eastern healing & wellness meet (Photo: Website Schloss Elmau)

Ulrich: It sounds like you’ve been ahead of the curve in adopting wellness and well-being trends. Are there any emerging trends, like advancements in AI, that you find a bit daunting or perplexing?

Naomi: Actually, no. One of our strengths as a company is our adaptability; we’re always evolving and transforming, looking for new ways to enhance what we offer. This mindset keeps us open to all sorts of trends, including AI. We’ve begun experimenting with AI in our marketing efforts, like creating AI-generated food images. While these haven’t quite hit the mark aesthetically yet, the process is incredibly intriguing. Being open to such innovations is crucial, I believe. If you’re not willing to explore and adapt, you risk falling behind.

Ulrich: Talking about Online Travel Agencies or so called OTAs, they tend to be a bit of a sore point, don’t they? They often cut into profit margins, and I imagine in your case, they might play a lesser role since it seems most of your bookings are made directly.

Naomi: Indeed, we do engage with OTAs. Yet, we’ve noticed that these platforms don’t necessarily cater to our primary target audience. We’ve been quite successful in attracting direct bookers, which certainly puts us in a favorable position.

Ulrich: That leads me to a key question: How can hotels boost their direct booking rates to enhance their business?

Naomi: My advice would be to zero in on one key area – it could be social media, online marketing, or email marketing. It’s all about evolving with the times. The Schloss Elmau of today is not the same as it was yesterday. We’re in a constant state of adaptation, continually updating our image to match our development.

It’s crucial to develop a clear strategy, identify your target audience, and really commit to that strategy for a prolonged period. Let’s say you decide to focus on social media: it’s important to go all in. Bring in experts who know the ins and outs of that field. I’ve noticed that there’s often a tendency in the hotel industry to try to cut costs in marketing, but it pays to invest in specialized expertise, especially in areas like social media. Commit to your chosen strategy, give it time to take root, and then evaluate its effectiveness.

Ulrich: So, it really boils down to the importance of perseverance and maintaining continuity in your strategies.

Naomi: Exactly. The digital world is always evolving, with new platforms and trends emerging constantly. Take TikTok, for instance. When it first came on the scene, we had to decide whether to jump on that bandwagon. It’s one thing to start using a new platform, but the key is to really commit to it for a few years, to build expertise and a solid presence.

Ulrich: In our work, we heavily rely on analytics to decipher where the bookings comes from. There’s a lot of debate and action centered around this, but I’ve noticed it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Many hotels don’t see a huge volume of bookings coming directly from social media; the traditional website still dominates as the primary source for bookings. There’s talk in the industry about SEO losing its edge to newer technologies like ChatGPT, yet it seems the website remains the go-to place for detailed information and bookings.

Naomi: That’s true, and it really varies. Reflecting on this, I’ve come to realize that our earlier assumptions might not have been entirely accurate. We’ve observed that some hotels, particularly those working closely with influencers, manage to drive as much as 80% of their bookings through social media channels. My initial skepticism about marketing higher-priced offerings on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest might have been misplaced. And it turns out that hotels, irrespective of their price range, can really thrive in this space.

Ulrich:  We’ve seen similar success stories with our clients in Switzerland, who are doing remarkably well on Pinterest. And then there are those who are just starting out but are already making waves with TikTok, leveraging its ability to provide instant visibility without needing a long history. As we wrap up, is there anything else you think is crucial to highlight, any aspect we haven’t touched upon yet?

Naomi: Just one more thought – it’s about positioning. I’ve noticed that many hotels, be it a 5-star luxury hotel, or even a 3-star establishment, often struggle with this. They lack a clear identity – a ‘face’. When guests choose a hotel, they’re not just picking a destination; they’re seeking a unique experience, something that resonates with the hotel’s essence. Too many hotels, I feel, rely on their location or facilities like a great spa or a Michelin-starred restaurant, but they miss out on presenting a comprehensive package that tells their story.

Ulrich: It’s the lasting impression that counts, isn`t it?

Naomi: Precisely. The key question is, what stays with the guest after they leave? What is the essence of the hotel experience we offer?

Ulrich: I completely understand. For instance, during a recent stay at one of our client’s hotels, Badrutt’s Palace Hotel St. Moritz, the overall experience was transformative. In just three days, I explored everything – the restaurants, wellness areas, and more. What stood out was not just the amenities or the spectacular views but the overall package – how everything made you feel. It was the attention to detail, the excellent service, those little things that don’t necessarily cost much but add immense value. That comprehensive approach to guest satisfaction is what truly sets a hotel apart, in my point of view.

Naomi: Exactly, it’s all about the core message. Take BMW, for example, their tagline about the joy of driving hits the mark. It promises a specific experience. That’s what we aim for with our hotel – the ‘Schloss Elmau Experience.’ It’s not just about staying with us; it’s about the memories we create, the unique experiences we offer. Our goal is to craft an unforgettable vacation that encourages guests to return, driven by the unique ‘Schloss Elmau’ experience we provide, tailored to each guest’s preferences and interests.

Ulrich: This conversation has been incredibly insightful. Thank you for sharing your perspectives and experiences. It’s clear that the ‘Schloss Elmau Experience’ is more than just a stay; it’s about creating lasting memories and a unique journey for each guest. I’m sure our readers will find this discussion as inspiring as I did.

Naomi: It was my pleasure to be part of this conversation. Thank you for having me and for the engaging dialogue.

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