As COVID restrictions ease and international borders open up, how can you attract international guests? We speak to the owners of Moulin Royale and The Country House at Hunchy Montville to find out how to attract guests from overseas.
All across the UK, hospitality businesses are making a comeback. Repeated forced closures took their toll on the hospitality industry but now everyone wants to book a holiday and make the most of being able to travel again.
The pandemic caused a huge rise in the number of ‘staycations’ as travel to foreign countries was limited.
However, now that international travel is opening back up, how can you as a business benefit from this?
International travel plays a huge part in UK tourism so maybe it’s time that you start thinking about how you can attract international guests to stay with you.
We caught up with two properties who have a wealth of experience attracting guests from foreign countries to find out how you can do the same.
Wade Thompson, originally from Sydney, Australia, is the owner of Moulin Royale, a luxury 5 star B&B in the heart of the Oise Region of France. Moulin Royale attracts guests from all over Europe as well as Australia and America.
Moulin Royale’s claim to fame is back in the 1600’s when it was acquired by Empress Eugenie de Montijo, the wife of Napoleon the Third. It then became the private mill for textiles colouring for the clothing for the royal families.
Paul and Karin Orwin, originally from Yorkshire, now run The Country House at Hunchy Montville, a 5 star luxury accommodation provider in Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. They attract guests from Asia, New Zealand and a number of different countries in Europe.
Where do the majority of your international guests come from?
50% of our guests are French and about 20% are Dutch, from the Netherlands.
Then the rest of our international guests would be equally split between Belgium and Germany, then the UK.
And lastly in the smaller percentages would be guests from the USA and Australia, believe it or not.
We’ve even had a few people that have come here on their own for a bit of space and a couple of days of contemplation.
I think we’re very lucky that being in the countryside, we can provide for these groups here.
Pre-COVID, 40% of our guests were from Queensland, and another 40% from other Australian states and territories.
The remaining 20% were international travellers.
Of our international guests, 50% were from New Zealand, 30% from the UK, USA and Germany, and 20% from Asian countries, predominantly Japanese and Chinese guests visiting their children who are studying at the university in Brisbane.
But post-COVID we’ve had zero overseas travellers.
How does Moulin Royale advertise to international guests?
Well, that’s been a very long journey for us.
One of the main problems we faced were the major booking engines.
So even though we had our own website, we were battling with booking engines because no one felt comfortable giving their money to my web presence, versus the trust in a company like Booking.com or Expedia.
So we upgraded from a free website that we built ourselves to using WordPress and a small local agency.
And because we needed to be able to control our own destiny, we decided to join a web agency and marketing specialist which made us look state of the art professional and like an international hotel.
It also had strong SEO capabilities, allowing us to drive marketing and advertising.
So we invested in the website and set up the SEO and now I’m able to track and record where people are viewing me from because it tracks the IP address and location.
It enables me to put brackets around postcodes so that I can target my advertising to specific areas.
We’re also going to the Belgium Travel and Tourism Expo next year.
So we invested in a stand there and we’re offering a special rate to book with us on the day and pay for a non-refundable stay which will help to cover the cost of showing there.
How does The Country House at Hunchy Montville advertise to international guests?
We took advantage of workshops and training courses available to us as members of our local tourism organisations and they’ve been invaluable for understanding how to attract domestic and international guests.
They cover all aspects of running a small tourism business, from marketing, especially using social media, to creating an attractive website.
Pre-COVID we were also regularly involved with marketing campaigns run by our regional state and Australian tourism bodies to overseas markets.
But we supplement this with our own targeted social media posts and sometimes paid ads.
What do you do on the Moulin Royale website in particular, to attract international guests?
We paid money for the language translations to be specific.
For example, Germany is split into different regions with their own differences in language.
So rather than using Google Translate, we paid to have it properly translated.
As most owners know, you can be the worst B&B or the world’s most luxurious, but you’ll always have someone making comments and complaints and they’ll likely tell us something on the website isn’t worded correctly.
So we paid for a manual translation rather than using an app.
We can also see what language people viewed the website in and 99% view it in the original language, because it automatically sets the website to a language based on the IP address.
Outside of the languages we already have, it will automatically default to English, unless your IP address is in a location where we already have that translation set up.
The next one we’re working on will be Spanish.
How do you deal with language barriers when guests arrive?
The secret is to find out as much about language issues as you can before their arrival.
It’s easier to translate the written word, so we try to provide as much information as possible before arrival if we think there might be a language issue.
But if you need it, have Google Translate at the ready!
We’ve never faced that problem.
In all the years we’ve done this, we’ve probably had less than five people who did not speak English and we used Google Translate when needed.
Even if you learn a few key cultural points and a few words of the guest’s home language, you’ll benefit.
But don’t overdo it.
How do international guests tend to book a stay at The Country House in Hunchy Montville?
In our marketing we do try to focus on the benefits guests receive when they book directly, like lower prices and flexible check-in and check-out times.
But we do use OTAs and we just restrict how many we are available at any one time depending on how well they are working for us.
We monitor how they are marketing us and how easy they make it for guests to book.
We are realistic in acknowledging that OTAs have billion-dollar marketing budgets and will always have a place in how travellers, especially those from overseas, find our business.
It’s a relationship that needs constant tuning. It’s not a set and forget process.
What would Moulin Royale deem as ‘must haves’ for businesses who want to attract international guests?
It’s important to try and understand their culture.
Europeans for example are highly health conscious.
When you go to the UK it’s all about the big English Breakfast, but that’s a bit of a turn off for Europeans. They are more about continental delis, breads, cheeses and meats. Not fried bacon and black pudding.
They lead a much healthier lifestyle than British people.
I’d say bikes are a must have, too.
We have a bike rental service on site and picnic hampers that attach to the bikes or can be loaded as a backpack.
It’s also an extra sale opportunity for us.
And don’t forget plugins for hybrid cars because the majority will need a power outlet to charge their vehicles now.
What would The Country House at Hunchy Montville deem as ‘must haves’ for attracting international guests?
In the current post-pandemic environment, it’s important to explain in short, simple terms how safe it is to stay here and how seriously we take guest health and wellbeing.
It also helps being members of local and state tourism entities, and having a presence on their websites.
We’re also on the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse which is a database used by travel agents and tour businesses globally, so get your business on one of them.
I’d also say following up on enquiries and queries straight away.
Instant chat links on websites and social media pages with automated responses (including short bits of information and links) means you have 24/7 coverage for queries from different time zones overseas.
What are your top tips for businesses who want to attract more international guests?
Facebook is a very cheap alternative to advertising and it allows you to track your performance on booking if you’ve got calls to action.
But it’s not just about bookings, it’s also about getting people to like your page.
The more people that like your page, the easier it is to spread your message and it’s free.
So while a lot of people are investing in calls to action like ‘Book Now’, we’ve found it better to get people to like the page and provide content that appeals to them.
So we market reasons why they should come here and because you’ve got likes on your page, you can see the demographic and where they are actually located.
Then, when you have the money, you can specifically target your highest like area.
But don’t be afraid of investing.
Talk to your regional and national tourism bodies to see where they are focusing their marketing and assess whether that activity is likely to include your ideal overseas customer.
Talk to them about having a presence on their website and in their marketing material.
You should also try to find out what your ideal overseas guest looks for with regards to accreditation when planning their travel arrangements and get that accreditation.
You’d be surprised what tourism research material is out there and available for free.
You should also plan how you can persuade people to book direct.
You should be constantly managing and fine-tuning your presence and availability on OTA websites.
Make them work for you, not the other way around.
You could also focus on overseas people who live locally. For example, are there a lot of international students studying at a nearby university?
Do their parents come to visit them and need somewhere to stay?
Could you pay to have an advert put in the university newsletter or on a well used noticeboard?
You could also target people travelling for business.
6 Things to take away
- Invest in your website and your marketing
- Make the most of analytics and the tracking capabilities of your digital platforms
- Invest in manual, accurate translations on your website that automatically change depending on the IP address of the viewer
- Regularly assess your listings on OTA websites
- Liaise with regional and national tourism bodies
- Get your business on a database that is accessed by international travel agents and tour businesses
Tips for marketing to international guests:
Consider creating a version of your site in a second language.
Google does a pretty good job of translating but translating your site manually has distinct advantages:
- More control over the use of language
- Google will rank your site on its search engine in the country of that language
- Shows a real commitment to guests from that country
As a quick alternative to translating your whole site, consider adding different languages for key information and functions: Contact, location and booking.
Look at using Google Adwords to target guests from another country. It is possible to target countries, regions and towns. Advert text can be written in the target language and direct people to the correct section of the website.
Translating “How to find us” is one thing, but you also need to ensure your booking engine can handle different currencies and credit cards from different countries.
Try experimenting with your social media by posting content to engage the target country. Any major landmarks nearby that international guests will love? Or a local delicacy?
Online Travel Agents (OTAs):
You might need to increase your usage of OTAs initially in order to break into a new market.
Which OTAs are popular in the countries you want to attract guests from? Try to list your property with them.
Think of how you can serve the international guests.
A campervan rental company Dominic Johnson (LBNB’s publisher) knew of, learnt that Australians wanted to rent campervans in winter when visiting family in the UK; They would book out the vans for a month!
And as Wade Thompson from Moulin Royale said, Europeans are really into cycling, so maybe invest in some bikes for guests to hire?
What else could you do? Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.