Hotel copywriting generally falls into one of two categories. If you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself writing about one of those truly unique properties where the copy writes itself: the nineteenth century fort that guards the Solent; the Swedish ice hotel that’s rebuilt every year; or the hotel in Belgium that’s shaped like a giant anus (yes, really). Most of the time, however, you’ll be tasked with teasing out the unique selling points of a hotel that has relatively little to distinguish it from the competition.
Writing compelling hotel descriptions is a real skill, and there are all sorts of obstacles to overcome if you want to stand out. You need to craft readable and informative copy, but with a personal touch that transports the reader to that sun-dappled infinity pool.
I’ve written copy for hundreds of hotels over the years, from private island retreats in the Maldives to country manors in the Cotswolds. Here are a few of my top tips for writing better hotel copy, whether you’re the owner of a small boutique property, a marketer at a major international chain, or a copywriter putting together a brochure for a tour operator.
1. Find out what hotel guests are saying on TripAdvisor
Although many travel companies sell themselves on their expertise and their experience, there will inevitably be times when you find yourself writing about a hotel you’ve never stayed at yourself. In fact, for certain hotel copywriting jobs this will be the norm rather than the exception. In this situation, TripAdvisor is a goldmine of insight into what actual, real life guests think of the hotel in question.
The hotel’s own website may be full of gushing praise for the high tech gym facilities and personal trainers, but if everyone on TripAdvisor is talking about the ice cream parlour and the comfy sun loungers then you should tailor your copy accordingly. This kind of insight is equally useful to hoteliers, who can use TripAdvisor feedback to modify their website copy, or to modify the experience they are offering their guests.
2. Know your audience
Researching and identifying your audience is a key part of the copywriting process no matter what industry you’re writing for, but it still bears repeating. Hotels often seem to write their copy for an audience that bears no relation to their actual clientele, much as their glossy promo shots of beautiful young couples bear little resemblance to the guests hoovering up the buffet or slowly frying by the pool. This isn’t always a bad thing – many people buy into the idea of ‘aspirational’ marketing – but pitching to the wrong audience can be counter-productive, and can alienate potential customers.
3. Use your own words
Again, this should be obvious, but I’ve seen well known tour operators regurgitating a hotel’s own marketing copy verbatim on their websites. If you’re writing hotel copy for a tour operator or a travel agency, make sure you use your own words and present your own opinions about each hotel. As well as making you look lazy and unprofessional, copying and pasting won’t do you any favours when it comes to your Google search ranking.
4. Avoid clichés and empty words
This is one of the biggest pitfalls in travel writing, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Everyone has their own pet hates when it comes to travel writing clichés, whether it’s ‘crystal clear turquoise waters’, ‘a vibrant culture’ or that old favourite, ‘a city of contrasts’. Avoid empty words and phrases that tell the reader nothing (is there a city on earth that doesn’t contain contrasts?), and try instead to present the hotel’s unique selling points in an original way, without meandering into a cul-de-sac of overly dense prose. If in doubt, keep it short and simple; ‘show, don’t tell’, as the saying goes.
5. Write a style guide
If you’re writing for a brochure or a website featuring multiple hotels, a style guide can be useful to ensure consistency. This is particularly helpful if you’re working within an agency, or with several other copywriters across the same project. You wouldn’t believe some of the things writers will argue with each other about – do your hotel rooms have a ‘minibar’, or a ‘mini-bar’, or perhaps a ‘mini bar’? – and it will save everyone a lot of time if you have a definitive document to which you can refer. This can include things like when to use a hyphen in the aforementioned example, whether you say ‘Burma’ or ‘Myanmar’, or whether your clients’ complimentary glass of Champagne takes a capital ‘C’ or not. If you need inspiration then take a look at the online style guides for media organisations such as The Guardian or The Telegraph.
6. Paint a picture
Ok, so I know I’ve just said don’t use clichés, but it’s easy to get bogged with factual details and forget to paint a picture of what a stay at the hotel is actually like. Look for ways to transport your reader to their dream hotel – describe the spectacular sea views from their balcony, the crisp white uniforms of the hotel staff, or the plumage of the hummingbirds that flit amongst the trees. Just as with any other form of travel writing, remember to incorporate all five senses where you can: talk about the smell of the sea, the sound of the church bells echoing across the valley, or the feel of the Egyptian cotton sheets at the end of a busy day exploring.
7. Don’t be afraid to express an opinion
Gone are the days when hoteliers exerted full creative control over how their properties are described. Review sites like TripAdvisor have decisively transformed the online landscape, and modern consumers will often treat gushing, hyperbolic descriptions with cynicism. Honesty is a valued commodity, and though it may seem counterintuitive, it is often worth considering whether there are any negative aspects of your hotel to highlight. If your jungle resort isn’t suitable for people with walking difficulties then you really ought to say so; if there’s barely room to swing a cat in your suites then you’d be better off describing them as ‘compact’ rather than ‘spacious’. And if your hotel is situated slap bang in the middle of the noisiest nightlife district in the city, there’s probably no harm in mentioning it: for some people this will be a bonus, but others will appreciate finding out before they book. Which brings me on to my next point…
8. Don’t try to be all things to all people
I don’t know how many times I’ve read that a hotel is ‘perfect for couples and families alike’, and I’m yet to figure out how this could ever really be true. If there are screaming kids dive bombing into the pool all day, then chances are it’s not going to be my dream honeymoon destination. Of course I understand the commercial imperative that informs this sort of claim – you want your hotel to appeal to as broad a demographic as possible – but it’s always better to find a niche or a hook on which to hang your copy if you can. At the very least, try to find a more appealing way to sell your jack-of-all-trades hotel. ‘Jamaica’s first family-friendly boutique hotel’ sounds infinitely more interesting than ‘A boutique hotel that will appeal to both families and couples’.
9. Keep readers on your site
Sometimes you need to put yourself in your reader’s shoes, and think about what you would want to know if you were booking this hotel. It’s always a good idea to include key details like airport transfer time, the number of rooms, what’s included in the price and how close you are to the main sights and attractions. In an ideal world you want to answer every question that your reader has without them leaving your site. Once you lose a browser to a rival tour operator or website, they might not return to book the trip with you. Sites like Booking.com and Expedia take this to extremes, with exhaustive lists of facilities and room descriptions, so have a look at what your own competitors are doing to get an idea of which information to include. And don’t forget that copy is only part of the picture – these days travellers expect high quality imagery, and ideally some video content too.
10. Use keywords in a natural way
One of the best ways to ensure that your hotel website is an unreadable mess is to stuff it full of keywords, in an effort to try and trick Google’s algorithms and gain an SEO advantage over the competition. You’ve probably seen websites that say things like this – ‘Our luxury hotel in Santorini is the ideal choice if you’re looking for a luxury beach hotel in Santorini, one of the leading luxury Greece hotels. Book a luxury Greece holiday at this Santorini boutique hotel’ – and wondered whether it was written by a robot, or at the very least someone with a poor grasp of English. In fact it’s an outdated SEO practice known as keyword stuffing, which doesn’t really work any more and produces horrible copy. Keyword research is still extremely important, but you don’t need to crowbar in every possible variant of every keyword or phrase, and you should always write copy for humans first, using keywords in a natural way.
Do you have any great hotel copywriting tips? Leave me a comment and let me know!