For hospitality businesses including hotels, restaurants, and bars, the holidays can be a particularly stressful time of year. One aspect that doesn’t have to be stressful is developing and executing a holiday season marketing plan. Here we sprinkle a bit of holiday magic and detail five fool-proof ways to ace your hospitality brand’s marketing campaign. 

Plan Ahead 

Whether you’re the type to put your holiday lights up before Halloween or someone who can barely get them up by Christmas day, it pays to be prepared. For hospitality businesses like restaurants, bars, and hotels, we recommend getting your holiday marketing strategy locked and loaded (like the Christmas light gun in The Grinch) as early as possible, ideally before November.  

Being prepared for holiday marketing campaigns will be particularly instrumental with respect to your PR efforts. Media outlets will run holiday round-up and feature content as early as they possibly can to give their audiences time to make plans. As you’re developing your holiday marketing strategy, it can be helpful to identify the types of media stories you want to target. Some common examples in the hospitality realm include holiday events roundups; listicles of places open on Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day; holiday meal takeout guides; and holiday themed pop-ups and experiences. 

Solidify your holiday dine-in and takeout menus, events, promotions, hours, pricing, etc. and arrange a photo shoot to capture content. By early November, have your media relations and content strategies in place and be ready to pitch media targets details on your brand’s holiday offerings and launch promotional content through your owned channels (social media, website, newsletter, onsite, etc.). Always include high resolution or web ready photography and all pertinent details about your specials and/or events in your media pitch.  

Find your festive niche 

To stand out from the pack, go niche – like leg lamp niche. Think about your audience. What holiday touchpoints or themes might resonate most with them? For an older crowd, your themes might evoke classic holiday films and earnest traditions. For the younger generations, kitschy themes and over-the-top applications might be most appealing. Does your business specialize in Jewish deli foods? Hanukkah may be your niche. And luxury hospitality brands might want to up the opulence with festive, classy affairs like high teas and decked-out holiday suites. 

To get the creative juices (and eggnog) flowing, here are some ideas for festive niches and themes you might consider: 

  • 90s Christmas Movie Series | For a bar with a younger clientele, appeal to the audience’s sense of nostalgia with movies they likely enjoyed while they were young. “Home Alone,” “Jingle All the Way,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” all check this box for a certain bar-going demographic. Pull out the projector and screen one movie a week throughout December, and to go the extra mile, offer a drink special to coincide with each movie.  
  • Holiday High Tea | A hotel targeting a high spending, family-focused demographic may achieve holiday marketing success with a festive high tea series. Over-the-top opulence is the name of the game here. Be sure to customize menus and pricing options to accommodate younger children in addition to their older family members so that the promotion appeals to all ages. 
  • How-To Recipe & Lifestyle Content | Don’t have the budget or the bandwidth to go all in on a big promotion or event this year? No problem. If your culinary program is a key selling point for your brand, work closely with your chefs to identify their home cook-friendly holiday recipes, traditions, and hacks to share with media and on owned channels. Maybe design is a core piece of your brand pie, and you have a subject matter expert who could develop tips for holiday decorating and tablescapes. Pitch these details (with corresponding photography, as always) to food, travel, and lifestyle focused media outlets and socialize through your own channels.  
  • Capitalize on Shopping | Is your business located in or near a popular shopping district? Take advantage of holiday shopping crowds by developing a promotion to complement the holiday shopping experience and attract the crowds. Holiday themed happy hours with festive cocktails and small plates make for a perfect post-shopping pit stop, or maybe a holiday shopping-themed drag bingo brunch is just the ticket for your demographic. 
  • Holiday Suites & Pop-Ups | For a hotel targeting both out-of-towners and staycationers during the season, transforming a guest suite into a fully decked out immersive holiday experience is sure to attract attention and business. Alternatively, open your pop-up to the masses with crowd-pleasing holiday events like a visit from Santa or a full-blown holiday pop-up bar or experience. 

Whatever your holiday niche may be, make the effort worth your while by sharing details with media and on your owned channels with plenty of time for people to make plans to be there.  

Give Back  

An important aspect of any holiday marketing strategy is giving back—to those in need, to your community, and to your staff. You can host a toy and/or food drive from your establishment. You can donate a percentage of your proceeds to a good cause. Run a holiday raffle to give back to your direct clientele. Offer free meals and hotel rooms to kids whose parents may have left them at home alone this year (kidding). And (is this getting old yet?) promote, promote, promote—via earned and owned channels—to get the word out and make your charitable efforts count. 

Don’t forget the people that keep your business as productive as Santa’s workshop. Your employees deserve your recognition and appreciation year-round, but especially during the holidays. Working in hospitality is grueling and challenging, and it’s crucial to care for the people who take care of us. Gift cards and holiday parties are great options, and beyond that, make sure to hire and schedule appropriately going into the busy holiday season so you and your staff will be prepared. Especially for those working on the holidays, make sure they feel adequately valued so they can in turn offer the best possible hospitality to your customers. 

Be sensitive  

While the holidays make some as gleeful as Buddy the Elf, for others this can be a more challenging time, not to mention the minefields of denominational marketing. To avoid negative attention on your holiday marketing campaigns, proceed with sensitivity. 

If you are specifically marketing Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza content to your audience, avoid using overtly religious motifs and be sure to be as inclusive as possible in the language you use. If you have a particularly prodigious holiday content calendar on social media and/or newsletter channels, acknowledge that you know this season isn’t for everyone and give your audience the opportunity to mute or opt out for the season. Small steps toward sensitive marketing can go a long way. 

Don’t forget about holiday gift guides 

Holiday gift guides are the bread and butter (and roast beast) for CPG brands, but you may be wondering how gift guides can play into a holiday marketing strategy for hospitality businesses. 

The CPG gift guide game is all about affiliate marketing these days. The good news for hospitality brands is that you don’t have to be an expert in affiliate marketing or get the last Tickle Me Elmo in the known universe to score coveted spots on holiday gift guides. 

For starters, think local. Identify your local media outlets that run holiday gift guides and reach out early. Starting as early as September, extend invites to host media at your establishment for consideration in gift guides, and offer them ideas for inclusions. Gift cards to your hotel or restaurant and merch (bonus points if it’s holiday themed!) are the most commonly included offerings hospitality brands can leverage for gift guides.