Interview: “How Yvonne Schnoor seized the opportunity and embraced hotel marketing during the pandemic”
“What can I do to increase my online visibility for my guests after the pandemic?” Yvonne Schnoor, owner of the boutique BnB Cortijo El Sarmiento in Andalusia, understood the crisis as an opportunity. Together with her husband, she took advantage of the lockdown and completely changed her hotel marketing from A to Z. “Now is the time to become more visible to our international guests after the re-start.” Yvonne gives insights into what motivated her and what she did for her hotel marketing in this interview.
Can you describe your situation at the beginning of the corona crisis? What was your occupancy level then? What was the outlook for the coming season?
At the beginning of the corona crisis, we were still relatively relaxed about the entire situation. Our occupancy rate had been really good the year before. The outlook for the new season in terms of revenue was excellent. We were well prepared and were looking forward to a great 2020 season.
What went through your mind when you knew the true scale of the crisis?
Well, at the beginning of the pandemic, we admittedly took the whole thing rather lightly and said: “Oh well, at least we now have time to get to grips with our marketing”. There were actually a lot of things that we’d always wanted to do but had never managed to do for time reasons. At the time, in my naivety, I thought I could just do a couple of adjustments here and there before the guests would return. But then came the day X, when we gradually realised that this whole thing was here to stay and would take much longer… That we were actually facing a proper crisis. Back then, no one addressed it as a crisis! The thoughts I had were probably more like “Oh dear, something’s going terribly wrong here. This isn’t good at all!”
How long did it take you to get over the initial shock?
It didn’t take long for me to digest the shock, because I am not that kind of person who wallows in a moment of shock for long. We were fairly quick in drawing up a plan which set out the next course of action for the months to come. Fortunately, we were fully aware of what actually was at sixes and sevens. In terms of marketing, there was a LOT, so we were able to say relatively quickly: “Okay, this is going to take longer than expected, but we’ll be able to conduct an entire redesign of the website and set up our marketing from scratch”.
How would you describe your marketing activities before Covid-19 hit us?
Before the crisis, our marketing activities were actually limited to social media. For instance, Facebook and Instagram were used on a fairly regular basis. We sent out a newsletter once a month when I actually found the time to do it.
Additionally, I wrote blog articles from time to time. In hindsight, we published them without any sense or reason: they were neither keyword optimised nor were they structured in any way. Hence, the readability was very poor and I guess they were actually more of an imposition for every potential reader.
Had you originally planned to invest in your hotel marketing in 2020?
No, we hadn’t planned to invest in our hotel marketing originally. At the beginning of the pandemic, we thought we could get away with just a few minor adjustments. But as the crisis had a growing impact on all of our lives and we had to admit that our website, too, was one ginormous crisis. It didn’t take us long to realise: we can’t do it on our own! We need help. So we decided that we needed to invest more despite the miserable outlook.
What was the catalyst behind your decision to step up your hotel marketing?
We just wanted to have a perfect website with content that would make it easier for us to use for social media and for our newsletters. And, it goes without saying, we wanted to give us a decisive edge on the market in terms of visibility as soon as the crisis is over.
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So how exactly did you change your hotel marketing?
For a start, we booked a comprehensive online course. In this course, we learned about website optimisation and Search Engine Optimisation. Moreover, the course included how to write. I mean how to write good texts that actually get read. Apart from that, we learned how to smartly and purposefully distribute the content on the website for newsletters and social media.
What other plans have you got on your agenda?
First of all, we want to carry out our marketing plan persistently. Our sparkly new website is now online. It’s available in three languages to provide a nice booking experience for our international guests. In addition, we’ve got many blog articles planned. As a result, some articles have already been published in the corresponding languages.
Next, a corresponding content plan for social media is already waiting in the wings. In addition, we’ve completely redesigned our newsletter. We know that consistency is key and we really want to keep up with showing up and posting consistently.
The next step is to make it into the press. It’s quite clear that tourism and the way we travel will change dramatically in the long term. We’ve thought a lot about this and have collected many ideas. We think it would be quite interesting and good to get a foot in the door and to give it a go.
Looking back, what was the last year like for you? What feelings did you encounter? What developments did you go through?
That’s a good question. Looking back, the year 2020, naturally, had its ups and downs. I think we managed quite well in the end. We worked very focused and determinedly on our tasks.
However, we experienced many very dark moments, obviously. For instance, moments in which we didn’t know why on earth we were doing this. There were moments full of doubt. And these moments continue to resurface every now and then because we still don’t know when we will be able to re-open. That the re-start will come eventually – of that we are 100% sure!
Our feelings have literally been a rollercoaster ride. But we’ve made a terrific step in our personal development! We acquired more new knowledge and skills in 2020 than ever before in our entire lives. Above all, we met a whole lot of great people – all participants in this course – with whom we will continue to work together in the future. As a result, very valuable cooperations have derived from the crisis. So with hindsight, we can say it was worth all the hard work and worth every single penny. And we are super chuffed about the outcome.
How do you assess the 2021 season?
As far as we are concerned, 2021 will also be far from perfect. In other words, just as modest. I consider the first half of the year as a non-starter – not a lot is going to happen revenue-wise.
But I see opportunities for the second half of 2021, especially for September, October and November – for the low season so to speak. In the peak season from July – August we expect more Spanish guests to come and stay with us. However, we expect the inner-European tourism to pick up again during the late summer months – perhaps with small restrictions here and there.
We consider ourselves lucky to have such big, spacious grounds. There’s ample space for our guests to retreat to. So we can relax a bit more about it than in a big hotel where a large number of people have to move around in a very confined space!
More about Yvonne and her boutique BnB Cortijo El Sarmiento
The Cortijo El Sarmiento in Andalusia, Spain, is a very unique place – just as unique as the transformation it went through to become the picturesque boutique BnB it is today. “The house found us!” says Yvonne Schnoor, who runs the boutique BnB together with her husband, Carsten.
Yvonne fulfilled a childhood dream with the old country estate. “In our Adults-Only BnB in the south of Spain, it’s entirely up to the guest: retreat to the pool with a good read and listen to the birds and crickets on the terrace with its accompanying large garden? Admire the old olive and orange trees and bougainvillea on a walk through the garden? Chat with other guests over a glass of wine paired with scrumptious homemade paella? Or would you rather prefer a massage?
“You’re very welcome to find out more about the beautiful boutique BnB, Cortijo El Sarmiento, and its hosts, Yvonne and Carsten Schnoor, on their website.