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  • Writer's pictureRyan Haynes

Social Media: a promotional tool for the hospitality industry

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

In this episode, we look at Social Media as a promotional tool for the hotel industry with Jamel Ben Amor, President and Managing director of Iris Hotels where we learn about the importance of social media to drive brand and bookings, the Saudi Arabian hospitality market and why leadership is so important to drive cultural change. IRIS Hotels open its first properties in November 2020, it now has a portfolio of 5 boutique properties in Saudi Arabia with 2 4* hotels due in 2023, and 3 further properties in the pipeline In our discussion on Social media in hospitality, we cover

  1. How to approach social media and the effective channels

  2. Impact on bookings and deploying successful campaigns

  3. Role of leadership in cultural change

This episode is in Media Partnership with ACE Hotel Technology Summit 2023


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Programme Notes


This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors


Ryan Haynes:

Hello and welcome to Travel Market Life. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. And in today's episode, we are going to be looking at social media, a promotional tool for the hotel industry as part of the ACE Hotel Tech Summit 2023 in London, where I'm going to be hosting and chairing the event. As part of this Jamel Ben and Moore president and managing director of Iris Hotels will be sharing his insights into how he utilized social media to launch his brand, Iris Hotels. Iris Hotels opened its first properties in November 2020. It now has a portfolio of five boutique properties in Saudi Arabia with two four-star hotels due in 2023 and three further properties in the pipeline.


Ryan Haynes:

Jamel is also the founder and director of Marma Hotels in the UK, which is due to launch imminently In our conversation today in social media in hospitality, we'll be looking at approaching social media, the effective channels, the impact on bookings and deploying successful campaigns.


Ryan Haynes:

Hello Jamel. Thank, you ever so much for joining me today. Now you've got a very interesting story in and around social media, and I know the hotel industry as a whole has had to really adapt and change the way it engages with the market, builds its brand and recognition, and develops its relationships with the guests. So, I'd love to hear, tell us first though, about your brand, you, which you launched in 2021.


Jamel Ben Amor:

Thank you, Ryan, for having me. I love your podcast. I've been a big fan of you, and I followed your podcast from the beginning. So, I hope this podcast will be beneficial to our listeners. And again, gives us a platform to introduce ourselves to the market and people get to know us a lot more. So straight to your question, we launched Iris Hotels. Initially, it was registered in UAE in about 2018. Then we went to the Saudi market. As you might know, the Saudi market is, is possibly the best-performing market now in hospitality.


Jamel Ben Amor:

And we launched our first property in October 2020. Unfortunately, the time when we launched our hotels, the pandemic hit, and we, we were, we were looking for a means to promote our brand communicate to our potential customers and position our brand in the market. And the pandemic really worked, worked for us rather than against us because other people were closing hotels at the time, and we are opening hotels.


Jamel Ben Amor:

So, it gave us the opportunity to pick and choose from the thousands of people sitting without work. And also, the challenge we had at the time was how we communicated very quickly to our customers. How can we engage with the, with, with our customers and who, and, and to really find our customers because, at the time, people were not travelling so much? So, we were very successful in very quickly identifying the potential customer, the imminent potential customer for us. And also, we wanted some sort of strategy, on how to position the brand and think in the long term rather than just filling the hotels immediately.


Jamel Ben Amor:

And it was a huge challenge at the beginning because looking at traditional advertising was really not a good idea. It does not yield, again, people do not commit, not engaging with traditional advertising very much social media has started warming in the Middle East, especially in Saudi, Arabia. Saudi, Arabia is the most used social media platform possibly in the GCC and Africa. But the other challenge really is to choose the right platform to use for communication with our customers and also to promote the brand.


Jamel Ben Amor:

So, we made a couple of mistakes in terms of choosing the right platform. And later maybe in the podcast, we'll talk about that. But in a nutshell, using certain platforms in social media really gave us a boost and a faster track to engage and communicate with our customers promote the brand and position the brand where we want it to be.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, it's fascinating as you say. I mean, trying to launch a hotel portfolio brand in, during the midst of the pandemic, I guess from 2018, you had this big vision that you're going to have all these international tourists and you were going to be able to really market to them in the six months leading up to the opening of it. As we know everything closed down in March, and April 2020, which was six months before your opening. So, ooh, what do you do now? But it sounds like you really managed to think on your feet, take that word of 2020 pivot and really be able to change that strategy that you needed to there to be able to get those bookings coming in. What's really interesting is, as you say, sort of like that reasoning behind doing the social media, that it wasn't just about filling the rooms, it wasn't just about getting the immediate bookings, but it was also about building that wider brand identity for Iris hotels.


Ryan Haynes:

Let's have a look at the channels then. I'd love to hear a bit more about which channels worked and which ones didn't, because as you mentioned, you and I had made a few mistakes along the way, which is all part of learning. It's all part as well, I believe in identifying what works for your brand just because, and you know, we'll be listening as Jamel says, just because Jamel had success on these channels for Iris Hotels does not mean that any other property and portfolio and brand out there is going to have the same success if he, if they follow exactly what Jamel and the team did. But what it's important to take the learnings about how Jamel identified those mistakes and what was able to sort of redevelop that strategy.


Ryan Haynes:

So, tell us about those social media channels that were more effective than Jamel.


Jamel Ben Amor:

It's not, it's not happened in Saudi and worked in Saudi. We work in other countries and that's where, that's where we made the mistake at the beginning, for instance. I mean, everybody went crazy at the beginning. So, we have to, we have to have a Facebook page and we have to put more on the Facebook page. And soon after that we made the Facebook page, we launched it, and literally the engagement is virtually zero, like two, three.


Ryan Haynes:

Per day. Wow,


Jamel Ben Amor:

Okay. Because people in Saudi Arabia, don't actually use Facebook at all. And I thought people use Facebook everywhere, but Saudi Arabia is most possibly the most or the least used platform. So, we stopped using Facebook and then eventually, very quickly we had to get our heads surrounded. Remember we are working on a very tight budget, and we cannot really spend so much money. It's boutique hotels. We are not, we're not a hundred per cent certain this going to work. Allow me to just talk a little bit about the hospitality market in Saudi.


Jamel Ben Amor:

Arabia, the market has a very low scale of the accommodation and lodging, like the furnished apartments very badly run, most of them all individuals, right? So, there's no branding, there's no standard, there's no, there's a really, really very poor quality. And then you jump right up to the luxury segment, which is, you have the, the four-star elects and the five-star hotels, which is very, very expensive. And, and they are, they cater for a certain segment of the market. So, we had this huge gap and at the same time, when we launched our brand, most of the, most of the hotel brands that don't exist in Saudi Arabia, so you have the big boys like the Hilton, the Marriotts are course, and that's about it.


Jamel Ben Amor:

So, everyone else is local, locally run property. So, we can see a gap in the market in terms of how we going to position our brand. And at the same time, all these hotels, all these small lodging places, they closed down because they couldn't really cope with the, with the, with the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health as asking for in Saudi Arabia. So, they decided to close. So, there's a, and there's a lot of people travelling still, people travelling in Saudi, Arabia, the lockdown was very short.


Jamel Ben Amor:

And then people start moving slightly within the, you're talking about 25 million people in Saudi Arabia at the time or at the moment, there's a 14 million actively use using social media on a daily basis. 12 million of the 14 that they use Instagram, I mean, now in 2023, TikTok start picking up really fast and start competing with the likes of Instagram and Snapchat. But Snapchat really is more for messing around rather than serious business.


Jamel Ben Amor:

So, it was really obvious for us, and it was affordable for us as well to be on a daily basis on the platform, mainly Instagram, and TikTok.


Ryan Haynes:

So, Instagram was the best channel for you. What sort of campaigns were you running on Instagram that really got the attention and was having an impact on your commercials?


Jamel Ben Amor:

Look at the time, we focused a lot more on, you know, the health and safety side of the business, which is very weird. People prior to this period, nobody talked about health and safety in hotels, especially in this part of the world. Suddenly everybody likes to get up for health and safety, the way the cleanliness of the property. And thankfully we had the experience. So, we, the first campaign we did is, you know, the, the cleans about the property, the safety of the guest and all that.


Jamel Ben Amor:

And it was really short clips, small ads here and there, especially focused on the social media to interact with the people who we want to interact with. And it really worked for us. Then we focused on the season. For instance, you have, at the time we had Ramadan and then we had Hash, and then we had, you know, a few events, which we are not allowed to do anything for because you, we the gathering people with absolutely no-no, but what we did is we created some sort of service within rooms.


Jamel Ben Amor:

Remember we're a boutique cartel, so we can, we can really expand our muscles as much as we want. And also, the good thing for us was with, as I said before, thousands of people sitting with our work. So, it was very easy for us to get the, the, the people to work and, and it really did work for us. We used to do a lot of food and beverages within the room.


Ryan Haynes:

It sounds fantastically what a fantastic way for you to be able to promote your wider services within the hotel and wider opportunities of hotels, of guests being able to expand their experience while they're staying on your property and bringing that to life through a social media channel as you, and that's some of the difficult parts, isn't it, when it comes to sort of advertising and marketing a property is how do you market everything that you do, every service and obviously in an advert it's one picture, it's a few words. Absolutely. You can't say very much. All you can do is communicate the vibe of the brand in a TV advert, you might be able to show a few bits and pieces within 30 seconds, maybe 15 seconds, depending on how big your budget is.


Ryan Haynes:

But on social media, every single day, you can show a different aspect of the boutique hotel's personality, the different types of service, and how your staff really attend to the guests and give them that experience. So, it must have been really quite exciting at the same time for you and your team to try to come up with these creative ideas.


Jamel Ben Amor:

Look, actually, we may. I mean, I made the biggest mistake. I actually forced all my team. I said, no, we are doing this, and we've done the video right to promote the brand, obviously talking about is and the difference in Iris and hospitality from the heart and soul and all this. The video is actually three minutes long. So, and then when once we started working with social media, we couldn't use anyone in social media. So, we had to go back and said look, I, you know, it's my fault. I shouldn't have done that. But, as you said, we learned very quickly how to engage, especially in small adverts, especially on social media, look, doesn't matter where you come from.


Jamel Ben Amor:

Our focus spans very short when it comes to social media. So, you have a few seconds to engage with these people, otherwise, it's gone. So, we had to, we had to learn very, very quickly and make sure the communication has to be engaging very quickly. They have to receive the message within the first 10 seconds, otherwise, you're going to lose them. We, we, we were very lucky. We made mistakes very, very early.


Ryan Haynes:

Now Jamel, you know, you weren't on your own, you've already talked about your team. Can you tell us please about how you found your team, how you identified the people to work with and how you worked with them so that they could be successful in this social media campaign? Because as you say, it's, it was brand new for the brand. So how do you keep that motivation? How do you have an openness to conversation where everybody's contributing their expertise and their ideas?


Jamel Ben Amor:

I am actually involved in every single aspect of the operation. I'm, I am involved in every single thing of the marketing sales. I created this brand. I have the details of the brand; I have the vision of the brand. So, for me, for me to get people very quickly on board and let them do what they think is right, it's very risky, especially when you're trying to position a brand in, in, in a, in a, in a market. Very difficult market to start with. The second thing now is the most competitive market in the world. And our position for the, for our, for especially for the boutique hotels, we are sitting just behind the, the major brands, the Hiltons, the four on five-star hotels, we are offering the four of a star hotel service.


Jamel Ben Amor:

But we are not pricing our customers the four or five-star hotel price. However, we are more expensive than everybody else. So, in this particular position in the market, you have to be, you have to really have the heart to do it. To start with, I managed to get a very decent team, a very good team. And I'm very proud of them. Actually, most of them are still with me now. I read a book once you said that you need 28 days to change a habit. And we take a task, and we keep at it for a month until it gets it, becomes a habit in, in the operation, then we can move on. We have a long, we have a long journey. And to do everything at the same time is foolish. You have to take a step by step, try to create the right culture in the team, and try to pick the right people who really understand what you want to do and what you want to deli to deliver.


Jamel Ben Amor:

This is very crucial not only in hospitality but in any industry really. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to recruit, right? But the most important, you know, look, experience for me is nothing. You have, you have to recruit for the attitude. You have to recruit for the mindset. You have to recruit for the ambition of the person. We are very lucky. We launched this brand during the pandemic. So, we had the time, we had the people, we had to choose from whatever we wanted and really helped us very quickly to position, to position our brand in the market where we wanted to be.


Jamel Ben Amor:

You have to recruit correctly, and you have to really invest in your people on a daily basis that you have to send your message on a daily basis. You have to change the habit and whatever you want to achieve within your brand, you have to feed it to the who you're going to let go to. Because you remember your entrepreneurship, it's all about leading and doing, doing yourself. Then, you have to learn when to let go and who to let go to. We, we opened another boutique hotel a couple of weeks ago and it's, well, actually, it's, it's a beautiful property and I wish I could, you know, invite you Saudi and see how it runs.


Jamel Ben Amor:

It's a beautiful place. So, the cluster GM actually used to be my sales manager when he came to me and eventually, I invested in him. And now he's leading two hotels, possibly the two most successful hotels in my portfolio.


Ryan Haynes:

That's wonderful. And as you're launching this property and your upcoming properties that we talked about very early on in the introduction to you, social media, I guess is a key aspect of your marketing and advertising.


Jamel Ben Amor:

For our hotel industry. social media. Now it's a vital thing, it's important, you have to be there, you have to be daily active on social media, however, you have to be very, very careful because once, one bad comment, 1 trigger might damage your reputation, it might take you up and we bring you down. I mean, every day we look at, booking.com ratings, we look at Google comments on a daily basis. All my hotels have iPads and reception with WhatsApp, with all the social media platforms opened on the iPad.


Jamel Ben Amor:

And they literally answer guests on, on, as soon as you put the comment, either, either good or bad, straight away, the reception staff will, will, will, will reply to your message. So, it took us a long time to get there but look, it is, as you said, social media is forced on us and we have to take it and there is no way we're going to, we're going to work without it. So, it is our best friend at the moment until another day.


Ryan Haynes:

Requires constant work. Absolutely. Jamel, thank you ever so much for sharing that insight with us today is absolutely fascinating and the journey that you've gone through and the journey that you're still going on. So, thank you for your time, I really appreciate it.


Jamel Ben Amor:

Thank you. Thank you for having me and I see I will hopefully see you at the show.


Ryan Haynes:

So, I'll be hosting the ACE Hotel Tech Summit 2023 in London. We Jamel Benmore, the president and managing director at Iris Hotels are going to be diving a lot deeper into this topic, social media as a promotional tool for the hotel industry. I think what was fascinating there is not just how you use social media, but how you actually incorporate it within your strategy, how you think about it from a leadership perspective and how you go about those learnings and work of your team to maximize the opportunities and re-recognize where things aren't working. Don't forget to leave a review or a rating on our podcast channels or share as well with your colleagues and friends on LinkedIn. Ciao for now.

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