Just about every hotel today has a website. Whether that website is as effective as it might be at generating and capturing sales, advancing marketing aims and communicating the right information about the hotel is an entirely different story. The website is at once the most important lead generator, booking path, marketing apparatus and revenue manager available to the hotel owner or general manager. At a minimum, online consumers need to be able to search room inventory and rates, have an easy way to initiate a reservation and come away with relevant information about the property.
But today’s online consumer craves immediate information and interactivity beyond a reservation form and a handful of property descriptions and snapshots and today’s hotel demands more from its website than just being a static reservation channel. Being able to get a specific, dynamic rate quote (including any taxes and fees) and an availability confirmation online is already the standard for most lodging enterprises. A website with an open interface that can connect to other systems, like a property management system or a customer relationship management (CRM) program is ideal, as is a site designed with marketing optimisation in mind.
Marketing and the Website
The foundation of any online marketing strategy and thus a central aspect to any successful website is search engine optimization (SEO); a site that maintains basic SEO is the baseline. A website not engaged in any SEO is almost certainly missing out on traffic and leads from Google and other search engines. The next step beyond basic SEO is online distribution beyond the primary website. The ultimate scenario is when the website, other channel partners (e.g. travel sites like hotels.com), and the property’s reservation system are all synced automatically. A unit is booked on the website is updated in the reservation system and then no longer available on channel partner sites. As mentioned earlier, a site and a reservation system with an open interface that can support data links (sometimes called XML feeds) is critical to this strategy.
Another well-known online marketing tactic, Pay-Per-Click Advertising, is often an effective way to drive qualified traffic to a website. Pay careful attention to conversion rates (how many site visitors actually book) to avoid overpaying for each click.
No conversation about online marketing would be complete without a discussion of email marketing. email marketing is a natural extension of the first online touch point (the hotel website), facilitated by the information collected from a consumer during their initial contact with the website, and a great way to build relationships between consumers and the hotel brand.
Email marketing only truly works under three conditions: first, that the emails are expected and welcomed, second, that the marketing piece is guest oriented and third, that any information conveyed is relevant and actionable. Many hotels- and many other consumer-centric businesses use a newsletter format to enhance the efficacy of their email marketing programs, as newsletters provide more information and foster a deeper level of engagement with the brand than the initial interaction of consumer with the website. Of course, it goes without saying that your email messages should reflect your website’s design and your company’s brand as much as possible (for more info about how to ensure that your email marketing reflects your company’s website, please see my most recent blog post here).
The reservation system
Every hotel has a reservation system, and just about every hotel has an online reservations system that is accessible by consumers. Many hotels but not all properties utilize a reservations system that is integrated with third-party booking sites. The best of these can connect with other systems in an open standardised way.
The most effective reservation systems, however, are hosted, web-based systems (sometimes called cloud based computing) with full integration. Upfront cost is typically lower for this sort of system, and owners and managers only pay for services actually used. Since the system is hosted in a data center, it eliminates the need to purchase and maintain servers on site. Web based reservation systems are generally easier to integrate with other existing systems, including the website, property management systems, and CRM systems.
The reservations system bears mention in a discussion about hotel websites because securing reservations is, for all intents and purposes, the chief aim of any hotel website. Having the reservations system work effectively on the back end- allowing consumers to make reservations and see real-time rates and availability while simultaneously updating inventory counts and monitoring room allocation to third party sites- is crucial to having a website function effectively for a hotel.
What the Guest Encounters
Clearly the most visible aspects of a hotel website, copy and images make up most of the guest’s impression of the website, and by extension the hotel. A property’s website must include all of the pertinent information that a consumer may want to know when considering booking at that property, including (but not limited to) list of amenities, what is included in each room, options for different rooms, location details, star rating, fees added onto the daily room rate, etc. Other information that would be very useful to include is consumer reviews of the property, the hotel’s TripAdvisor rating and destination-specific details.
Copy should be concise, understandable, in short paragraphs and in bulleted lists when appropriate. The assumption should always be made that the consumer will not read a given section of text from start to finish, so text should always be front-loaded (meaning, put the most important info first). Images should be accurate and up to date, if your hot tub is broken, don’t show a picture of it fully functional or it can be misleading for a consumer. A property’s website should include at least one picture of the standard room, the grounds or the structure and the lobby. Any amenities should also be featured in photographs, including the pool, the spa, the restaurant or workout facilities.
The hotel website is, in today’s operating environment, the hotel’s face to the world. It is often the first encounter a guest has with the property, and usually the most lucrative sales channel a hotel has at its disposal. It is important to have an effective website, both from a sales generation perspective and from a marketing perspective. The good news is, making and maintaining an effective website is well within hoteliers’ grasp. And once a website is functioning at a high level, it is the sales channel that hotel owners and general managers have the most control over, and can derive the most revenue from.
By Jennifer Rodrigues, TravelInk’d
As always if you have any questions or need more information about how to make your property’s website more effective, please don’t hesitate to contact me at any time.