|by Richard Zwicky, September 2004
For many in the hotel and accommodations industry the Internet is a four letter word. It shouldn't be. Antipathy towards this medium is borne in large part from frustration with third party vendors, who are booking inventory by demonstrating better Internet marketing prowess than the person marketing the hotel's web site.
Noted industry guru, and HTNG Executive Director Matthew Dunn recently noted that industry wide, direct hotel bookings via the hotel's own web sites are up over 30%. Imagine if all your potential customers were finding your web site? Do you think they would still be booking through third parties and consolidators? Need help understanding your dilemma, and what can be done? Here are some suggestions for harnessing the "Ultimate Distribution Machine."
I've spoken to quite a number of hoteliers regarding the Internet who have expressed sentiments ranging from frustration to rage. Their target was an intangible entity that was neither their web site, nor the Internet as a whole, but rather pointed to a sense of frustration of not understanding how to compete in the medium; They know it works, but were attempting to understand out how to make it work for them. They were mostly frustrated with the copious amounts of wildly varying advice that circulates on the Internet informing and misinforming them as to how to compete.
Let's look at the facts. It's not the Internet which is hurting the hospitality industry but rather, the lack of knowledge on the part of hoteliers as to how to effectively utilize the the Internet as a customer acquisition marketing tool.
In the beginning, many industries treated the Internet as a passing fad, lacking in permanence. This of course, has proven to be entirely the wrong attitude. A head-in-the-sand approach to solving your hotel's online visibility problems does not help. The Internet is not disappearing. It's becoming more ubiquitous. It's already recognized as the research tool of choice in all industries for business to business (B2B) services. Soon, the true wireless Internet will arrive and PDA's connecting to the Internet will become the virtual "Yellow Pages in your Pocket."
The Internet is not only a research library. It has more information contained within it than any other single resource worldwide. For hotels, it's the customer acquisition tool par excellence, and the perfect marketing device to fulfill inquiries and requests for information. In this role it can provide clients with an interactive experience. It allows them to receive instant feedback, and convey a virtual experience of what they can expect to encounter when visiting the property. Lastly, this is the marketplace which allows your customers not only to "taste" what your property has to offer, but also to gain a sense of what things to do near your location and of course, to book their stay. It's both a client education and an acquisition tool, in one easy step.
A successful property's web site can serve as a model to the rest of the hospitality industry.
Many hotel web sites are absolutely beautiful. They are among the most beautiful on the Internet. But sadly, this does not mean they are effective. Many have some of the necessary client management features, but almost all were completely lacking an effective customer acquisition strategy. This is their Achilles' heel. This lack of an online customer acquisition strategy is what leads to the frustration, which hoteliers have been expressing to me, about the Internet.
They Are Looking For Your Hotel
Research suggests that more than 80% of people who go online do so in part, to research and purchase products and services. When it comes to online purchasing, travel industry purchases are the most popular Internet transactions. Unfortunately, most of this spending is going through third party discounters, or consolidators and their affiliates. Understanding how your customers use the Internet is essential if you expect to have a successful web presence. Allowing your potential customers to consistently find your competitors, or book through third party vendors, is sheer folly. It's failing to get noticed. Just because you build it, they will not necessarily come!
Some hoteliers believe it is sufficient to have one simple page of text with a fuzzy photograph of the hotel on it, thus they have fulfilled their mandate. This scenario of course is not nearly enough. Your hotel's web site is much more important and deserves a lot more respect. Finding your hotel with a weak web site, poor presentation and poor marketing design will shake customer confidence. It can even damage your reputation. Don't worry about this too much however, as a poorly designed hotel web site with substandard content and functionality will rarely get found in the search engines in the first place. All you will have lost is the opportunity to have taken your fair portion of 83% of all Internet traffic.
The Web Won't Break the Bank
The web is still growing fast. We're into the next generation of web design. Business web sites perform business functions. There are lots of web designers out there who can deliver web sites for competitive prices. Web site hosting is relatively inexpensive and online marketing is a downright bargain in comparison to traditional print marketing. But beware, there is inexpensive and then there is cheap. There are hundreds of tools out there which promise huge amounts of traffic, but rarely deliver. Ensure you are dealing with a reputable firm. Check out their testimonials before buying and make sure they have testimonials from multiple clients within assorted industries. It's much less likely that a firm with success in a broad spectrum of industries will suddenly fail in yours.
It's How You Spend, Not What You Spend
Be it for a multinational chain, or a small guesthouse the, intelligent promotion of a web site will be focused on reaching the appropriate target visitor, In many instances the 'little guy' will outperform the larger chain because they spent wisely, in a more targeted way, for the Internet medium.
Traditional advertising methods, like bird shot, cover a wider area, and hopefully hit something each time. Online marketing however has highly focused ways of getting customers to your web site. This focus makes it much more cost effective for a chain or independent, and can make them equally successful in acquiring their target visitors. Of course, they both rely upon the web site itself, to turn viewers into bookers.
The Internet is the perfect customer management tool. It should be the hub for all your hotel's marketing activities, because it's what your clients are using! It's the home for your loyalty program, and your reservations desk. It's the scheduler for hotel activities. Its a staff resource. Most importantly, it's likely to be the way travelers will research your property and the medium by which most people will book rooms in your hotel.
Feed your hotel's web site wisely. Watch it grow. Fertilize the growth and encourage new growth by pruning out whatever does not work. Empower your web site to harness the power of the Internet and you won't be disappointed.
|Also See:||Metamend Launches Search Engine Optimization Site For Hotels; Web Site Promotion for Hotel and Accommodation Industry / August 2004|
|Searching for Bookings? Optimize / Dr. Matthew Dunn / August 2004|