Hotel Online  Special Report
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 Who Are Your Online Customers?
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Does Broadband Effect How They Find Your Web Site?
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A Collaborative Article: Neil Salerno & David Hart, June 2006

The first of these questions is an obvious one to ask, the second not so apparent for hotels operators who are trying to make the most of their marketing budget. This is especially true of the growing number of hoteliers who realize the tremendous opportunities that marketing their hotel on the Internet provides for them. 

Changes in home Internet usage in general, and the effect of broadband access on that usage in particular, is a phenomenon that will profoundly impact your Web marketing decisions for years to come. Speed Rules.

How important is the Internet to your customers?

For all you techies out there, here’s some recent data.  Some of us find these details interesting, even if we’re already convinced of the massive reach and continued growth of the Internet.

By Age:  88% of 18-29 year-olds now go online, 84% of 30-49 year-olds,
71% of 50-64 year-olds, and 32% of those age 65 and older say they use the internet. Usage goes up as age goes down, clearly pointing to increases in older users as young folks age!

By Income: Those in the lowest-income households are considerably less likely to be online. Just 53% of adults living in households with less than $30,000 in annual income go online, versus 80% of those whose income is between $30,000-50,000. 86% of adults living in households with annual income between $50,000 and $75,000 use the internet, compared with 91% of adults living in households earning more than $75,000. 

By Education: Education also remains an important indicator for Internet use. While 40% of adults who have less than a high school education use the internet, 64% of adults with a high school degree go online. Among those who have some college education, 84% use the internet, and 91% of adults with a college degree go online.

What is the Impact of High-speed Broadband Connections?

Simply put, home broadband (DSL, cable, satellite, etc.) access increases the time that people spend on the Web, for fun, games, information, and, of course, shopping. The more time people spend seeking information about purchases online, the less time and emphasis they will spend on old traditional forms of print advertising and marketing. These trends clearly indicate a continued increase in the role the Internet will play in marketing your hotel. 

Studies show that Broadband Matters:

  • The time each person spends online doubles
  • They visit 2.5 times more sites
  • They see more than 3 times the number of pages
Broadband Connections in American homes have now reached 42% (about 84 million), up from 29% (about 59 million) in January 2005. The increased popularity and new affordability of broadband is increasing exponentially. But, as far as we’ve come, we still have a long way to go. As of April 2006, the U.S. ranks 19th among other countries in this category. The true promise of the Internet is yet to come.

Broadband at work: According to Nielsen/NetRatings, as of December 2005, 87.5% of US users at work enjoy a high-speed connection. Since much travel is researched in the workplace, this would explain the dramatic increases we’ve seen in online travel. 

You only get one chance to make a good first impression.

Excuse the cliché, but it’s true. Research shows that people make an almost instant evaluation of your site based on its look and appeal. This can impact their decision to seek further information. As a result, many site designers go all out on graphic effects and design elements to make sure that your site has visual appeal. Caution, there is a fine line between good visual appeal and an opening page that is over-designed with too many bells and whistles; too slow to load; and confuses search engines with too much flash. 

Some experts have said that “broadband is the way the Internet should have been right from the beginning”. The problem is that many websites are being designed as if all users are using broadband now; loading so slowly that non-broadband users get the opposite impression…a poor web site. There are other issues which contribute to poor site design: poor navigation, difficulty of use, and lack of selling text. But that’s another topic.

Research shows that folks only give a page 8-15 seconds to load before annoyance sets-in. If users are arriving from a search result, it’s even more important that your design is within good loading parameters if they are on dial-up. As broadband continues to increase in popularity, this will become less important; but, that’s still in the future. If loading speed is acceptable on dial-up, it’s super fast on broadband. 

Does page-loading response time apply only to your home page?

Absolutely not! Assuming your site is optimized for various searches, many of your pages could (and should) be a potential search result, and therefore becoming a ‘landing page’. Many people look for information about their destination before choosing a hotel. Can they find your site while they do these searches? Do you offer information that adequately explains your location in relation to all the attractions and other room generators around you? Are those pages optimized, and will they load fast enough to act as a landing page?

“If your job title has ‘agent’ in it, look for another career.”

Perhaps an overstatement, this is more of a paraphrase from a book written by Bill Gates in the 90s, “The Road Ahead”. In this book, he speaks of a world in which businesses are increasingly able to market directly to their customers. Ask yourself what has happened to the travel agency business the last 10 years? 

The most successful agencies are now online travel aggregators like Expedia, Travelocity, etc. They provide a valuable service to hotels and consumers alike. Sure, they charge a commission, but they can capture new business, unavailable to hotels direct.   As hotel suppliers have optimized their sites through web site optimization, booking trends are moving towards supplier sites. Given the opportunity, consumers would prefer to work directly with the supplier.

Leveling the “Playing Field”?

If you are an independent hotel operator, you probably recognize that aggressively marketing your hotel on the Internet is the only way you can complete with your franchised neighbors. 

Most Franchise hotel companies receive fees that are devoted to marketing your hotel. A good part of this money is targeted towards marketing the brand of the company, not your hotel. The fact is that most franchises do little online marketing of individual hotels within their franchise. There are few sponsored search programs among franchises, and sadly, fewer individual hotels organic search results as well. 
Will they allow you to create and market your own site? Most will, if you direct booking through their proprietary booking engines. There are many reasons why your hotel should have a separate web site, franchise or independent. Searches are the primary reason. 

Years ago, travel consumers booked hotels through travel agents who had access to the airline Global Distribution System (GDS), and access primarily to franchise hotels. Now independent hotels can be represented by third party reservations companies (such as GenaRes.com). Now, all hotels can market themselves directly to the independent travel agent through the GDS. 

Many of these third-party GDS link companies also offer an online “booking engine” that integrates into your hotel website so that users can view real-time room availability and rates with the added convenience of giving users the ability to make an online real-time reservation. For independent hotels, this is a must.

Internet Travel Trends

There is much research online to help you determine what priority to devote to your hotel’s Internet marketing efforts. The following is only a sample of the current Internet usage research available. Before continuing to spend thousands of dollars each year on traditional media such as print advertising, or many online directories, make sure your online presence is strong. 

Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) and USDM.net report, Travelers' Use of the Internet 2005…
…shows that the Internet continues to rapidly grow as a dominant channel for both reaching and transacting with today's travel consumers. While results show that the number of Americans using the Internet (120 million adults) appears to have reached a plateau, those who plan and book trips or vacations online continues to climb rapidly. A majority of online travelers (78 percent of respondents, or 79 million Americans) turned to the Internet for travel or destination information in 2005 - much higher than the 65 percent of online travelers in 2004.

The Internet has changed the profile of off-line reservations 
Most people making voice reservations today have very specific questions and concerns about their hotel reservation. Why? The fact is that even though they may not be booking online, almost everyone researches your hotel on the Internet. Today’s callers have likely visited at least the hotel’s website, and more often, has even checked user-driven hotel rating websites as Tripadvisory.com, and read feedback posted at the online travel agencies such as Expedia and Travelocity.

So, how does broadband effect how customers find your website?

Statistics on web users (as stated earlier) are interesting, but we already know by now that vast numbers of persons are using the web, and those numbers continue to rise. It’s pretty safe to assume that it doesn’t matter to which demographics you market; they are all represented in large numbers. 

The biggest impact of more people who are surfing the Web with a broadband connection is that they do spend more time online.  No matter how fast someone can download your pages, those pages have to provide useful information; with easy to follow navigation. Anywhere along the line that you frustrate people while viewing your website, you lose them. 

The main thing about broadband connections at home is that, on average, it more than doubles household web usage! Rather than using their computer when they feel they have to, users with broadband are much more likely to use it because they want to. With an “always on connection” that seems to respond immediately to your touch when you want to know something (almost anything it seems), it’s no surprise that it would greatly increase the amount of time spent on virtually every Internet pursuit. With home broadband use in the US just passing the 40% threshold in 2006 there’s plenty of room for growth in web usage, even without adding more users, which is, of course happening as well.

Broadband helps people find your website, ultimately because people with fast connections use the Web more as a primary source of information. Studies show that travel shoppers are visiting three or more sites to select a hotel before making a reservation. More and more users are spending more time trying to find you online. Make sure your site is prepared and optimized to get more business.


David Hart and Neil Salerno partner on many hotel Internet projects. They combine effective web site design and hotel electronic marketing techniques to produce online reservations.

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Contact:

Neil Salerno CHME, CHA 
Hotel Marketing Coach 
www.hotelmarketingcoach.com
NeilS@hotelmarketingcoach.com

David Hart
D. Hart & Associates
www.dhartasso.com
David@dhartasso.com

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Also See: More Hotel Web Site Hints, Tips, and Tricks - Unwrapped / Neil Salerno / June 2006
Nine Tips to Create a Dominant Hotel Web Site / Neil Salerno / May 2006
Your Hotel Web Site: If It Ain’t Broke…Break It! / Neil Salerno / May 2006


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