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Smaller Independent Hotels Should Think "Big"


 
By: Neil Salerno, Hotel Marketing Coach
June 2010

For many years, small independent hotels suffered from a tilted marketing playing field, which was dominated by their big budget competition. During the recession, they had to contend with larger franchised hotels, many of which had lowered rates, placing further sales pressure on smaller hotels. In normal times, these larger hotels wouldn't dream of competing with small independent ones.

To promote their hotels during lower demand periods, independent hotels have to compete with franchised hotels possessing a larger sales talent-base, GDS exposure, and much larger advertising budgets. The Internet is their only alternative.

The Internet has leveled the sales playing field, but many smaller hotels have yet to take advantage of it. The Internet is the great equalizer, but only if smaller independent hotels use it properly. Independent hotels with modest budgets can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their franchised neighbors if they learn to think big.  

The return-on-investment, for even a modest Internet sales investment, is still fast with some careful planning and execution. An investment in site design and promotion need not be financially out-of-reach, if one shops around. There are many savvy independent website developers, with hotel marketing knowledge, who can build or modify your website within a modest monthly budget.  

Beware of pretenders offering to design a beautiful site, more for their own egos and income, and more website than you need. The Internet is an advertising medium where content, good navigation, and ease-of-use counts much higher than its overall appearance. 
There is an abundance of beautiful big budget hotel sites which fail to function well because appearance meant more to them than the site's ability to be found and sell reservations. Donít judge a book by its cover. The true measure is what your website produces in reservations, not simply the number of visitors it gets.

Start with a plan. If you already have a site, have an expert review it to check its functionality and recommend changes to make it more productive. Often this can be done for a very modest one-time fee. This website review will then become your road-map for improving room production from your website.  

Search engines judge and rank your site on its functionality, keyword-rich content, popularity, ease of navigation, inbound links, and relevancy. No matter what some so-called experts may say, search engines still donít favor flash elements.  

If you're serious about tapping into the vast Internet market, forget about simply having a website; you must be prepared to market your hotel through the site. After a site is properly designed, embark upon a continuing program for search engine optimization and marketing. 

There are many hotels out there which have spent $4,000 or more for a very pretty but totally ineffective website. Frankly, if you have that kind of money to spend, it would be better directed towards the marketing of your site; not just its design.  

Your web site is an interactive ad, not unlike a newspaper or magazine ad, and should be designed to showcase your location, facilities, and entertainment in your surrounding area. A website needs a clear delineation of these elements. Distractions such as too many morphing images, weather links, and the like, do little to enhance the functionality of your site.  

There are several indicators of poor site and content design.  

  • One has to guess where the hotel is located because the site lacks an address and a focus on its location on the home page.
  • Location is still the most important aspect in hotel selection; yet we still see sites with just an address, your address is just part of your location; location involves much more; like where the hotel is in relation to local room night generators.
  • Very sophisticated and complicated sites with no clear navigation theme. 
  • Sites designed with unnecessary flash elements because it looks pretty.
  • Sites with few links; a free element, but extremely ineffective.
  • Sites which were obviously designed by committee; messages crammed into every square inch of web page.
  • Sites without a booking engine; the majority of Internet users want to make real-time reservations. The return on this investment is enormous and quick. 
These are just a few telltale signs of poor design. There are many more; poorly chosen meta tags, no search engine optimization, and others.  

For many hoteliers, there are still many misconceptions and mysteries surrounding the effective use of this miraculous tool. For that matter, there is much disagreement among those who work with it daily as well. As with any supplier, seek those who offer a full explanation for everything they propose.  

Find someone who has a genuine caring for the success of your website and is willing to assume responsibility for room production from your site; not simply the way it looks.

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Contact: 

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

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Also See: Great Opportunity for Independent Hotels - Cash-in on Electronic Sales / Neil Salerno / January 2006
The InternetÖThe Great Equalizer For Independent Hotels / Neil Salerno / June 2005
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