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Look Great or Go Home!

Here's what award winning website developers know about creating great hotel focused websites.

Friday, January 25, 2013
Harriet Edleson
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If you’re not represented on the web in the right way you don’t even have a chance. Why? Well, the internet is the first place consumers look when they are considering travel. So if first impressions count – and they do – make sure your web site is doing all it can to turn browsing into buying.

“The hotel web site has to reflect the state of mind of the consumer – the buyer, it has to reflect what it’s like to be at the property,” says Jason Ewell, executive vice president, business intelligence, media and web solutions at TravelClick, an internet marketing firm in New York City.

Ewell cites four keys to a successful web site:
  • Imagery: A strong hotel web site features imagery that conveys what it’s like, what it’s going to be like to stay at the property;
  • Clean and Simple Navigation: “What the consumer wants to find has to be easy to find,” says Ewell. Two of the most important sections of a hotel web site are accommodations, which contains photographs of the guest rooms and suites, and the gallery, which features images of the public spaces;
  • Promotional Space: A deal, a package and offer are displayed in a way that
  • browsers can see what the hotel is promoting on a seasonal basis that may be of interest to the prospective guest or may pique their interest to stay at the property another time or in a standard room;
  • Open Booking: A place where the potential guest can insert a date and number of guests to check availability, and book a room.
All of this is great, but just because a site looks great and is easy to navigate, it’s no guarantee that prospective guests will find it. This is where analytics come into the picture. “Consumers have to be able to find the site,” says Ewell. For that SEO --search engine optimization – is crucial “so the site converts to buying,” he says.

While a major brand’s web site such as Marriott is high up among all web site rankings, independent hotels face a different challenge unless they are part of a major brand, and included on that brand’s web site. Potential guests “have to be able to find the site,” says Ewell. “It’s very important that the site can be discovered and that you keep it fresh by updating specials and offers.”

The HSMAI (Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International) Adrian Awards Reception & Gala is scheduled for Jan. 28 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York. Top winners will be announced there while other winners already have been notified. Entries are judged on several criteria including the results – which of your original goals did you achieve and what were the quantifiable results including click through rates as well as how much revenue has the web site generated. In short, what was the return on investment?

The way to see how well your hotel’s web site is performing is through analytics. “Analytics with a lower case ‘a’ are how you evaluate how your site is performing. Where is the traffic? Do people come and exit? The conversion rate, the click through rate,” says Ewell. To track this, TravelClick, for example, uses Google primarily, says Ewell. A site needs “ongoing search engine optimization” through key words, tags, and content, he says.

To convert browsers to buyers, Ewell says, there are three places to locate the reservation “button”: (1) below “the fold”; (2) above the fold and not immediately visible to browers; and (3) above “the fold,” and open, that is, visible to browers.

“My preference is option 3,” says Ewell, who notes that “some hotels don’t want to be too transactional or may want to focus on their loyalty programs on their web site.” Even if a hotel is included on a major brand’s web site, an individual property also can develop its own web site, called a vanity site, says Ewell. “A web site is an opportunity to highlight a hotel’s uniqueness,” he says. “An individual property’s web site is very different. A vanity site is to amplify their industry presence, to complement what they have on the pages of the brand site. A vanity site is a stand-alone site as well.”

Updating a hotel web site can be critical to its success. “We update continuously,” says Graham Dungey, senior vice president, eCommerce, Revenue & Business Development for Concorde Hotels & Resorts. “We have the programmer on site in the office, and we make between 75 and 150 changes per week. Major changes to page design or functionality, I guess would be more or less monthly,” he says.

For example, he says, “We are updating constantly, evolving wordings to stay SEO compliant. Search engine optimization helps out ranking in organic search engines such as Google and Yahoo. In addition, Concorde updates pictures, text, destination-specific offers, special and options that be tagged onto a booking during the reservation process, added value items, evolution of dining page, home page, and room page, the picture gallery, and description tag and link with all pictures and headers for SEO, and room-type descriptions and photographs.

How do you know if your site is working? In short, the number of online bookings and what percentage of total business they generated. For example, Concorde Hotels & Resorts evaluates the efficiency of its web site based on online bookings. The site has a booking engine on the main home page that allows consumers to use a drop down menu to choose the hotel they want. In addition, there is a rotating slideshow next to it that highlights promotions. There is usually a seasonal 30 percent off promotion as well as specific destination offers.

One Platinum Adrian Award winner from 2011, for example, reported its direct web bookings generated 37 percent of its business, which is above the industry average. One of the goals of the project was to grow web traffic to increase direct web bookings. What doesn’t work? “Too much information, too much clutter, too many links,” says Ewell. Other things to steer clear of: Booking that is difficult to start, inaccurate images, and the lack of promotions or packages to draw in potential guests.

“Customers want to know their results,” says Ewell. It’s like the difference between the wedding and the marriage. “Like a marriage, the web site requires work every day.”
Harriet Edleson
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Harriet Edleson is author of The Little Black Book of Washington, DC: The Essential Guide to America's
Capital (Peter Pauper Press, 2007, 2010, 2012) and a contributor to the Itineraries section of The New York Times.
She was Washington Correspondent of Travel Agent magazine from 1993-1999, and creator of "Two Tickets to Paradise," a monthly travel segment on WMAL-Radio, the ABC affilate in Washington, DC. She now lives in Manhattan. Harriet333@aol.com
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