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Hotels Take Back Seat on New Red Lion Website

Executives at the growing hotel company are realizing it’s the destination that sells a property foremost, so Red Lion shifted their online approach to attract customers. Guess what? They’re already seeing big gains.

Friday, October 25, 2013
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Here’s an interesting notion. Red Lion Hotels Corporation executives don’t think guests are coming to their hotels simply because of their hotels. What? How does that work?

Well, they’ve made the keen observation people come to a destination either specifically to visit the attraction within the destination or for a meeting, event or other occasion. Not for their love of Red Lion Hotels. The hotels are clean comfortable and safe, but very few hotels actually attract people simply because of the hotel. That’s just not how human beings work.

Destination nearly always comes first, then a hotel stay decision follows. Here’s the epiphany:
People yearn to visit to Anaheim for Disney Land or some other unexpected adventure, not for the adjacent Red Lion. However, guests still need a great hotel that makes them feel connected to the destination and as if they’re in the center of the action.

That realization began a wholesale transformation in regards to how the northwestern based hotel company thought it should present itself to the world. Rather than focus on the hotel alone, what if each hotel’s microsite acted as an engaging guest gateway to the destination itself where Red Lion became the trusted authority on that neighborhood. The food, the culture, community quirks. All of it.

“We all want to have some memory with our buddies or family when in a destination and that resonated with me to really focus on the experiences within the destination and really how the hotel is secondary,” said Harry Sladich, EVP Sales, Marketing & Distribution for Red Lion Hotels Corporation. “[Potential guests] are coming to a destination for something other than the hotel, such as coming to close a deal or a make a sales call.”

Research followed and Red Lion executives learned 72 percent of Red Lion guests craved a local experience during their travels. So now all Red Lion websites look and feel almost as if the local CVB designed them rather than a remotely located hotel company. Guests can dig into what makes the area around the hotel special and unique. What’s the best local non chain restaurants, the unique characteristics of the area that make it special, and neat local factoids sure to surprise and delight website visitors such as the town’s favorite joke.

Better yet, rather than coming up with ideas at the corporate office they engaged employees at each of the properties to share the things that excited them most about their hometown. That gave them critical location insight as well as the side effect of a happier, more engaged staff.

“We all [hotels] have beds, nice people, a van and breakfast. It is really all about differentiating yourself and with this new approach to the website we think we have done that,” said Sladich. “The customer is so savvy now and they look at eight different sites at a minimum to find out what is going on in the area. When you see our website and see what it looks like, it is so different that we think if all things are equal or close to equal to the customer, we think they will say ‘this is fun and fascinating and I will book there’.”

Each property has a Google map with five categories: attractions, dining, nightlife, shopping and hidden gems, all categories that a customer can select to provide a visual aid in understanding the hotel's proximity to the highlighted local experiences and attractions.

They even have access to TripAdvidor reviews directly on the website since Sladich knows people look their anyway; so why risk them leaving the site and not returning. He even told general managers that may not have been as receptive to the idea of presenting reviews then they should fix their hotels so they get better reviews. Voila, problem solved. Plus the review provides solid insight as to what guests really think so resources can shift to squelch guest issues and focus money for renovations in areas that guests are asking for.

One highlight of the new web architecture is that it is fully adaptable to any device. Meaning, the website knows if the user is on a desktop, tablet or smartphone, for example, and changes the way it looks automatically for each device. That’s good news for users and also to companies like Google, said Sladich, noting that Google desires a single url rather than many to help it serve up search results quicker.

Another cool touch is a shopping cart feature so people can book multiple reservations in different locations in one transaction. So obvious, yet never done before.

In all the project took about 2.5 years to complete and has been rolled out to virtually all its 50 hotels at a total cost of about $650,000. Already RedLion.com is now Red Lion's highest rated distribution channel, achieving an average daily rate of almost $107, up 4.9% year-over-year for the second quarter of 2013. Revenues through RedLion.com rose by 5.2% year-over-year during the second quarter of 2013.Oh yeah, hotels can also quickly swap out photos to keep things fresh and relevant.

Expect more advances in the coming months, said Sladich, who also noted that owners of franchised properties are happy to be along for this ride.

“They absolutely buy into the fact the customer wants to experience something in the destination and they know it is not about them [the hotel]. It’s helping them compete more effectively and solved that differentiation issue,” Sladich said.
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