The hotel industry is proactively changing its approach to competing with OTAs for direct bookings. As AH&LA continues its “Search Smarter” campaign to encourage consumers to book directly and the focus at industry conferences shifts from discussion of high OTA margins to the current state of the economy, independent properties and boutique hotel companies are implementing a simple, yet savvier tactic to gain ground on their tech-fluent rivals: redesigned websites.
Hotels are increasingly responding to Google’s 2015 recommendation for businesses to create more responsive web design (RWD). In other words, Google is advising website designers, developers and domain owners to create a single URL that can be viewed and navigated with a minimum of resizing, panning and scrolling across a range of mobile devices, regardless of screen size.
The guidance is finally gaining momentum among hoteliers, aided in part by third-party digital marketing agencies that specialize in hospitality, including France’s Eskale, Otium Boutique in Canada and Tambourine in the U.S. Like so many of their ilk, a central tenet of these companies’ business models—if not the guiding principle—is to design hotel websites, the success of which is measured not just on aesthetics, but on increased measures of e-commerce.
Sam Trotter, senior marketing strategy manager at hotel management company Charlestowne Hotels, explained that hotel pages on OTAs are not branded for the property and so most OTA users will jump to the hotel’s website for more details. “When you get them on the hotel website, that’s the opportunity to convert them and if the site is heavily branded, exciting and emotionally interesting for the potential guest, they’re more likely to book direct in order to have the complete hotel experience,” he said.
Thanks to digital agencies partnering with individual hotels, and even hotel management groups like Charlestowne Hotels—which works with Tambourine—more hoteliers are rethinking the photography and contents used on their websites as well as the booking experience. Google Chrome’s move to label HTTP websites “Not Secure” in January has also helped prompt some hotels to overhaul their sites as many invest in SSL (security) certificates for their sites. Firefox is expected to follow suit and this will likely soon be the norm for all Internet browsers.
“This was a big focus for us since Google Chrome announced they would go in that direction and the majority of our hotels’ websites were made secure in October because we were concerned about losing guests once they saw their personal information wasn’t secure,” said Trotter.
When the hotel management company revamped Harbor Hotel’s website last year, it was done with the new Google Chrome specifications in mind as well as to reflect the Provincetown hotel’s 2010 renovation. Year over year, the website’s traffic has only surged since, with a 20.6 percent increase in conversion rate, a 15 percent jump in transactions, 29 percent growth in website revenue and a 17 percent improvement to average time spent on the site. The site’s Google Business Listing also shows that the new, professionally shot photography featured on the site receives 154 percent more views than hotels in its comp set.
In addition to the site’s rebrand and stepped up photography, book direct incentives were added along with e-commerce upgrades. They included a pop-up window upon exit intent, abandonment emails triggered after a user has entered their email address but failed to complete the check-out process, and a multi-channel marketing campaign that re-engages with past guests and users who have previously visited the website or the hotel’s social media channels.
Honolulu-based Aqua-Aston Hospitality took a completely different approach to redesigning its website, which relaunched earlier this year. Instead of presenting itself as just an accommodation provider, the company leverages its online presence and focuses heavily on content in order to position itself as a Hawaii destination expert.
Aqua-Aston’s website customizes suggestions to users’ preferences. In the process, the company is also amassing user data that allows it to improve its target marketing capabilities, serve up more relevant offers to users and further build CRM and its loyalty program.
Ed Skapinok, SVP, marketing, sales and revenue for Aqua-Aston, noted that the inspiration for the new design—while not based on any one particular website or company—did come from outside of hospitality, namely companies like LL Bean, Amazon and Zappos. “These sites can match consumers with products that they might not know about and we wanted to take the same intuitive approach,” he said. “We’re also not the type of organization to shy away from doing tings a little differently, especially if it leads to consumer preference.”
Throughout the year, the hospitality group’s new site will feature local influencers and ambassadors who will create customized itineraries that tie-into the changing content themes, like soft adventure and history and culture, which the site will also showcase. The themes are dually intended to engage consumers with a call-to-action to visit the website and create a profile that enrolls them in the company’s loyalty program. Elaborating on the strategy, Skapinok said, “we want to attract travelers with diverse content while their still in the dreaming and planning stages and keep them on the site all the way through booking.”
Through its website the company also wants to communicate with current and future employees, highlighting its charity work, community initiatives and support of local organizations.
The Jefferson Hotel in Washington, DC, also launched a new site this year to redefine its brand positioning, as well as to drive direct bookings, and to deliver a total return on the investment with a goal of growing traffic 15 percent over the next two years. “Now, at anytime and anywhere the user is on the site, they can get to the booking engine,” said Meredith Goldberg, the hotel’s director of marketing and communications. “If they’re on the accommodations page, they can check availability right off the page, making it easier to search rooms, rates and dates and it’s the same on our mobile site now because it’s the same site.”
In addition to the new responsive web design and a more accessible booking engine, the new website also has an increased number of URLs and a revamped SEO program in addition to enhanced imagery and less text. “Now you only have a few seconds to capture the audience’s attention,” Goldberg explained of the cutback on text that now plays on just a few words that underscore the experience offered by the hotel as the new photos also do.
“When we opened in 2009, we didn’t have a story to tell and no one knew who we were since we had just opened. Now we can tell our story through a different set of imagery that incorporates more people and more of the experience so that they can envision what they would be able to do in our spaces,” she said.