Hotel Industry Blog

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blog has moved

We have a new website and the Bookassist Hotel Strategy Blog has moved there.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Plan for Google Penguin 2.0 now!

Mary Collins, Head of Internet Marketing

Google is constantly changing it’s algorithms with minor tweaks, to ensure it can return the best search results. Usually these changes don’t have dramatic affects on search engine results, however the impending Penguin 2.0 will bring a major change to the search engine algorithm, which will have big impact on search engine results pages (SERPs).

What is the Penguin 2.0 update?

Since early 2011 Google has released Panda and Penguin updates to its algorithm. These updates affected over 12% of all SERPs. The change in the algorithm penalised low-quality websites and rewarded websites with high-quality fresh content.

In this next upgrade Penguin 2.0 will address bad link-building and linking practices, penalizing sites that use black hat techniques to help improve visibility within the SERPs.

Google has evaluated a huge amount of websites to learn more about non-organic links. As part of the Penguin update Google will locate these bad-practice links, it will remove their PageRank, and so negate the positive impact they had on search results.

There are two scenarios which Google views as bad link building practices:
  • links that come from websites that Google deems untrustworthy
  • websites with high "link velocity" – the rate at which a site acquires inbound links

What should Hoteliers do?

The best link building strategy is to acquire links at a natural speed. Hoteliers need to have a policy of gaining quality links over quantity of links to their websites. Before these Google updates, search engines rewarded websites with large quantities of links, but once Penguin 2.0 is released websites with poor link building strategy will most likely be penalised, potentially being removing completely from search engine results.

Google now values websites that have fresh up-to date relevant content which visitors to the website will find useful. As well as creating fresh relevant content, hoteliers need to adopt a best practice approach to their linking strategy as this will greatly enhance SEO results. See our best practice guide to link building.

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Best Practice Link Building Guide

Mary Collins, Head of Internet Marketing

The best link building strategy is to acquire links at a natural speed. Hoteliers need to have a policy of gaining quality links over quantity of links to their websites. Before these Google updates, search engines rewarded websites with large quantities of links, but once Penguin 2.0 is released websites with poor link building strategy will most likely be penalised, potentially being removing completely from search engine results.

Google now values websites that have fresh up-to date relevant content which visitors to the website will find useful. As well as creating fresh relevant content, hoteliers need to adopt a best practice approach to their linking building strategy as this will greatly enhance SEO results.

For our Traffic Builder clients we provide guidance on link building strategy as part of our online marketing service. If you wish to sign up to Traffic Builder service please contact us.

Perform a Link Audit

Before embarking on any link building strategy, it is important to establish where your links are coming form. A website link audit should be performed, analyzing the links that are beneficial to your website and those which are causing harm.

Use Webmaster Tools

Manage Links Through Webmaster Tools:  Through this interface, you can view all the links pointing to your site, sorting the quality links you attained through targeted strategy and the less valuable or negative links that have linked to your website without your authority.

Maintain a Blog on the Hotel Website

Building and maintaining a blog on the hotel website is a quick and easy way to provide unique, fresh content to website visitors, potential guests and potential linking websites. In order to use a hotel blog as a strong inbound marketing tool you need to post regular articles. Examples include upcoming events and activities, property updates etc. Ask your team to contribute e.g. a day in the life of a concierge, or reception staff, regular recipes from the kitchen etc  which will attract the interest of other bloggers or websites that would like to link to you. If your blog is run on any of the popular Content Management Systems, you'll already have an RSS feed.

Build (Relevant) Links

Engage local sites that produce quality content and are of relevance to your website first to build a solid base of trustworthy links, while at the same time ensuring the hotel website is listed by and linked to from a variety of online directories and local listing services. Engage with local suppliers, local groups and conference organisers who use the hotel facilities regularly. To get full SEO benefit, ensure the link from their website to yours contains relevant text (try and get the hotel name and location in the anchor text).


You have pages on your website, so make the most of them. Internal links are very relevant for link building because you can control everything about them, from the location on the page to the anchor text. If you have multiple sites, interlinking is a must!

Create Quality Website Content

Every time content is added to the website, ensure that it is of a consistently high standard. Regular updates to the website will ensure  that the content is always up to date. This will help attract other websites to link to yours and help in turn boost SEO. - Research Competitors: Review where your competitors are getting links. There maybe opportunities to get your own website listed.

Create a Social Media Strategy

Currently Google considers links from different social networks like Google Plus, Facebook and  Twitter among others. It is important that the hotel has a content strategy on social networks in order to take inbound links to their websites. If the hotel has a profile on any of these social platforms they must be kept up to date too with fresh content, linking back to the hotel website.

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Hotels - Ignore The Mobile Trend If You Dare

Cris Petcu, Online Marketing Specialist

“Mobile” is the word on everyone’s lips these days. Leaving the house in the morning without your smartphone causes panic, anxiety and worry that the day is ruined without it.
Mobile search in particular is surging in an upward spiral. The growth levels of search through smart devices have eclipsed all past search growth trends and provides a big opportunity to all businesses with an online element, and especially to those in travel. 

Google studies have shown that mobile searches in travel have the third highest follow-up actions of any industry, which is a lucrative opportunity to be seized (only the auto and beauty industries have more). Hotels are a major part of this dynamic industry and are heavily affected by online trends. More and more hotel customers are going online everyday to check out latest deals, hotel locations, reviews and photos as part of their decision-making process, which means your hotel’s online visibility and presence on mobile is a vital point of contact. On April 11th, announced on its website that mobile bookings had tripled year on year, proving that hotel customers are increasingly willing to book on-the-go. 

With such high follow-up rates on mobile devices hotels need to provide their mobile visitors with mobile-centric information and show that they value and respect their visitors. 
First impressions are very important and as mobile is fast becoming a hotel’s first introduction to their customer, mobile must be an integral part of online strategy.

Essential To Serve The Mobile Customer
In recent study carried out by Google ( some critical information resulted that really hits home the importance of mobile search in the travel industry. Results showed that the majority of the travel-based searches carried out on mobile were done not in a downloaded app but in a browser. About 12% of those mobile searches generated a purchase, which is a phenomenal conversion result. Mobile-optimised websites can no longer be ignored.

More than one seventh of all travel searches on Google are via mobile. The reality for the hospitality industry is that, since it’s all about serving the guest, you cannot choose to ignore one seventh of your customers. It’s like telling every seventh person who walks into your hotel lobby that you’re not interested in their business. That would be commercial suicide, yet it’s essentially what many hotels are doing right now.

Another important factor to consider is that, according to Google, 81% of search coming through mobile is done for speed and convenience reasons. Mobile search is also responsible for pushing conversions through multiple channels as it can be the first point of contact between a hotel and customer before they action a booking. This means that there has never been so much evidence available to suggest that it is absolutely essential for hotels to provide focused, convenient and customised information to the mobile visitor as the potential value of this contact with the customer is huge.

Customised Mobile-Centric Websites or Responsive?
Mobile searchers are impatient and have specific needs compared with desktop users. A full website on a mobile screen does not service these needs so either the website must adapt or the approach must change more radically. A website needs to intelligently focus on the mobile visitor and provide them with what they are looking for - quickly, effectively and professionally. 

Bookassist research has shown that the information sought by mobile users visiting regular websites, and their behaviour on websites, is markedly different from desktop users to the same websites. The popular and normally successful approach of responsive design, whereby the shape and layout of a regular website is adjusted to better match the mobile screen size, is not proving to be the best approach for hotels. 

For example, based on tens of thousands of visits that Bookassist has tracked on hundreds of hotel websites, we developed our mobile optimised website (or webapp) approach for hotels to immediately offer the primary information needed for mobile users right on the front screen in prominent touch-friendly buttons - easy booking, special offers, photos, social media, maps and directions and call-now buttons - while still allowing users to access the full website if they need to, just one tap away. This filtering out of all the unnecessary information targeted towards desktop users is the key to success on mobile.

As most of a hotel’s mobile visitors come through search they should be automatically directed from the full website to a customised mobile optimised website, not presented with a question asking what they would like to do. Such questions are just a barrier to conversion, since the question may not be understood, or the language may be incorrect, or the user may simply be impatient and dismiss it and move on (we’ve all been there!). You need to provide the user with the best possible experience for the platform they are on, while allowing them later to easily switch if they wish. That’s why Bookassist’s solution takes the decision automatically based on the screen size of the user.

Providing your mobile visitors with a mobile optimised website shows that you respect and value this growing profile of visitor. As proof of its success, the Bookassist mobile-optimised website platform recently took second place in the Eyefortravel Mobile Innovation Awards in San Francisco in March 2013 (

Engage Your Direct Mobile Customer In The Right Place
Proper mobile search optimisation and mobile search marketing ensure that your hotel has the best opportunity to capture direct online business at the highest possible margin. Targeting mobile users with Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising has become a very important marketing tool in the process of mobile search and mobile sales. Google researchers have found that mobile PPC ads are most effective during goal-oriented searches, meaning when someone is ready to buy they are more likely to take interest in a mobile PPC ad then when they are not. Almost 59% of such goal-oriented people found that mobile ads were a useful resource at this stage of the decision making process.

Now Google is rolling out new Mobile Enhanced Campaigns, basically encouraging more and more advertisers to join the mobile PPC advertising space. As search levels are surging on mobile devices this should not be ignored and will be embraced by many of the big players in the industry who already have a strong PPC presence on mobile. This means that targeted mobile PPC campaigns and professional mobile-centric websites will be key components of online strategy and help drive the surging revenue potential from the mobile search space.

Never has the importance of presenting your brand with intelligent, customised and effective information for your mobile visitors been so clearly evident, and to back that up with mobile marketing that specifically targets your customer segments. Hotels were slow to embrace the internet 10 or 15 years ago and as a result lost ground in the space to large online travel agents, which dominate to this day. Now is the time to target and serve your direct customers on mobile.

Don't miss the train this time. The evidence is out and is shouting, “All Aboard”!


Cristian Petcu is an Online Marketing Specialist with Bookassist (, the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

Bookassist’s mobile website (webapp) solution for hotels. The platform was recently honoured on the world stage with a runner-up position against world-leading brands at the  Eyefortravel Mobile Innovation Awards in San Francisco in March 2013.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Google Places becomes Google+ Local and changes the Search game yet again

In a potentially influential change in search norms Google has moved their Google Places business pages to the social media platform Google+ under the new moniker Google+ Local. All existing Google Places pages have been automatically moved to Google+ Local seamlessly so page owners do not have to worry about major profile updates. Business owners can still log into their Places account but will be gradually moved across over the next few months. 

The Google+ Local page is intended to be a more rounded profile for businesses (see Figure 1). Visitors will see content like reviews, ratings and photos as before but now the page integrates social media also by offering Google+ account holders the opportunity to see what others in their own social “circles” have said about that business.

Figure 1.
The new Google+ Local page that replaces the former Google Places page, shown here for Charleville Lodge Hotel Dublin.

Businesses that have not yet created a Google Places account or a Google+ account are losing a valuable opportunity in search. Good interaction with, and management of, your Google+ Local profile will likely contribute to better search engine optimization and therefore higher positioning in relevant search results. With the integration of highlighted reviews and social media it will be increasingly important also to interact with your customers online, since much of this information will now be visible directly from search results.

The change is part of an increasingly strong push that Google is giving to its social network platform, integrating it throughout its services in an attempt to out-social rival Facebook. 

Changes in Organic Search
In tandem with the change, Google also now provides a much richer level of information in their organic search results. The new Google+ Local page will replace the old Places page that can be accessed through the map feature on the right hand side of the search results.

The area below the map (see figure 2) contains useful information on the business such as Google+ Location pictures, Zagat ratings (Google’s recently purchased restaurant rating system), Google reviews, price comparisons, profile information and links to third party review websites. If the searcher is not already a Google+ member there will be a prompt to join for access to more information, evidence again of Google pushing the searcher towards their Google+ social platform.

Figure 2.
The extended info on the map section of Google’s search results page.

On the left where the organic results appear Google has also integrated extra information for the searcher (see figure 3). Under the usual search results they have added a bar with additional intelligent user information. Again they have integrated a Zagat rating that takes an average of user ratings from the Google+ Local business page and scores it out of 30. Next is a Google reviews link and finally a product price listing. This link has a drop down selection which compares prices accross multiple websites while highlighting the official website link. In the case of hotels, featured pricing sites are, etc., and one can compare rates on particular days through a check date selection box.

Figure 3.
Additional information and interaction is now possible directly on search result listings.

What it means for Hotels
Google+ Local looks like it’s going to be an essential element of a hotel’s online marketing efforts since so many hotel customers interact with social media and reviews when making a decision on where to stay. The new changes in search results integrating rich Google+ Local page information directly into organic results means that hotels direct booking potential will certainly be affected.

Interaction with the searcher, your potential customer, and good management of your business’s Google+ Local page will be essential in keeping your online reputation in good condition as search enquiries will bring up Google reviews and comments from members of the user’s personal Google+ “circles”. Such personal recommendations from others who are known to the searcher have a much stronger influence than reviews from strangers.

It is very likely that businesses who use the maximum potential of their Google+ Local page will be rewarded with better SEO and search engine rankings.

Finally a big factor is the price comparison feature that compares rates across other sites and online travel agencies for any given date selection. This means hotels will have to always keep best rates on their own site as price comparisons are easily and immediately viewable in search results.

These steps are likely to be just the beginning of the changes Google intends to integrate into Google+ Location pages. If your business hasn’t set up a Google+ Local or at least Google places page, now is the time to do it. The changes are intended to provide the searcher with richer and more transparent search results. Since it will directly affect hotels’ online presence and direct website sales there is no choice but to get involved and stay involved.

Actions Bookassist have taken to maximise potential of Google+ Location

The very first mode of apparatus was to make sure that all of our clients had taken full ownership of their Google+ Location profiles.
This made sure that each hotel has maximum control and thus effect their Google+ Location profile has for both users and search engines when showing up in results.

Online Visibility Perspective

In order to maximise the effectiveness of the Google+ Location profile to the visitor we made sure to have:
  • A full and complete description using maximum allocated space and features provided.
  • Correct Hotel information, Address and Map location.
  • Clear and concise text descriptions.
  • Featured Hotel services and USP’s.
  • Advised Hotels to display quality images of their property on their profile.

Also as part of online visibility as described in the article Google have integrated price comparisons directly into the search results making these comparisons clearly visible and accessible to the searcher.
Bookassist are constantly communicating to Hotels the importance of at least rate parity if not best rates available on the Hotels direct website as a very important part of the over all direct bookings strategy. Hotels always keeping to this practice ensures that price comparisons in search engine results will always reflect well for a hotels online reputation, customer loyalty and direct bookings strategy which are all key elements in optimising your online revenue.

Search Engine Optimisation Perspective

In order to maximise the effectiveness of the Google+ Location profile in search engine rankings we made sure to have:
  • Specific Address and Map location is correct.
  • Added keyword friendly text to Hotel descriptions.
  • Made sure Google+ Location profile is 100% complete in order to get maximum weighting by google in the search engine results.

The Traffic Builder Team at Bookassist are monitoring Google+ Location for issues, changes and updates in order to make sure our clients are maximising the potential of their profiles both to visitors and to search engine rankings.

Cristian Petcu is an Online Marketing Specialist with Bookassist (, the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Safer and Better Online Business

Stories of serious data breaches are creeping into the news on a regular basis. Large organizations such as Wyndham Worldwide Group, Radisson Hotels Group, Tripadvisor, Facebook, eircom, Meteor and Ulster Bank have been hit in recent times and have received the type of publicity no business needs. 

If you operate your hotel without the necessary measures to protect your business and your customers from a data breach, you are exposing your business and customers to risk. Without the proper controls your confidential information and your customers’ personal information and credit card details could be hacked into, causing immeasurable damage.

Bookassist operates in numerous jurisdictions and constantly monitors legislative developments across Europe for the benefit of our hotel clients.  Here, I provide information on the standards and legislation in place to help protect your business and customer. I also highlight what actions have been taken by Bookassist to protect our hotel clients and their customers. 


What is PCI DSS?
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) are technical and operational standards that were created by the major credit cards companies (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) in 2004. The current version of PCI DSS was released in October 2010. The standards apply to all organisations who store, transmit or process cardholder data. PCI DSS is an industry standard and is not actually a legal requirement in Ireland and many other countries. 

The aim of PCI DSS is to set standards that assist in the prevention of fraud. Being PCI DSS compliant does not mean that you won't have a data breach but it does mean that in the event of a data breach arising, the credit card companies will support you. 

What you can / cannot do?
For starters, hotels or any business should not under any circumstances store CVC (card verification code) numbers. CVC numbers are personal numbers on credit cards and are similar to a personal signature. In the event of fraud arising, card details without CVC numbers are less useful to fraudsters. 
  • Access to machines which hold reservation information should be restricted and passwords should not be shared between staff.
  • Cardholder information should not be kept or transmitted in an unsecure manner. Where you are sending or receiving cardholder information by fax or email, you need to ensure that the network used is secure and encrypted to protect the information. Standard email is not secure and shouldn’t be used for credit cards by anyone. The strongest risk in hotels is actually with credit card details on fax paper or printed emails being left lying around.
  • Staff should be trained on the importance of protecting cardholder data.
Consequences of non-compliance?
Non-compliant businesses can face fines from the credit card companies, brand damage, potential lawsuits, insurance claims, difficult business conditions and a negative impact on customers. In the case of the data breach suffered by the Radisson Group, they had to contact guests to ask them to check their account statements for unauthorized purchases - hardly good for your image. Wyndham Worldwide Group were recently charged by the Federal Trade Commission in the US for three separate data breaches which, it is claimed by the FTC, resulted in $10.6m lost to fraud. 

How Bookassist complies with PCI DSS.
Bookassist takes compliance with PCI DSS seriously and we go to considerable effort and cost to achieve the standards of compliance. All hotel clients of the Bookassist system must sign up to the PCI DSS standards, all access to our system is logged and access to the system is password protected (and passwords need to be re-set every 90 days). CVC numbers are never logged on the Bookassist system and are not available to hotels in accordance with PCI DSS. Customer cardholder data can only be viewed for up to one month following the customer’s departure date. After that date, the information is automatically deleted from the Bookassist system and cannot be retrieved. 

In addition to this, Bookassist have a dedicated Security Officer with responsibility for all PCI DSS compliance and security issues, a full incident response team and response plan in the event of any issues arising and staff on call 24/7/365. We have invested heavily in hardware and software to ensure security and monitoring and we have an annual external audit, part of which consists of hack attempts at our systems and monitoring how these attempts are dealt with automatically by our system.

At Bookassist we feel that the investment we have made in PCI DSS compliance is important for us and for our hotel clients. 

2. Data Protection

What is Data Protection?
Data Protection is the protection of personal data. Personal data means “data relating to a living individual who is or can be identified either from the data or from the data in conjunction with other information that is in, or is likely to come into, the possession of the data controller.” 

The protection of personal data is a legislative requirement that stems in Ireland from Data Protection Acts 1988 - 2003. In all our core markets, Data Protection legislation is EU driven. The main Data Protection principles are as follows; (i) data must be obtained and processed fairly, (ii) it must only be kept for lawful purposes, (iii) data must only be processed for the purpose intended, (iv) data must be kept secure, accurate and up to date, and (v) data must only be retained for as long as it is necessary. 

In Ireland the Data Protection Commissioner has responsibility for monitoring compliance with the legislation and for taking proceedings if needs be against persons or businesses who are in breach of the legislation. In recent times, the Data Protection Commissioner has taken proceedings against eircom and Meteor for data breaches relating to the theft of two unencrypted laptops containing details of over 10,000 customers. In these case, fines of €15,000 each were levied against eircom and Meteor for breaches of data protection. 

Consequences of non-compliance?
Under the current legislation, non-compliance with data protection can attract fines of up to €100,000, criminal proceedings, civil proceedings by individuals and reputational damage. 

On 25th January 2012 the EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding announced significant future reforms of Europe’s data protection legislation. As part of the reforms heavier fines for non-compliance were announced - up to €1 million or 2% of global annual revenue for data breaches. 

How Bookassist assists hotels with compliance
When guests are inputting their booking details on client hotel sites, the Bookassist system only requests information necessary for the completion of the booking process. In addition guests are requested to tick a box (opt in) to confirm if they want to receive any emails / marketing information directly from the client hotel. The Bookassist system then logs all access to the system. 

For email marketing campaigns, it is important that the Guidelines set out by the Data Protection Commissioners are followed. These Guidelines state that:

Where you have obtained contact details in the context of the sale of a product or service, you may only use these details for direct marketing by electronic mail if the following conditions are met:
  1. The product or service you are marketing is of a kind similar to that which you sold to the customer at the time you obtained their contact details;
  2. At the time you collected the details, you gave the customer the opportunity to object, in an easy manner and without charge, to their use for marketing purposes;
  3. Each time you send a marketing message, you give the customer the right to object to receipt of further messages; and
  4. The sale of the product or service occurred not more than twelve months prior to the sending of the electronic marketing communication or, where applicable, the contact details were used for the sending of an electronic marketing communication in that twelve month period.

NOTE: In relation to 4 above, if the subscriber fails to unsubscriber, they are deemed to have remained opted-in to for a further twelve month period from the date of the most recent marketing email.

The Bookassist system records for the hotel whether or not the customer has consented to receiving emails from the hotel and also the date of the booking to help the hotel to comply with the Guidelines. 

3. Consumer Protection

What are the main principles?
In all transactions between businesses and consumers it is important that the information used is clear and transparent at all times. In Ireland the legislation stems from the Consumer Protection Act 1978 but in more recent decades is mainly EU driven. The legislation is constantly being updated to increase the requirements on businesses to protect consumers especially for online consumer transactions. 

How does Bookassist assist hotels?
The Bookassist booking process is a clear three step process. At each stage of the booking process, the customer is asked to give their confirmation to move to the next stage. It is also made clear to the customer at all times what the total price of the room/package they are booking is and whether or not they are to pay a deposit at the time of booking. 


Bookassist takes PCI DSS, Data Protection and Consumer Protection compliance seriously and invests effort, time and money on compliance on behalf of our clients.  It is critical that your business is not exposed by dealing with non-compliant partners.  The consequences of not checking your suppliers’ credentials could be enormous. 

Elaine McCormack is Legal Counsel at Bookassist (, the technology and online strategy partner for hotels. Bookassist provides Site Builder web design, Traffic Builder PPC management and Booking engine services to drive direct business to hotels.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Introducing New Facebook Pages with Timelines

Bookassist's Ciaran Rowe talks about the upcoming changes to Facebook Pages for Business, and how best to prepare for them

Facebook recently announced that a new look for Facebook brand pages is coming soon. Page owners have the option to preview and publish the new look, or to wait until all pages automatically update on March 30th. The update follows the recent changes that were made to personal pages incorporating timelines, and is similar in many respects. The change to the look of the page is quite significant as can be seen in the images below which compare the current look (see Fig 1) with the new look (see Fig 2).

Figure 1

Figure 2

The key changes to the page according to Facebook are the ability to brand your page, highlight what matters, and manage everything from one place.

Brand Your Page
The first element allows you to add a cover photo to your page and highlight the most important news on your timeline. To set up a cover photo, click on the “add a cover” link, and choose a photo from your previously uploaded photos or upload a new one. The image will display at 850 pixels wide by 315 pixels tall, so choose a good quality medium sized image for your cover. The cover will be overlaid by your profile picture, so make sure that they work well together - a logo would be ideal for the profile picture. (see fig 3). The profile image should be square and at least 180 pixels wide. If you currently have a profile image that is not square, such as the ones designed by Bookassist, with an arrow pointing to the booking apps, then this will need to be replaced before March 30th. Remember that both images can be easily changed at any stage.

Figure 3

Cover photos must not contain price or purchase information, contact information, calls to action or requests to ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ - full details.
The cover photo is not clickable, so don’t put anything on it that may confuse users.

Highlight What Matters
Just below the cover photo, the apps that are available appear. Photos appears first by default, but the rest can be selected by the page owner. The first four apps appear all the time and the rest appear when the arrow on the right is clicked and the section opens out. To change the order of the apps, click on the down arrow and hover over the app icon - you can then click on the pencil and select which app you wish to appear in that space. The icons that appear here should be the most important areas in your profile, such as the Book Now & Special Offers, as well as videos or other areas you wish to promote (see fig 4).

Figure 4

The next area on the page is the timeline, where your posts appear (see fig 5).

Figure 5

This area includes all your posts, so users can follow your timeline back to the beginning. New options include ‘Pin a post’, which allows you to pin a post to the top of your timeline, so if there is something that you want to be very prominent such as a competition or a big news item, you can leave it at the top without having more recent posts push it down the list. This option is available by hovering over a post and clicking on the pencil icon. You can also click on the star icon, which highlights the post and makes it appear the full width of the page (see fig 6).

Figure 6

The timeline also allows you to add important events as ‘milestones’, so once you have entered the date that your property was opened, you can then add in other important dates that you wish to highlight (see fig 7).

Figure 7

Manage Everything from One Place
If you are logged in as an admin of your page, the admin section now opens up automatically at the top of the page. (see fig 8). This area shows all the information about your page in one place, such as new likes, notifications, messages and an overview of your page insights. You can use this section to respond privately to messages that you have received. This area also contains a link to manage your page, so for example you can choose whether to allow others to post to your timeline link, or you can view your activity log. There is also a link to help you build your audience by inviting friends or email contacts, as well as helping you to create an ad for your page. You can hide this section at any stage and the link to open it again appears at the top right of your page.

Figure 8

It is important to be prepared for the changeover, so log in to your page as an admin and preview the new page look. Before the changeover ensure that you have a good cover and profile picture as well as important dates and information that you can use as milestones. Also consider which posts you consider the most important so that you can highlight them or pin to the top of the page.

If your current page has a default landing page other than the wall, this will no longer be the case after the changeover - all users will be directed to your timeline page. You can however create a link to app pages, so you may like to direct users to a particular page from a link on your website.

Answers to the most common questions can be found in Facebook help pages

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Very Pinteresting! The new Social Media tool

Bookassist's CEO Des O'Mahony discusses the potential of the new kid on the social block, Pinterest


Launched in early 2010, Pinterest ( is basically a classy-looking visual online scrapbook. But the ease with which you can add information and reorganise content, and the way that it is shared, is what makes it very different from other clipping sites. is now one of the top 10 social networks. The site's stated mission statement is to "connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting." Once you have an account, you can easily “pin” photos or videos to the site and have them arranged in your different “boards”, each of which can have a certain theme. It’s like visual tweeting.

The highly visual site has already achieved more than 10 million unique users, with a growth rate faster than the flagging Google+. Interestingly, over 95% of those currently interacting with Pinterest are female. That’s not surprising giving the amount of fashion-oriented visual content that is currently on the site. But the content profile is rapidly evolving.

Getting Online

Right now, you can only join Pinterest by invitation from an existing user (though you can also request an invitation on the site). Once you have an invitation, your sign-up process first assumes you will connect Pinterest to your Facebook or Twitter account. This means that, by default, your actions on Pinterest will be automatically shared on your Facebook timeline and/or Twitter account unless you expressly turn off that sharing in your Pinterest settings later.

Once you’ve signed in initially, it will then suggest people for you to immediately follow based on your defined interests. Again, this is a default step so you’ll probably have to go and unfollow some or all of these unknown people later. But it is a good introduction to the platform to see what others are doing. And in the absence of any of your own friends being currently on the site, it’s not a bad way to start you off until you get the feel of it all.

Adding Stuff to Boards

Boards are analogous to pinboards that you stick interesting information on. You can create any number of boards and theme each one with whatever you are interested in collecting or displaying, for example “Hotels that I’ve stayed in”, “Places I dream of”, “Architecture I admire” etc.  Pinterest requires that your boards fall into certain pre-defined categories however. You can choose whether your boards are open to allow others to pin stuff on them too and collaborate on your theme.

Adding content to your boards on to your Pinterest profile is simple enough. On the site menu bar is an add function so you can choose files from your computer and add them to a specific board via the “Upload a Pin” function. Or you can enter a URL and let Pinterest go gather all the images at that address for you to choose from using the “Add a Pin” function.

The Pin It Bookmarklet

Better still, there is a bookmarklet option that you can install on your browser’s bookmarks bar so that images on any site you are visiting can be quickly pinned. Unfortunately, the behaviour of the bookmarklet is patchy, since images or videos that you see in a site may not actually be visible to the Pinterest bookmarklet at all if they are background images, or Flash content, or elements of certain javascript slideshows etc. There is certainly huge potential for copyright violation also in capturing other people’s images. This is bound to become an issue as the site gathers momentum. At least what you pin always carries the original URL of the source, so tracking the origin of pinned content is easy.

There is also of course a Pinterest iPhone app to make adding photos a snip.

Likes, Comments and Follows

The ubiquitous idea of “like” and comment is here also. Similar to Facebook, to comment on other people’s boards, you both have to be following each other. But in terms of how your content is shown online, the parallel with Facebook stops. Your content is visible to everyone.

Like Twitter’s re-tweet, people can re-pin your content to their own boards if it suits their theme. Good quality content can quickly go viral in this way, though it’s hard to track where your content is ending up.

Discovering as an Influencer

The home page of Pinterest is a constantly changing random view of people’s interactions with the site. It can be fascinating to scroll through, and quite addictive. Especially since the home page is designed to be “limitless” and scrolling just continually adds new content to the bottom so you never reach the end.

Browsing in this way allows for easy discovery of new information in a way that search cannot tackle, since to search you need to already know what you want. This is where a site like Pinterest can have a real impact, since it allows ideas or concepts to be visually assessed and to trigger ideas that might eventually lead to a product search or purchase elsewhere. In that sense, Pinterest has an opportunity to be an influencer on purchasing and on service choice in a way that Google currently cannot.

Hotel Orfila in Madrid on Pinterest is building local information 
of interest as well as themes for potential guest categories.

Your Hotel's Opportunities

Pinterest’s search bar is the easiest way to sift the material and find interesting content. A simple search for “hotel” reveals some great content, and shows the opportunities that hoteliers have to get quality content onto the site. 

What is very clear is that high quality visual content is a must. The strong visual appeal means that interactions are highest for stuff that clearly stands out from the page. 

Organising a hotel’s material into quirky, interesting boards is also a draw. Few people will look twice at boards called “My Pictures”, but unusual titles and good comments written with a view to good search engine marketing and keywords will certainly help move your content to front of stage. 

The key measure of success of content on Pinterest is whether your content is repinned or not. Just like retweets, you can’t get your message out to a wider audience unless you do something unique and compelling. That’s the challenge for hotels on Pinterest.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Google Search plus your World

Bookassist's Ciaran Rowe talks about the recent introduction of Google Search plus your World and its impact on the search results page.

Google “Search plus your World”
Google recently announced the launch of a new feature on their search results pages, called Google “Search plus your World” which incorporates results from the user's Google+ network in addition to the existing results. This initiative is part of Google’s efforts to include more social content in their results. Since the deal they had with Twitter has lapsed, and they are not given access to Facebook content, the obvious source of social content was their own Google+ network.

Although the new look is available to users searching in English in the US, it is not available worldwide yet, but Google announced that it would be rolling out very soon.

The three key changes to the page are personal results, profiles in search and profiles & pages.

1. Personal results

The image below, which is a sample provided by Google, shows the layout of the page with the new elements.

The red arrow points to personal results which are taken exclusively from content that has been shared with the user in Google+. If the user clicks on this area it will expand to show the contents of the personal results from Google+.

The yellow arrow points to personalised content which is embedded in the page, in this example showing photos from the users Google+ circles, related to the search query.

The green arrow offers the opportunity to turn off search plus or to toggle between standard results and search plus results.

2. Profiles in search

This new element adds users from your circles to search results so if, for example, you start typing the name of someone in your circles, Google autosuggest will complete the name and display their content in the results. It will also show Google+ profiles related to the search results and provide a button to allow you to add them to your circles.So if, for example, you see a blog article or a news commentary that you like, you can add the author to your Google+ circles.

3. Profiles and Pages

This area allows users to connect with high profile Google+ businesses and people. In the example provided, if you search for a music related term, some high profile musicians profiles will appear on the right hand side of the page, giving you the opportunity to connect or find out more about them.

Some issues raised by the new Google page include:

Privacy - many users are concerned that the content of their Google+ pages is being shared in the results pages, but Google have emphasised that the new system is extremely secure and that content is only displayed to users that have previously had the content shared with them through their circles. An example would be, if a friend that was following posted photos of their trip to Thailand on Google+, I would see those photos in my search results if I did a search for Thailand, however, people not connected to my friend would not see his photos.The new page uses SSL encryption to ensure the security of the content when users are logged in to their account. An unfortunate side effect of this for marketing purposes, is that Google analytics no longer displays keywords that were used by visitors to your website if they are signed in. This information is now displayed as (not provided) for organic traffic, although adwords users still have access to the data for the moment.

Quality of results - the fact that Google are using their dominant position in search to push their own content to the top of the results page is felt by many to have a negative effect on the quality of the results. Googles priority appears to be showing results that are tailored to the users history and likes rather that displaying unbiased relevant results as in the past. An example would be breaking news which may become harder to find from sources that are not on Google+

Opt in/out - there is currently no way to opt out of having your content displayed in searches by users that are in your circles, so it is important to monitor what content you share. It is possible to opt out of seeing Google search plus by adjusting your search settings once the option becomes available.

This recent development emphasises the importance of creating your own Google+ business profile in order to maximise visibility in Google search.

As further information becomes available, we will update this blog, so check back soon.

For more information on Google search plus see the official Google post

For more information on setting up a Google+ page see our previous blog post

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Google Hotel Finder - Everything you wanted to know

Bookassist Search Marketer Martin Murray discusses Google’s latest experiment, the Google Hotel Finder.

The Google hotel finder is a very interesting development that has the potential to shake up the online market for hotels. As a service, it aims to allow you to search, compare and book hotels from all over the world. It can be accessed at:

Here are some of the key features in the service to date:

1. Search
The main feature of the Google hotel finder is its comprehensive search function. Users can search for hotels by location, price, hotel class and user rating. They can also limit the results shown by using the “shape” tool and specifying a specific region on the map.

2. Date Selection
The hotel finder has a standard date selection feature allowing users to select their check in and check out dates using a calendar.

3. Shortlist
When searching for hotels a user can add hotels to a shortlist and they will then be displayed at the top of the search results page until they leave the hotel finder site.

4. Compared to typical
The compared to typical feature allows a user to compare a hotels current price with its typical price. Google use historical price data from various providers to determine a hotel’s typical price.

5. Ranking
By default Google list the hotels in descending order of their user rating, although they term this “Magic”. The user rating is based solely on reviews and ratings left on various Google properties such as Google places.

6. Hotel Data
Your hotel’s description text, contact details and website address are all taken from the hotels Google Places page. Your hotel’s photos are provided through a partnership with VFM Leonardo and the reviews are taken from Google itself.

7. Prices
Google is partnering with several providers that can provide pricing information for the listed hotels. Google will not deal directly with individual hotels, but Bookassist is currently working with Google on integration so that Bookassist clients can also directly show their prices with expected completion early in 2012.

8. Book
When a user clicks the “Book” button they are presented with a list of prices for the specified hotel. These prices are provided by the various providers which have partnered with Google. Underneath the list of prices there is a direct link to your hotel’s website. This link is included for all hotels and is free.

9. Cost Per Click (CPC)
The current CPC cost is 0.2% of the total quoted booking value. The total quoted booking value is the number of days (taken from the date range selected by the user) multiplied by the price quoted (taken from the selected provider). If the user clicks on the link to your hotel’s website without any pricing information there is no charge for this click.

Appearing on the Google Hotel Finder

The majority of hotels are already included in the hotel finder but some hotels are currently missing and some hotels that are included are only shown if you use the shape tool on the map to include the area where the hotel is physically located. If your hotel is not currently listed please be aware that Google are constantly adding hotels to their database.

Analysis & Opinion

In our opinion, the main positives and challenges of the hotel finder for the online customer and the hotel are listed below.

Key positives
● Clean, uncluttered design.
● Shape tool is useful but only beneficial if you know the area you are visiting.
● Filtering options are useful and easy to use.
● Prices are listed clearly.
● The hotel website link is included automatically and is free.
● Hotels can now compete directly with OTAs.

● A user cannot search by hotel name, specific address or landmark.
● Prices are currently displayed in US dollars only.
● English is the only available language.
● Only reviews from Google are listed.
● Some hotels are missing from the finder.
● Not all hotels can show their own prices yet.
● As of mid December, Google is placing its hotel finder as the first sponsored link in search results for hotels in the USA, causing considerable controversy in the PPC market.

Hotel Specific Challenges

Besides the challenges of the hotel finder product there are also some hotel-specific challenges which only you the hotel owner can overcome.

Rate parity – Up until now customers have had to go to multiple websites to check who has the best price. With services such as Google hotel finder they now only have to go to one website. As a result it is now fundamental that hotels have the same rate or better on their own website compared with the OTAs that are selling the hotel’s stock.

Availability – Allocating sufficient availability on your own website is essential if your hotel is to benefit from the hotel finder. Simply put, if Google “hotel finder” is to generate traffic to your website and you do not have sufficient availability on your own website then that traffic will be wasted as the visitor will go elsewhere.

– In order to fully benefit from the hotel finder, full integration with the your hotel’s own booking engine is essential. This means partnering with providers like Bookassist that can provide such integration.

- At the moment the hotel finder only displays reviews from Google. You should make sure you are reading and reacting to all reviews on Google about your hotel. You should also try and encourage guests to leave reviews on Google to build content for the future.

Paid Advertising

Once you get your prices to display on Google Hotel Finder you are then signing up to a Cost per Click (CPC) advertising service so in certain respects the Google hotel finder is evidence of the shift to paid advertising that is currently taking place. As a result it is important that you are aware of this and ensure that you allocate sufficient marketing spend to paid advertising for 2012 and onwards. The key move in this area was in mid December when Google placed the hotel finder as the first advert result on search pages for hotels in the USA. Expect more moves in this area in the coming months from Google.


It is early days for the Google hotel finder but this combined with Hotel Price ads could be a game changer if this tool becomes popular with users. The main advantage for you as a hotel owner is that it allows you to compete directly with the OTAs without having enormous advertising budgets. In providing such a platform, Google is clearly encouraging more hotels to spend directly on online advertising, rather than letting those few OTAs that dominate the space right now be the only spenders.

Looking ahead it is up to Google to make this product as feature rich, relevant and as functional as possible and to create sufficient awareness of the product with the general public.

For your hotel to benefit as much as possible from the hotel finder it is important that you consider and prepare for the challenges outlined earlier.

Bookassist is the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Business Pages for Google Plus

Bookassist's Ciaran Rowe talks about Google+ business pages and how hotels should react to this new platform.

Following its initial limited release in June 2011, the number of users on Google+ rocketed, reaching 25 million users in the first 4 weeks and hitting 40 million in October 2011. The use of Google+ by businesses was banned until this week, when Google announced Google+ pages for business .

The approach taken by Google+ is different to that of Facebook & Twitter, but includes aspects of both. Users can +1 your page, which is similar to a Facebook Like, or they can add your page to their Circles as a page that they are following, similar to following in Twitter. Users can also share the page with people in their circles.

Creating a page

Setting up a page is very straightforward. The first step is to set up a Google+ profile. This can only be done by an individual rather than a business. You will need a Google Account which can then be used to access Google+ . At the moment there is no option to share or transfer access to the page, so be careful what email address you use to set it up.

Once the page is set up, the administrator will have the option of posting as themselves or as the page. You can then can start to create a new page through the set up page. Individual hotels should set up as a local business, whereas chains could set up as a Product or Brand.

Once you add your phone number (including the area code), Google should identify your property from your Google Maps listing, so you just need to select the correct listing if there are more than one, and enter your category (lodging for accommodation providers). From there it is just a case of adding your profile picture and information such as web address and contact details.
The next step is to post information, photos & videos and try to create interesting content that will engage users. As your followers grow, you will then be able to engage with the community and reply to comments and shares.

  • Interface - So far the interface is quite basic, so their is no option to personalise your page like Twitter, nor to create landing pages as on Facebook.
  • Automation - There are currently no tools to allow automation of posting such as Hootsuite & Tweetdeck etc.
  • Multiple Pages - It is possible to set up multiple pages under the same profile, which could be a very useful feature. For example you could set a new page for a spa or leisure centre, or a page for your conference facilities, or even a page for an event such as a Wedding Fair.
  • Vanity url - At the moment there is no option to create a ‘vanity url’ so the page names can be quite cumbersome - a long string of numbers such as this:

Getting Found

Google recommend adding an icon to your website which links to your Google+ page. (Get the badge here.) This is worth doing, as soon Google will accumulate all your plus ones from various sources, so it is better if they associate your page and your website as one. It will also allow your page to be found using “Direct Connect” which is a new search operator on Google. It allows the user to place a + before a term and see the Google plus page appear in the suggestions, eg +Bookassist . This allows a user to connect directly with a brands page from Google search. (Note: this is feature is not yet available in Europe)


As the Google+ business page is in it’s early stages, it is difficult to ascertain how useful it will become, but as set up is relatively quick, it seems to be worthwhile starting a page as long as there is someone available to update the page. This is particularly true as Google will inevitably use information on +1’s and pages as a signal for ranking on Google search.

Follow Bookassist's new Google+ page

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Referral Links - Tripadvisor Business Listing

Bookassist's Martin Murray discusses the use of the Tripadvisor business listing as a referral link.

When it comes to marketing your hotel online your main goal should be to drive as much qualified traffic and revenue through your own website as possible. One way to help with this goal is through the use of referral links.

There are many sources of referral links available and in this article we will be discussing the use of the Tripadvisor business listing as a referral link.

What is all it about?

With over 50 million reviews and an estimated one in every four travelers visiting the site before travelling, Tripadvisor has become the largest and most popular hotel review website.

Tripadvisor launched the business listing back in January 2010 as a way for hotels to promote their listing and to encourage direct contact between the customer and the hotel.

For many people checking hotel reviews is the final stage of their purchasing decision so having your hotel’s contact details present will help increase your chances of a direct booking which could otherwise be gained by a third party website.

Tripadvisor business listing features

There are several features to a Tripadvisor business listing. The main three are

Contact details displayed
Your hotel’s phone number, website link and email details are displayed under your hotel’s name on your Tripadvisor listing.

Create special offers
With the business listing you can create special offers for your hotel which are then displayed throughout the Tripadvisor website.

Mobile listing is enhanced
When you upgrade to a business listing, visitors viewing your listing on a mobile device will be able to call your hotel and visit your hotel’s website directly.


Tripadvisor charge a yearly fee to upgrade to the business listing and the cost varies depending on the number of rooms your property has. The average cost for a hotel in Ireland is €1550 pa.
It is worth noting that you can you can cancel your subscription at any time and get your money back for the remainder of your subscription.

So is it worth it?

We have measured two hotels in the study below. Hotel A is ranked in the top 10% for their area while Hotel B is ranked in the top 30%.

Visits – Hotel A received 6345 visits while Hotel B received 674.

(ROI) Return on investment – Hotel A had a return on investment of 44 (for every one euro spent on the business listing 44 was made back) while Hotel B had a ROI of 2.

There are several factors which could explain the large difference in results between both hotels but the main reason is because Hotel A has a much higher Tripadvisor ranking than Hotel B and therefore gets a lot more exposure on the Tripadvisor website.

If you are considering upgrading to the Tripadvisor business listing then we recommend that your hotel should be in the top 15% for your area for the business listing to be beneficial.


Conversion rate from the Tripadvisor business listing was quite high for both hotels.
The table below compares the conversion rate from the business listing compared to the average conversion rate for referral links for each hotel’s website.

Is it worth it?

The simple answer is yes, if you have a high Tripadvisor ranking.
The success of the business listing will mainly depend on two factors.

Tripadvisor Ranking – This is by far the biggest factor. The higher your Tripadvisor ranking the more times your hotel will be displayed to visitors. Also, hotels with a high ranking are trusted more as they are seen be of a high quality and therefore visitors are more inclined to learn more about them.
If you are interested in upgrading you’re listing to a business listing but have a low Tripadvisor ranking we would recommend improving your ranking first.

Rate Parity / Availability – The business listing may generate traffic but that does not mean that this traffic will automatically convert into bookings, which is why having a least rate parity and good availability on your own website will help ensure that any traffic generated by the business listing will convert at as high a rate as possible.

If you are interested in upgrading to the Tripadvisor business listing then please contact us at

Bookassist – Technology & online strategy for hotels

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Explosive Mobile Growth in Hotel Bookings

Bookassist CEO Dr Des O'Mahony shares some data on hotel booking performance on mobile platforms, showing the clear and growing opportunities in the area and some surprises in the user patterns.

Bookassist launched its mobile web app solution for hotels in late 2009 ( and more than 150 hotels and hotel groups are now using the solution. We thought we'd share some of the results we are seeing with usage on mobile, whether regular hotel websites on mobile or mobile web app.

Growth Trends for Hotels
Trends in our data to date strongly indicate that city hotels perform far stronger on mobile than those outside cities, in terms of traffic and in terms of conversion of that traffic to bookings. Also, the lead-in time for bookings on mobile has proved to be very short, with more than 65% of all mobile bookings we track being for within 24 hours of arrival. The necessity of having last-minute availability on mobile is clear for city hotels given this trend.

While city hotels are performing much better on mobile, it is clear from our data that other hotels are also showing mobile business growth, though with a time lag compared to the city properties. We expect to see growth continue in all sectors on mobile, which represents a very real opportunity for hotels in the coming months and years, especially with over 100 million smart devices now being sold per quarter through 2011.

Traffic Growth and Conversion
The graph below shows an example of a small European city hotel group and the evolving mobile business it has seen through 2010 and on to today (the figures have been rounded for clarity but are otherwise accurate). During 2010, the hotel group did not operate a mobile-optimised web solution up to end July, but adopted our mobile solution from the start of August 2010 onwards.

The growth in traffic during the first half of 2010 (blue graph) is attributable to the general mobile traffic growth trend in society based on the explosive sale of smart devices in the last number of years. The standard website that this hotel group used was bookable on mobile, but was not especially optimized for it, and recorded a relatively poor conversion of 1.1% to 1.24% across the six month period.

We introduced the webapp solution and saw an immediate change in conversion from mobile devices from 1.24% to 2.31% in the weeks prior to and after the launch, a clear vindication of optimized mobile strategy. The hotel group also indicated the availability of a mobile optimized solution on its online and offline marketing, helping increase the general mobile visitor growth trend from that time onwards (blue graph). Mobile advertising was also initiated, though its impact compared to the general mobile traffic growth trend is hard to quantify. Critically, the conversion continued to grow to finish the year at an impressive 2.91% conversion across all mobile platforms.

Revenue Growth
More importantly, the combination of capitalizing on traffic growth and an optimized webapp to drive conversion has had a very significant revenue impact. Bookings revenue from pre to post webapp time periods has risen from about €2,500 per month for the group to over €20,000 booking revenue per month in 2010 (green graph). This now represents a significant percentage of the group's online revenue and by the third quarter of 2011 had reached €35,000 in monthly revenue, with a conversion creeping up to 2.99%, a very welcome conversion rate for any hotel on any platform.

Overall for clients with this profile, we are seeing up to 5% of online revenue now attributable to mobile devices in 2011, from basically zero at the start of 2010.

Platform Specifics - Usage
Market figures for device sales currently show that about 50% of smart devices sold are Android-based. Despite this, only 15% of our figures show traffic from Android devices (see below). This trend is reflected in general web access data that tends to show Apple's iOS devices taking up to 80% of all online mobile traffic. It appears that since the Apple iOS devices are more of a premium product, their users are more committed users and more internet-savvy, while many Android phones are being supplied by telecom operators as their standard phones, even to users who have no interest in internet access. While our webapp is optimized for both iOS and Android, it is vital that iOS is optimized for in the first case since it represents the largest market right now.

Platform Specifics - Conversion
When we look at conversion figures, below, an extremely interesting picture emerges. Android users are converting way below the average, at less than 0.8%. iPhone users convert more than three times better at 2.5%, while iPad users convert at a whopping 8 times their Android cousins, at 6.5%. The iPad conversion in particular is strongly surprising and again reflects the attitude of the iPad use to internet usage and engagement. It is clearly vital that hotels consider targeting this platform preferentially and ensure their websites are optimized for it.

Mobile is a very real opportunity. Volume is growing, conversion can often be higher than regular web access and is definitely higher when optimized mobile solutions are deployed. iPad stands out as a clear opportunity and with the rate of sales of iPads and their dominance among travelers, it is clearly a target platform above all others. Short term booking is dominating and last minute availability on mobile is critical for successful conversion.

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