Unlock the power of your website
"There is a risk that a hotel’s unique brand can be eroded by using travel portals", writes Des O'Mahony.
For a hotel, the direct guest is best. Bookings through travel portals or agents incur high charges, while the direct bookings through your own website represents lowest cost of sale. With stiff competition, hotels need to move to direct business more and more and lower their dependence on indirect sales. Utilising proper technology and online marketing expertise can unlock the power of a hotel website to maximize that business.
Direct versus Indirect
Times were when travelers to a destination treated the accommodation as a side issue. These days, the accommodation is just as likely to be the reason for traveling, especially with the growth in spa treatments and luxury hotels. With over 50% of leisure bookings to be made online by 2010 (PhocusWright), direct business is there for the taking. The Marriott group boldly invested millions in their online presence and in 2007 saw over 80% of their business generated directly through their own website. This could be the norm but the majority of hotels have yet to wake up to this potential instead of handing their online business to third party travel portals at a significant cost.
Poor brand imagery and customer care
There is a risk that a hotel’s unique brand can be eroded by using travel portals. A hotel is listed blandly in categories and risks becoming “commoditised” and unable to project its individuality appropriately .Pricing is out of the hotel’s control, causing customer confusion as different rates can be found on the net by potential guests. More importantly, the customer relationship is owned by the portal and it is the portal that they will return to for new bookings. While hotels may get significant business from these channels in the short term, the long term consequences for the hotel business and hotel brand is potentially damaging.
When selling directly on their own website however, the hotel lowers the booking costs, remains in control of their brand image online and ensures the customer is their customer, thereby improving return business potential. Building customer loyalty to your website is crucial and gaining their trust that the best prices are here. Bookassist technology and services are all about empowering individual hotel (or apartment) websites to reach those goals.
Get Geared Up
As the internet rapidly develops, so too does the online customer. Web 2.0 phenomena such as social networking are making their presence felt in the travel sector as it moves to embrace the technologies in so-called Travel 2.0. The recent (November 27, 2007) Sunday Times Top 100 travel sites was dominated by travel review sites and blogs, not the travel portals you might suspect, as online users increasingly want to hear what others have to say and then go direct to book. At Bookassist we continually research internet trends and implement change quickly and we’ve been doing so in the internet arena since as far back as 1994. In our long experience, we’ve seen many trends appear and disappear just as quickly, while others stand the test of time.
The key requirements for a successful direct hotel business today include:
• Good quality, attractive, customer-focused website that provides real information, quality photography and is regularly updated.
• Effective optimization of the website content and structure to ensure high search engine natural listings placement.
• Inclusion of customer generated media or other Travel 2.0 technologies such as customer reviews, blogs, vlogs.
• Newsletters and limited special offers for members to encourage the building of a community of users, plus loyalty programmes to build return business.
• Customer-targeted and constantly-monitored online advertising.
• Leading edge booking system that facilitates quick customer booking with ease and instills confidence and projects security to the customer.
• Ensuring lowest prices are on your own website at all times so that customers can trust your prices and increase their use of hotel’s website.
• Report systems that allow you to plan ahead and adjust as you go along.
It’s what they want, not what you think they want
Your website must be compelling and must capture the user in seconds or they’re gone. It must facilitate instant gratification in the form of fast secure online booking and instant confirmation (Bookassist for example uses SMS confirmation as well as email). Already the internet is fast becoming dominated by “second generation” users for whom even email is an anachronism while social networking, blogging and instant messaging rule. These new users of today are the customers of tomorrow. You need to know their thinking and their online habits. Without proper research or advice on internet trends your business can quickly be left stranded.
Dr Des O'Mahony is co-founder and Managing Director of Bookassist