Act now to increase your online business in an economic downturn
Bookassist clients represent the majority of the Irish hotel industry. Our feedback indicates that many hotels are experiencing a downturn in overall business in recent months, and recent news articles and industry press are saying the same (see Sunday Business Post July 20th, 2008).
But other hotels have genuinely been able to boost the online portion of their business by having a strong proactive internet strategy. Our experience shows that you can give yourself a competitive advantage if you act quickly and decisively, and we want to remind you of some tips to achieve this.
THE REAL ISSUE
Firstly, focus on the real issue. If total bookings have changed, it is not a problem with your booking technology. The problem in economic uncertainty is less bookers due to less discretionary spend, not a "booking process" issue. Sure, each booking engine provider has a different angle on the customer interface, but the technology from the main players all pretty much "works" and mostly they're just differences in approach, not serious flaws that prevent booking on a massive scale. The bigger weaknesses with online revenue generation lie elsewhere in online strategy but were perhaps less noticeable when customers were spending more. Bookassist handles tens of thousands of bookings monthly on behalf of our clients and we continue to see this volume increase not just in Ireland but in many countries. So don't waste time on small detail issues - look at the big picture because there is still room for growth.
Secondly, we see that overall booking volume online is still on the up so the key is to get a larger slice of that pie. Make no mistake, some hotels are feeling the pinch right now but others are generating more online business and with proper strategy you can certainly seek to improve your income. Since Google search is the primary storefront for your offering, you need to look very carefully at how that operates for you. In short you need to be as visible as possible, you need to be as clear as possible about what you are offering and your offer needs to be as compelling as possible for the online customer.
It is vital that you have your website regularly (not just annually!) analysed and optimised to ensure that it has the best possible chance of getting high up on the Google rankings, the natural listings, for the typical search phrases that your customers might use. You need to have a carefully orchestrated pay-per-click advertising campaign to complement that natural listing and you need to be prepared to budget for it. Tracking and analysis of spend on pay-per-click is so clear now that there is no need to be wondering whether it is working for you or not - you can see at a glance at any time. But you must act on the information and continually adjust strategy. You also need strong analysis of visitors and trends on your website so that you can act decisively to clear any bottlenecks and provide your visitors with exactly what they are looking for. These are continual and expert tasks that your online partner company may be better equipped to handle for you.
You can also broaden your visibility by ensuring that you tap into other new markets. Have multiple languages, promote your hotel in specific language target areas on Google. Bookassist clients have seen significant new business by focusing new multilingual websites on different untapped geographical areas and the Bookassist engine already operates in 9 languages so there is scope to unify your website and your booking process for a number of different foreign markets. But you must ensure that this is not a token effort that is done once and sits there - ensure that you have special offers etc regularly translated and perhaps targetted uniquely at specific markets based on what those markets might want.
From looking at Bookassist reports throughout Ireland, with hundreds of hotels, after Ireland, UK, US and Northern Ireland, the next 20 countries that generate business are displayed on the pie chart below. These are markets you can target to get more business (click the image for a larger view). If you need more localised information for your hotel, contact your Bookassist account manager.
Many hotels for example have foreign nationals working with them and this is a major advantage for visitors from their home countries who would feel much more comfortable dealing with a native speaker. So why not highlight the languages your hotel staff can offer on your website? It's one advantage over a competitor hotel who doesn't. Also, read our recent blog entry by an industry expert on why translation is so important in the wider marketplace.
You want to stand out from the crowd and you want the customer to click on your link. Look at how your hotel is displayed in Google results. Is the simple website title, page title and description good enough? Can it be tighter, more to the point? Is it clear to a customer who you are and what you are offering immediately, not muddied by having other similar websites with similar names appearing to offer similar offerings on your behalf? Do not confuse the customer at this vital search results stage. See for example Bookassist's opinion on operating multiple websites - you can't stand out from the crowd if you yourself create a crowd.
Focus on the quality of your online presentation and on differentiating your offering. Do the obvious stuff, like making sure the best prices are on your website, but look at other things like even seeing if you can reduce prices or have particularly good value specials where you might be able to offset that rate reduction against potential higher booking volume. Package more - engines like Bookassist allow you to have add-ons and room variations at booking time so consider better virtual packaging to have a stronger offering, perhaps partnering with local amenities to offer tickets or bundles with them.
You have to sell better and dispel any doubts, so ensure good quality photos for all room types offered, not just photos of your one best room. Engines like Bookassist allow you to have room specific photos built right into the booking process, so use those facilities. Consider more customer generated content, reviews online or video reviews which you can also post on YouTube. All of these things will enhance Google's opinion of your website, pushing you upwards, but they will certainly enhance your customers' opinion of your offering also and make it far more compelling than your competitors.
Hotels should consider exchanging links with other hotels who are not direct competitors to boost online traffic as well, featuring such hotels in a section of their website as a preferred or recommended partner.
At Bookassist we pride ourselves in getting it right, and we consistently do, for our clients (see some Bookassist testimonials). We can see clearly from our client base that those who listen to our advice and respond quickly and decisively are increasing online revenue right now.
Des O'Mahony, Roshan McPartland, Mary Collins, Christina Roche at Bookassist's Dublin office.