It’s tough to imagine a time when the hospitality industry wasn’t reliant on websites to build awareness, strengthen brand identity and simplify the process for consumers; potential buyers have long used websites to gain information about amenities and menu offerings, make reservations, and get directions to their destination.
Today’s websites, however, have moved to the second, and some say third, generation of development from Web 1.0 (“brochureware”) to Web 2.0 (interactive sites) to today’s Web 3.0 applications that address issues related to access of online content via devices like mobile phones and notepads.
Hospitality Technology talks to hotel and restaurant executives about how they are building websites that stand out in a 3.0 world.
Mobile & nimble
Susan Huxter is the owner of LeQuartier Francais Hotel in Franschhoek, South Africa. Working with buuteeq, a digital marketing system for independent hotels, Huxter recently decided that a new website was needed to address needs related to the ability to make daily updates and to maximize the site for a mobile environment.
“We needed to move the online image of our hotel and were not sure how to do this,” says Huxter. After doing some research online, Huxter selected buuteeq, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that allows hotel, inn and B&B staff to populate and manage multi-lingual marketing and promotional content on websites, social media sites and mobile applications.
Huxter’s exclusive boutique hotel has seen a rise in online bookings for both its hotel and restaurant since it launched the new site. She attributes the increase to a simplified process for making reservations online and ease in making daily updates from anywhere.
“Your website needs to be dynamic and constantly evolving,” says Huxter. “You need to keep it alive and interesting.” In addition, she notes: “The website must reflect the nature and character of the hotel. It is often the first impression your future client will have of your hotel. You need to win them over at this point.”
Andy Hersch, senior director of nightlife for Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, notes that consumer connections have expanded beyond the traditional web page. “The increased popularity and use of iPads has made it important that we have an alternate, non-flash version of our site,” he says. “We believe that Flash is an ideal way to express the vibe of our clubs, but it is important to also have a Plan B to consider,” he says.
In addition to addressing multiple browser preferences among consumers, the ability to continually make changes to a site to keep it up-to-date is very important, he notes. “Changes get made to our website all of the time,” he says. “IdeaWork Studios designed a content management system for us so that frequent updates are within our control. It’s imperative that events get uploaded as soon as they are confirmed so that we can keep our guests informed,” he says.
Hospitality industry professionals are also creating opportunities for site visitors to engage in interactive experiences through their websites.
Great Wolf Resorts, Inc., in Madison, Wis., recently unveiled a new website for its resorts that integrates social media and guest content into the site. It’s an interactive, community-focused experience designed to emulate the experience guests would enjoy while at the lodge. “In today’s age of permission marketing, people are able to filter out what they deem irrelevant and engage with only the brands they feel connected to,” says Steve Shattuck, corporate director of communications for Great Wolf Resorts, Inc. “We’re fortunate that those engaging with our brand are extremely passionate ambassadors.”
Mobile also is playing an increasing role in Great Wolf’s overall marketing strategy, he says; their new WAP (wireless application protocol) companion site is soon to be launched. Additional planned updates include the ability for users to update information within their guest profiles, such as the capability to change or cancel a reservation, view customized offers and save trip profiles. Users will also be able to create a “Virtual Vacation,” starting with dates and adding their favorite slides and activities. Future updates will also include the ability to check-in online.
In terms of optimizing sites for the greatest benefit, Heather Schwartz with Anvil Media, Inc., recommended building out dedicated pages for all locations. “Splitting up all of your different locations and areas on separate pages really helps with local search,” she says, noting that 40 percent of searches have a local intent. “In terms of priorities, I would almost always recommend claiming your local business listings and optimizing those listings,” she says. “Google Places, Yahoo, Bing and Yelp would be the to priority places.” Schwartz also recommends a dedicated mobile landing page. “A lot of times that’s easier because you don’t have to build out your entire site,” she says, “and people don’t have to squint their eyes when they’re on their mobile phones. It’s a better user experience.”
Finally, take advantage of analytics to monitor and evaluate site traffic and user activity. These tools can help you see how visitors located your site, at what page they enter, which page caused them to leave, and which pages they viewed the longest, among other metrics.
While the only thing certain about the future of technology is that it will continue to evolve, for the hospitality industry veterans one thing is likely to remain consistent: the need to continually listen and respond to changing consumer needs.
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