In the past year consumers turned to the Internet in growing numbers to self-book their own travel plans through hotel sites and other online channels. The percentage of bookings made over the Internet continues to surge with more than 40% of all hotel bookings being generated from the Internet in 2009.
As this reservations trend continues to gain momentum, it is imperative for hotels to build an innovative Web presence in conjunction with new online technology strategies. Without this, it is likely that hotels' bookings will dwindle as the battle for market share is expected to become tougher in the months ahead.
In January 2009, The Strathcona Hotel was named 2008 eMarketer of the Year by Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and TravelCLICK. Management was credited with developing a creative, integrated strategy that increases demand and bookings, and for its success in attracting new 18- to 34-year-old guests through its social networking sites. Today 50 percent of the hotel's business is generated on the Web.
For hotels to capture the same kind of success on the Web, an integrated e-commerce marketing program that encompasses a number of Web initiatives is ideal. These initiatives can include:
- A redesigned search engine and guest-friendly website to make it easier for shoppers to find a hotel property online, and to quickly book room reservations
- A significant presence on social networking websites that creates a community of interested former guests who can communicate their experiences to drive greater interest in potential guests
- A program aimed at potential and past customers to build loyalty for repeat business
- Search engine optimization to make a hotel website easier to find by shoppers
- Pay-per-click campaigns to place a hotel's name in front of every appropriate online search
Social networking pays off
Of the initiatives above, social networking is one area in which there is immense opportunity for hotels to up their Web presence, especially amongst younger demographics.
To integrate any hotel into the new paradigm of Web marketing, IT executives need to turn to the major social networking websites like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, MetaCafe, StumbleUpon and Windows Live Spaces, among many others. At The Strathcona Hotel, for example, management developed specific ad campaigns tailored to attract social network website users. These promotion packages were designed around upcoming city events such as concerts, sports games, conventions and other major events. Being an ever-evolving, dynamic global audience, social networking sites require a high degree of personal touch and responsiveness which will require operators to create monitoring and response systems.
Second, it is important for operators to educated themselves on the increasing importance of the '800 gorilla' that global Internet commerce has become. The key to ensuring that a hotel's website catches the attention of "Web crawling" search engines and gains popularity is through monthly updates. This is something that The Strathcona Hotel's management learned through its search marketing partner, TravelClick. To accomplish this, hotels need to begin updating their sites with "organic" search tool upgrades that include the use of meta-tags, alt-tags, extensive link exchanges, site-map exposure and hotel photographs. Also, the addition of social bookmarking links to the Web page allows guests to easily add a website to their personal favorites. At the same time, it is important to continuously research and update key words to implement more effective pay-per-click campaigns across all major search engines.
Attracting shoppers to a hotel's site is only half the job. It is imperative to convert potential customers to guaranteed reservations once they are attracted to your website. A hotel's website experience must be seamless, easy to use, speedy and efficient.