Custom Surfing

By Lindsay Elkins, Assistant Editor | March 01, 2006

As the options for online travel research and booking continues to grow, travelers are spending more time on hotel company websites. And as hotel online traffic continues to grow, so too does the need for better tools, more information and easier navigation.

According to Jerry O'Keefe, Webmaster at the Turf Valley Resort, IT staff maintained the property's site, which has now evolved into a detailed directory, with each department of the hotel having control over their own part of the site. "We've built administrative pages that human resources can post and manage that scenario," he says. "The front office takes reservations, and we end up posting all kinds of special events and hotel rates."

That carries across the entire property, putting the spa pages in the hands of the spa department, for example. "The whole move of the content being put into hands of staff is so that they are able to put what they want to say, when they want to say it. They develop products and update the site day-to-day so it reflects much better than the IT guys having to translate what they say. It's a huge advantage."

Turf Valley has unique needs because it is also a country club. As a result, a membership section was created as part of the property's site, allowing members to log in, have their own directory and send out newsletters.

Searching for a solution

Operators of RockResorts, a luxury hotel resort company, explain that its site reaches a large audience, is the most cost-effective booking channel and is increasingly becoming its most valuable marketing tool. "We use our website to increase brand awareness, promote special rates, seasonal promos, and other creative vacation packages," says Kara Ryan, corporate manager of e-commerce for RockResorts.

Because RockResorts relies heavily on its site, the property made some recent enhancements to make their guests' lives a little more hassle-free. Allowing customers to search according to different criteria, from property, location or interest, such as golf or spa, as well as giving them the ability to book dining reservations, reserve tee times and make special requests by working directly with the concierge via e-mail, are just a few of the improvements RockResorts made. The property is currently in the process of selecting a third-party vendor to implement a new booking engine and central reservations system.

RockResorts also conducted several usability studies where staff observed the search patterns of pre-selected customers to better understand the needs of its visitors. "This allowed us to determine whether our website features, functionalities and content were helpful, confusing, or in some cases simply missing," adds Ryan. The studies also highlighted customer needs and preferences that the resort hadn't considered, and will help guide their future website enhancements.

Catering to the masses

Turf Valley realizes that there is no single website visitor profile, and in turn worked overtime to make sure to examine its site from all points of view. "We looked at business planners and said, "what would they want to look at when they come to the site" explains Turf Valley's O'Keefe. "We have maps detailing how the meeting room is set up for meeting planners to use. From the member side, we tried to do the same thing - we revamped the whole section."

The challenge for Turf Valley was to not only cater to needs of all different people, but present that information in an easy to navigate manner. "Someone's coming to a website for a reason, and so the difficulty is how do you present all that information at once and put it into sections," says O'Keefe.


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