Many of the discussions in our industry nowadays are centered on distribution. Should we rely mostly on online travel agents or should we invest in our websites? How should we build out our websites' reach? Should we outsource or should we hire e-commerce managers?
Managers of smaller independent hotels face tough challenges when it comes to promoting their
brand: we don't have an established brand, we don't have the marketing and advertising budget and we certainly don't have the information technology capabilities or the staff to be able to compete with the large chains that operate in our regions. However, we have two things they don't have: we are more agile and we know our customers better. And these are two things that operators can use to their advantage, especially when it comes to leveraging the Internet to promote guest visits.
Choosing the right website partner
The first challenge that many operators will face is the mapping of their brand into a functional website that displays their product in the right light and provides some insight into the guests' experience at their property. Look for an expert in promoting hotels online. At Memmo Baleeira Hotels, our first approach was to hire a design agency and although they designed a visually appealing website, it was not really directed at closing the sale. That is when we hired GuestCentric Systems, a company that focuses on providing independent hotels with tools to compete online.
Hotels need to have a management platform that provides a site with easy-to-understand menus, flash banners, and other interactive elements that they can manage themselves. The ability to change content that appeals to guests is essential in providing the customer experience that guests look for in independent hotels.
The right level of market visibility
With the right website in place, hotels can ramp up their online visibility even more by hiring a consultant to work with activities suppliers to get links exchanged and to utilize all online promotional outlets like press releases, article coverage, etc. We updated our hotel's profile in TripAdvisor to ensure that it reflected the major improvements to the new brand and we signed up a few relevant channels like booking.com. All these actions can then be measured by website analytics that track the return of the effort put behind some of these activities. Once these major steps are accomplished, move the maintenance of your visibility strategy inside. Having good online distribution will not only provide you with incremental occupation, but, more importantly, it is a critical element in generating business on your direct website since as many as 50% of travelers start their search on OTAs, but prefer booking directly with the hotel.
Special offers: a hidden gem
One of the key elements in a successful website is a booking engine that makes it easy to book and upsells customers on special offers. One of the reasons that we chose GuestCentric was for their booking engine which creates an experience where potential guests can deal shop easily.
By doing so, the results can be tremendous. Since the introduction of our booking engine, our direct web revenues have surpassed all our other electronic channels, and during the week we introduced direct booking of promotions on our website we saw a 200% increase in bookings.
This is where the key lies: smaller independent hotels can make decisions quickly, and can differentiate via its products.
How to integrate guests into the process
Last, but not least, hotels should provide a special experience to their guests online, just as they would provide them with individual experiences on the property. At Memmo Baleeira Hotels, we embrace user-generated content and promote TripAdvisor reviews on our website. Hotels will also need a system that tracks guests' preferences without being intrusive or too difficult to manage, that will also enable them to easily create targeted campaign for loyal guests.