Turn your Website into a Competitive Weapon: 10 Steps

By Deborah Halpern, Contributing Editor | May 31, 2011

As brand presence on the Internet has become universal, the hospitality industry has become increasingly competitive. Securing brand loyalty is a constant challenge as online consumers easily click from website to website – heavily relying on price and location to determine booking decisions. But smart hoteliers and travel service providers are using their websites to get front and center within the consumer's brand consideration set and effectively differentiate themselves.
 
iPerceptions, an analytics provider specializing in the hospitality industry, gathered feedback from more than 100,000 hospitality and tourism website visitors to identify the trends and issues affecting the industry. Its report reveals a rise in not only online loyalty program membership, but a trend of value-seeking web browsers. Here are ten tips that hoteliers can leverage to boost their online business:
  1. Fix the bugs: Site responsiveness is the most influential factor in optimizing the visitor experience. If visitors encounter technical difficulties, not only will they go to your competitor’s site, but they probably won’t come back to yours.
  2. Offer the best rate. Period. Visitors want the best rate and will go from site to site in order to get it. By consistently offering the best rate, you keep visitors on your site and avoid comparison shopping.
  3. Know who is visiting your website: Most hotel websites do a decent job at providing relevant information. Where they fall short is in personalizing the visitor’s experience by providing information specific to their needs. (Business travelers and leisure travelers look for very different information.) When visitors cannot find the information needed, they will contact the brand directly and the site becomes viewed as an inefficient use of time.
  4. Make contact information more prominent on the website: Allowing visitors to easily contact you in order to close the information gap goes a long way.
  5. Consistent inventory: Many website visitors complain that they cannot find rooms online, yet are successful when they call. When they question the accuracy of the information on the website, it leads to negative brand perceptions and a lower likelihood to return to the website in the long-term.
  6. Invest in high quality pictures and videos: Photo and video search has become an important way to explore travel options. It pays to invest in providing high quality images in order to give website visitors the best impression of what your establishment has to offer.
  7. Invest in mobile: With searches for hotels on mobile devices increasing 3,000% since 2009, the outlook is that mobile users will outnumber desktop computer users in the next five years. Providing a mobile platform helps expand a brand’s footprint by simply being more accessible and convenient.
  8. Differentiate your loyalty program: During the recent economic downturn many travel providers leveraged their loyalty programs in an effort to stimulate bookings and brand loyalty. However, this has resulted in travelers who are now members of multiple programs and loyal to none. Use your website as a way to convince travelers that your program is more valuable.
  9. Manage your reputation: After price and location, travelers consider intangible assets such as brand reputation, which is often impacted by traveler reviews. Now more than ever, brands need to closely monitor what is being said about them and find ways to isolate brand champions, as well as properly manage those who have had negative experiences.
  10. Maximize the value proposition: Consumers want to feel like they are getting the best value and price is only one aspect of the total value. Offering perks to their stay such as free meals, internet or discounts to local attractions are ways of increasing the value of staying with a given brand.
At the end of the day, visitors look to your website to be convenient and informative. The digital landscape means that creativity is key – the days of competing solely on price are gone. Optimizing and personalizing the website experience is instrumental in maximizing online satisfaction and strengthening customer retention.
 
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