ITB 2024 Special Reporting
Hospitality Industry Surveyed - How do your Online Tourism Marketing Efforts Measure up? (Part 1)
A Couple of Chicks
Wednesday, 30th August 2006
Over 250 hospitality industry professionals surveyed to create a first look at benchmarking tourism marketing and search web trends for 2007 - Part One in a Three Part Series.

Are you not quite sure if your website has been properly optimized, or disappointed in your Pay per click results? Have you just found out the depressing news your online marketing budget for next year will be capped at around a 5% increase?  Worse yet, have you been told you will not be given any more money to market online in 2007?  If this sounds familiar don't despair as unfortunately you are not alone!

According to travel research giant PhoCusWright Inc., the total world travel market opportunity in 2005 was estimated to be around $900B, and with expectations that online travel bookings will grow at about four times the rate of the total travel market through 2007.  It seems that the tourism industry is starting to show signs that they are aware – but not yet convinced that this trend should be reflected in their online marketing spending.

Working with clients daily on their Optimization and Online Marketing efforts, we were answering many of the same questions and hearing some interesting comments, so we thought we would attempt to sew together some of the common themes as many begin preparation for 2007 budgets.

A Couple of Chicks e-Marketing developed an online survey and recently invited over 250 Hospitality Industry Professionals to assist in this research.  Responses were calculated anonymously by http://www.surveymonkey.com/Users/38194362/Surveys/593422348256/B068649C-6425-4300-9744-495E5AEDF76C.asp?U=593422348256&DO_NOT_COPY_THIS_LINK [survey monkey]; however we did include a place for the respondents to offer feedback.

Summing up those comments, one respondent echoed a statement I have heard from many, "…even when our website was new, it wasn't properly optimized. I don't think we knew what that was – or that we needed to do it.  This makes it very difficult to be on the move against our competitors."

Have we reached a point where we need to stop and re-look at our marketing spending to ensure that we are ready for the growth in online travel sales?

Search Engine Optimization

Competing in the online arena or being "found in Google" is what it is all about now, and according to the survey results the majority of people have not been happy with the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) results they have seen thus far. Our audience was comprised of over half Hospitality Professionals with a small amount of Recreation, Non-profit and Government tourism websites. We were able to get an overall feel for what is going on as the participants ranged almost equally by CEO, Presidents, Sales, Marketing and Webmasters - all within the hospitality industry.

An astounding 44% of the respondents claimed their websites were 5 years old or older. Followed closely by 30% falling into the 1-2 year category.  Yet 56% planned on redoing their website within the next six months. Websites are almost becoming like computers, once you get one - it is almost instantly outdated. Somehow working off of a 5-year old site architecture can cause some problems as well. Depending on how your site was built, you may be held hostage by your original designer/webmaster to update any content on your site.

However, be cautious not to just throw the old websites out to cyber-pasture. If it has survived the numerous algorithmic updates by the search engines, and has been building on its link popularity, you want to be cautious that the rankings you finally have achieved are maintained if you navigate over to a new platform. Solid rankings from an older site, and/or careful planned out updates can assist in your successful search optimization efforts.

According to our survey, 56% of respondents feel their website has never even been optimized. Yet of the 44% who have optimized their site - a solid third reported they were not happy with the results. Just looking at raw data like this might lead you to believe there are a number of SEO companies out there not doing their job and have left a number of unhappy clients. However 65% claim they never have worked with an outside company and have mostly used someone internally to optimize the site. Perhaps this is a word to the wise to seek the help of a professional and acknowledge that there is skill and expertise to optimization. We should not expect that someone internally should have the time, knowledge or experience to handle an optimization project. 

The rules of the optimization game are continually changing.  With every algorithm change, new technology and change in ideahatching.com [consumer search behavior], the search engines will continue to adapt and evolve their process of determining relevancy. 

The conclusion?  Make sure that if you have not already, that there is room in your 2007 marketing budget to get your website found.  Your un-optimized brochure site will slip further and further into the woods if you are not paying attention to search engine optimization best practices.  It seems to me that it does not make much sense to take an already limited online budget (from what our respondents are reporting), and create a beautiful website that your customers may never see!

Pay per Click

I was pleased to see 73% of our survey participants felt they had identified their top 5-10 search keywords and 89% knew who their 3 main competitors were within those keyword markets. Though there is a bit of a disconnect if someone feels they know their top keywords, but claims they haven't optimized their site using them.  I may point out here that the use of your top keywords needs to be incorporated in the back-end tags and descriptions, as well as within the front-end body content.  You have to tell the search engines what keywords to look for with proper tags and descriptions.

If you can't work all those keywords into your website – or while you are waiting for your Organic Search Engine Optimization efforts to take shape - you can always run a Pay per Click Campaign against those keywords.

For those who need a "Chick Translation," Pay per Click or PPC allows advertisers to purchase keywords on Google, Yahoo and thousands of other search engines and only pay when a visitor clicks through to the site.  I am a Google Certified Professional and have run many a PPC campaign over the years.  There is certainly a benefit to participating in this very targeted advertising channel for those who can allocate the proper resources to use the channel effectively.  

As popular as PPC has become, 72% of our respondents still do not advertise here. What about the 27% that do participate?  Not surprisingly Google wins hands down with 94% participating in Google Adwords, with Yahoo gaining momentum with 53% playing in the Yahoo Sponsored Search arena and newcomer MSN only capturing 17% of the market share.

58% of the PPC players are not happy with the results of their campaigns. Is this because a total of 62% are only able to invest a small monthly budget? (31.6% invest $1-$500 and 31.6% invest $500-$1000 a month) As a Google Certified Professional, I can understand how frustrating running these small campaigns can be. Google can swallow up a daily budget faster than Pac-man was able to eat those little dots! Yes I am dating myself here - but I think you get the point! 

If your daily budget is only $15.00 a day and with most bids averaging out to the dollar mark, the maximum traffic you can expect is 15 click-throughs a day.  Depending on what your ROI is on that, or your "cost per acquisition" compared with other distribution channels like Expedia and other travel intermediaries – a PPC Ad campaign might be just what you are looking for!

Many of my smaller PPC campaign budgets can be used up before most people take their first coffee break of the day. Thankfully one of the recent enhancements Google has added is the ability to time schedule your campaigns. This allows you to stretch a smaller budget and insure your ads are being shown during your prime selling time.  Google, Yahoo and MSN also give you the ability to geo-target your advertising. 

If those running pay per click campaigns are doing so using proper Analytics tools – and/or through a certified pay per click account manager or agency, I am willing to bet that there would be many happy advertisers than what our survey results reported!

And although many of our respondents have not yet tried running a pay per click marketing campaign, I am willing to bet that they are still running traditional print, radio or television ads where there is limited or no means to measure accurate return on ad spend.  A PPC campaign might not be the only online marketing vehicle you should be exploring, but it could really work to drive some traffic and measurable revenues through need times.  Some food for thought!

Online Marketing Budgets

When I casually inquire with clients about what their online marketing budget is, I am surprised how many don't really know with certainty. (Or perhaps are afraid to tell me!)  So when the results of the survey showed 14% of respondents felt they had no online marketing budget and 49.1% stated it fell between 1-10% of their overall budget, I was not surprised. In a world that has accepted the internet as one of its main resources for communication, research and purchases, the majority of us are still working with a traditional marketing budget that is not integrated to include the online medium.

The challenge in this is we hear clients saying they are frustrated that they have no money or very little to invest in their online efforts. They need guidance on where to spend those coveted dollars in order to see the most bang for their buck.  It's discouraging to see clients spend an enormous amount of money on a print ad in a local paper that is a perishable investment and immediately disappears.  The investments you make in online marketing can stay on the web forever.

Based on our survey results I predict that 2007 will not be any better. We are quickly approaching budget time for most tourism operators, and yet 23% claim they will not increase their online budget at all, another 23% only by 1-5% and the majority at 33% only increasing by 5-10%. Perhaps a way to approach budgets this season is not looking at increasing the budget, but to start shifting offline dollars into the online budget - with an accurate way to benchmark successes for future planning.

Does this sound at all familiar?  I was reviewing the marketing budget for a hotel client that had a high percentage of dollars allocated toward the tour and travel market. They had been perusing this market for over 5 years. They attended the major tradeshows, ABA and NTA; they bought extravagant gifts for Tour operators, and placed full page ads in the tour brochures.

These efforts cost them $50,000 a year. When I asked if they were still looking to grow this market, they replied, "No, we don't want any more tour rooms, they are to low rated and we have all we need." That's when the light went off and money was suddenly "found" for online initiatives.

I am not suggesting that dollars should not be allocated to markets/advertising channels that have traditionally been successful, but perhaps now is the time to shift some of those dollars slowly to other markets and other channels to lower the "cost per acquisition" or booking. Travel distribution channels have changed and expanded – have your marketing initiatives changed to compliment this trend?

So what could be included in an online budget?

Many tourism professionals are already playing in the online advertising space with banner ads, paid listings and pay per click advertising – but an online marketing budget should contain some additional line items.  The second article in the series "Benchmarking web trends" will address the various components of an online marketing budget with some recommendations for a slow transition to a more integrated marketing approach, and some interesting findings from our survey results.

About A Couple of Chicks:
Patricia Brusha and Alicia Whalen are the co-founders of "A Couple of Chicks," a non-intimidating approach to Internet Marketing, e-Distribution & Revenue/Campaign Measurement. The "Chicks" specialize in using Creative, Distribution and Technology together to bring clarity to marketing on-line.

To find out more about A Couple of Chicks Marketing and the tools and services, or to inquire about e-marketing workshops and online marketing consultation, visit www.acoupleofchicks.com

The Benchmarking Webtrends Survey was conducted online through Survey Monkey in July of 2006 – with participation from hospitality industry professionals in various capacities of tourism sales and marketing.  A Couple of Chicks would like to thank all of the participants for their time in completing the survey.
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