The Web Site Conundrum....
By Neil Salerno ~ Hotel Marketing Coach
Monday, 22nd August 2005
Are you winning the electronic marketing game?

For some time now, I have urged hotels, especially the Independent variety, to play hard at the electronic marketing game.

There are big rewards for those who play well. The Internet revolutionized travel marketing and gave us the ability to market hotels on a global scale...at rates everyone can afford. To win, there are three primary elements which need your attention; The Global Distribution System (GDS), third-party aggregators, and, of course, your own web site.

The GDS is only a minor concern for franchised properties because most franchises require connection through the franchise reservation system. But, if your property does not carry a franchise flag, it would be fool-hardy not to have a GDS connection.

For those not familiar with the GDS, this is what gives travel agents and airlines the ability to book real-time reservations at your hotel. There are companies like GenaRes in Texas, Pegasus, and others which will connect your property to the GDS for a very reasonable fee. There are re-sellers of GDS services, but why pay a third-party fee when you can deal directly with the carrier? Check them out thoroughly.

In spite of all the controversy created by the major hotel franchises, third-party aggregators like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz, the three largest, have the clout to produce a volume contribution to your top-line. You can also get listed with these power-house third-party sites through your GDS listing.

Last, but not least, how healthy is your web site? The most common statement that I hear these days is "I have a web site that looks great, yet I am still not getting many reservations from it." The general answer is that it probably was not designed to produce resrvations.

There are many hotel sites that look great but lack many of the fundamentals necessary to generate reservations. It's kind of like hiring a good-looking talented sales person who doesn't talk to or meet with clients.

This scenario is very frustrating to many hotel owners who expect great booking results just because they like how their site looks; and why shouldn't they? Unfortunately, they don't realize that a web site's ultimate performance depends on elements which are not readily visible to the uninitiated.

There are factors like well thought-out Meta Tags which compliment the site's text, proper placement of text elements such as: the hotel's location, facilities, and things-to-do in the area, and an understanding that a hotel web site should be designed to produce reservations, not become an online brochure. These factors affect a site's search ability, and marketing ability to sell rooms.

Site content is king; yet, many site designers spend more time on photography and flash elements than they spend on creating good selling text. Remember, search spiders and site visitors read text. Sometimes one gets the impression that the text was created just to fill space around the photography.

Many of the web site designs that I review remind me of the three blind men trying to describe an elephant. "It's a long and thin like a snake", says the first man as he feels the elephants tail; "No, it's fat like a hippo", says the second man as he pats the elephants belly"; "It‘s like a thick snake without fangs" says the third man as he feels the elephants trunk. Everyone sees their own web site differently.  Few people view their web site as a visitor sees and uses it

If you hire someone to design a web site for your hotel, provide input on how you would like it to look, in general, but, understand that it needs to be designed to "sell" your location and rooms; not to be a work of art.

Explore the sites of online sales experts like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz. These people have the perfect online formula for selling rooms; nothing fancy, few flash elements, the necessary information to sell rooms, but not too much or unnecessary information. And, they rule the roost when it comes to search ability and hotel bookings.

The fact is that there are many elements which need to be incorporated into a web site for it to perform well; to produce business. The most common problem is that many hotels feel that they must include every element they can think of at the time, which usually results in a web site that is too difficult to navigate, does not follow search engine rules, and only serves to confuse the user. Too much information, too many pages, and unnecessary information can kill reservation production.

I have a client and friend who is now on his fourth web site design. One of these designs was created by a very large web design company and it didn't work at all. It produced only a handful of reservations and, after six months, produced not one search engine referral. His next site worked well, producing more than 30% of his total reservations, but it didn't look the way he liked, so he scraped that one. His current site, designed by a well known hotel web design company looks great, but was not optimized for search ability and produces very little. Get the point?

Here's the conundrum again, folks, if your site is producing mediocre results, it needs fixing. But, before you decide to totally scrap your current site, get help to make changes. There are many good hotel marketing consultants, who will give you an honest, unbiased appraisal of your site and provide the suggested changes you need to make to make it function properly. Many of them will work with your web master to make the improvements as well.

Neil Salerno, CHME, CHA
Hotel Marketing Coach
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