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Insights Relative to Club Web Sites

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June 16, 2006
Michael Kasavana - kasavana@msu.edu

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© 2006 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Club Web Site Advantages

Club information and resources available 24/7
Enable self-reservations and registrations
Provide marketability of club facilities, staff, and services
Formation of a virtual community of actively engaged members
Enhanced communications (guests, members, staff and administration)



Private club Web sites first began to appear in the later part of the last decade. In fact, the time period from 1998-2000 is often considered the first generation for club Web sites and labeled the Static Club Web site Generation. During this timeframe, club sites were online, inactive "brochureware" composed of little more than the information (photos and text) contained in a club’s prospective new member promotional leaflet. For the most part, sites were accessible by the public and did not offer restrictive (members-only) functionality. Additionally, there were no provisions for conducting business transactions and there was limited linkage between pages within the site or with hyperlinks to external sites.

The second Web site generation, pegged as 2001-2003, can be termed the Dynamic Club Web site Generation as it provided graphical contents, enabled document uploading from club to Web, and typically was partitioned to divide guest and member content sections. The next two years, 2004-2006, frame the Interactive Club Web site Generation and feature sophisticated functionality including advanced graphics, animation, video, communication, Web-based editing, and member relationship management applications. In addition, the synchronization of Web-based inquiry options with club system database information for member directory services (roster synch) and member account lookup(online statements) have become dominant Web site features.

The fifth generation, projected at 2007-2009, might be the Webcasting Club Web site Generation as it is expected to feature instant messaging, site search engines, net meetings and webinars, online auctions, webcams, electronic balloting, and unique data mining reporting. Prospect management, member-to-member relations, and management-to-member communications, as well as management-to-staff and staff-to-management communications, are likely to be greatly enhanced.

Site Partitioning
While most operations have divided the site into two separate areas, there are three distinct partitions appropriate for club Web sites: 1) guest partition, 2) member partition, and 3) staff partition. While the home page of the club Web site is accessible to anyone with a Web browser, access to member or staff restricted sections must be controlled by user name and password or biometric scan.

Guest Partition - a guest, or non-member, accessible page (or pages) is normally designed to provide generic information about the club without exposure to proprietary club information reserved either for members or employees. Public access typically includes display of such information as location, mission, history, facility overview and contact information.

Member Partition - fortunately a majority of club Web sites have already implemented a secure (password protected) members-only segmentation. The member section can vary widely in content, but typically includes access to membership directory, recorded transactions, account statement, event registration, activity reservations (meeting, dining or recreational), committee meeting minutes, event calendar, newsletter, specialty menu items, staff directory and more.

Staff Partition - a separate area allowing staff to access work schedules, employment policies, contact information, training materials, staff news, special notifications and a summary listing of open, or soon to be open, positions (beyond announcements in the public access part of the site).

Site Providers
There are two broad areas of responsibility associated with a club Web site. The first area of responsibility is attributable to a technical services provider (TSP). The TSP assumes responsibility for all aspects of site functionality and ensures that page templates function properly, Web pages are viewable, hyperlinks click correctly, site mapping is accurate, animation works, site search engines are effective, video and audio clips play, and other applications work properly. In addition, the technical services provider guarantees the security of the site; this is an important concern for clubs as they deal with proprietary member information. An administrative services provider (ASP) is responsible for the selection and maintenance of site content and is often a member of the club staff designated as the club webmaster. The ASP is the central person responsible for administering the site and ensuring that its contents are timely, accurate and consistent with overall design scheme. The ASP works with others to collect, generate and select text, graphics, and page edits for posting and is responsible for assigning security access codes (to members and staff).

A domain registering authority (e.g., register.com or domains.com) requires the applicant identify a technical services provider and an administrative services provider when securing a domain name and account.

Web Site Perspective
A club should maintain ownership of all materials and content provided to create a site. Special attention should be placed on copyrighted materials, logos and sales marks. Monthly service and support fees should address ongoing Web site maintenance, Web site hosting, specialty services and technical support services (24/7) including remote access and telephone support.

The club should retain rights to its domain name and assign responsibility for ensuring continuous URL registration. The club should exercise caution in contracting for limited training/targeted education as Web technology is an evolving technological area of development.

The club should negotiate feature enhancements and improvements occurring during the terms of agreement be provided at no additional expense to the club. Also negotiate a multi-year agreement with automatic renewals but include a reasonable no-fault termination clause (e.g., 60-90 days notice).

The supplier maintains ownership of system design templates, features, application technology and third party relations but not content. The club must emphasize the need to secure the proprietary and confidential nature of sensitive and personal data contained in or displayed on the site.

The club should stipulate that the supplier may not transfer or assign Web site to another party without club’s written consent. And lastly, the club needs to specify it is an independent contractor to the supplier and vice versa.

Site Services
For the most part, club Web site suppliers are capable of developing a practical Web site in six to 10 weeks. For ongoing services, the major club Web site suppliers usually offer several levels of contracting to help ensure Web site content is timely and accurate, with specific areas of accountability, in addition to remaining technically functional.

Level 1/Club Managed In this arrangement the club staff is provided a text and image editor and a set of Web site guidelines needed to create and maintain the club’s Web pages. The vendor simply ensures the integrity of the Web site template and the effectiveness of the text and graphical editor. Club management appoints an individual who is solely responsible (webmaster) for quality control of everything appearing on the club’s Web site. The webmaster relies on departmental representatives (administration, membership, photo gallery, entertainment, newsletter, activities and events) to ensure that all necessary information is current, consistent in format, conforms to appropriated space, uses proper spelling, and adheres to grammatical standards. A vendor typically charges from $100 to a few hundred dollars per month for level one Web site maintenance. Popular club Web site suppliers estimate that about 50 percent of all participating clubs elect level I service.

Level 2/Preferred Service This arrangement involves the club and Web site vendor dividing up responsibility for the club’s Web site maintenance. Routine text based changes may reside with club staff while the Web site supplier handles updating graphics, newsletter, calendar, special promotions and artistic materials. The cost for this level of service varies widely falling in the $500 to $1,500 per month range. Popular club Web site suppliers estimate that about 30 percent of all participating clubs elect level two service.

Level 3/Signature Service In this arrangement the club provides content to the Web site supplier, which in turn posts the items on the club’s Web site. The fact the supplier manages the site, typically results in more advanced Web site designs, themes, and features. This approach is the most costly as the supplier is both the technical and administrative provider and may run as much as $2,000 monthly. Popular club Web site suppliers estimate that about 20 percent of all participating clubs elect level three service.

Synch Features
Without doubt the two most highly sought club Web site features are member roster synchronization and member online account review. Since both of these features contain inherent complexities associated with interfacing an independent web application with an inhouse club management system real problems can arise if the vendors of the systems do not work cooperatively. Member roster synchronization implies that the member database information maintained in the club system is identical to the Web site database contents and vice versa. This may be an insurmountable problem if the two databases are non-interactive. When a member telephones the club to update personal information, how and when does that information get updated to the Web? Or suppose a member changes an item in the online member directory, or other Web-based application, how does that change get carried through to the inhouse database? These and related issues best be resolved through cooperative vendor relations.

Similar issues arise when implementing online member account review. The Web application is not able, and wisely so, to access the live accounting information of the club system. To do so would place the proprietary member records in jeopardy of identity theft and fraud, among other concerns related to intrusion by an unauthorized hacker. Then how does this application retrieve account information and allow for drill-down detailing? To minimize risk, there is no interfacing to the actual accounting information via the Web site. Instead, most Web site suppliers receive a condensed (zipped) file generated by the club system containing all the relevant data through close of business yesterday. That file is then loaded into the Web site content and available for member use. While the term online account review implies an analysis of live data, this typically is not the case. Roster synchronization involves determining how updates to the club system database are transmitted to the Web site for standalone applications.

Web Site Success
There may be many reasons why management concludes the club’s Web site is less successful than expected. The four most common reasons for club Web site failure are: value, budget, promotion and maintenance.

Web site value is under-estimated. Many club managers do not appreciate the power or potential of an efficiently functioning Web site with respect to event promotion, member communications and facilities marketing.

Web site project is under-budgeted. Although financial short-cuts can produce a site built on simplistic information and limited functionality in an attempt to satisfy member concern, features that are seldom updated or refined or content that is stale or ignored tends to cripple the site’s effectiveness.

Web site existence is under-promoted. A Web site that is not known to exist, or that cannot be easily found or that provides no incentive for visitation will experience minimal traffic and fall short of expectations. Having the club’s Web address appear on promotional materials, linked to e-mail messages and printed on business documents (e.g., applications, cards, napkins, stationery, brochures, and directories) are acceptable means to promote site awareness.

Web site content is under-appreciated. Maintaining current and accurate Web site content is probably the biggest challenge facing club management. The appointment of an onsite club webmaster responsible for collecting and creating timely site content, ensuring consistency among posted materials, and adhering to quality and design standards are important success factors.

Club Web sites have the potential to provide competitive advantage, enhance productivity, and impact revenues. Club Web sites render unparalleled access to club information and resources 24 hours per day, every day. Sites can enable self-reservations and event registration while providing a platform for promoting club facilities, staff and services. In essence, a well-designed club Web site can create a virtual community of actively engaged members. There is probably no more direct means to enhance and expand diverse club communication channels (guests, members, staff, and administration) than an effective and efficient Web site.

Remember Einstein’s observation: "You can’t solve current problems with current thinking. Current problems are the result of current thinking!" Club managers are hereby encouraged to evaluate Web site content and functionality to determine if current generation techniques are helping the club reach its Web site objectives.

Michael Kasavana, Ph.D., NCE, CHTP, is a NAMA Professor in Hospitality Business, for the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University. He can be reached at kasavana@msu.edu.

Web Site Fees

Club managers need to be mindful of several possible fees and expenses associated with Web site creation and operation including, but not limited to:

Securing/maintaining club domain URL
Web site development costs
Web site services (maintenance) fee
Web site hosting (server) fee
Web site promotion costs

A club Web site should foster a sense of community. Determining effective content, and maintaining timely and accurate information, is critical to efficient operations. The initial development and continuing maintenance of Web site content is often a collaborative effort (members, staff, Web site supplier and club management). Enhanced value is derived from 24/7 accessibility by members and non-members worldwide. Additional factors to consider include cost savings (reduced printing and distribution expenses), rapid access communications (e-mail and bulletin boards), increased member frequency (awareness and promotions), and higher average member spending (expanded revenue opportunities). Care should be exercised to ensure that the site is highly secure.

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