Marketing: How to Convert Business on Your Website

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June 18, 2011
Marketing
Sally Richards

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For many European and Middle Eastern hoteliers dealing with the big online travel agencies is a bit like adopting a lion cub–small, cuddly and harmless in the beginning but an uncontrollable monster after a couple of years.

In the modern world, shifting stock via the OTAs is a necessary evil. They are great for bringing in the bookings, though the high commission rates, tough rate parity rules and downward pressure on prices often make the relationship painfully one-sided.

Taking time to fully understand your investment in the OTA channels is an interesting process, which helps you to ask the question, what is the proportional investment into your direct booking site?  Also, how much of your overall business you want the OTAs to represent and how are you tracking to this?

Of course, the obvious way to avoid a mauling from these giants is to get more direct bookings. And that means ensuring your own website will convert the lookers into actual paying customers.

Let’s assume that you’ve cracked the problem of search engine optimization, have a great pay-per-click campaign and are doing fantastic marketing that really hits the spot. As a result you’ve got a website that potential guests are finding with regularity.

Despite what you might have read, that’s no guarantee of online success, in any market. International hoteliers especially find that there is something that is deterring would-be clients from booking often. In the vast majority of cases the answer is all down to a cumbersome user experience.

The OTAs are the masters when it comes to constructing websites that work for the consumer, so it makes sense to use the same tricks. Simplicity is the key to everything, and by following some obvious steps you’ll soon see a notable increase in your conversion rate.

1. Room types: You might know the difference between the room type adjectives classic, superior and deluxe at your property, but as an aid to making a booking these types of descriptions are virtually meaningless to the consumer. There’s no international hospitality standard, so don’t assume clients have a clue what you are talking about. Think about room types that are helpful using words like large, comfy, cozy or spacious actually say something about the experience and what they can expect.

2. Use your intelligence: Filling your shop with product that nobody wants is a surefire way to drive people away. Very often, marketing and sales have grand ideas about new packages without any thought to whether they will sell in an online environment. Use the data you have to identify what works for you and maximize these opportunities first.  Do an audit of production by rate type – remove plans that don’t produce, freeing up space for more customer-led products.

3. Keep it trim: In the same vein, limit the choice available. When a customer searches your site they should be returned only three or four prices/packages and make it easy to understand quickly what is included. The biggest sin is to have competing products on show at the same time. If you want to see how it should be done, look at the OTAs. How does a rate return on Booking.com compare to the same search on your site, for example. Which is easier to understand? How many products are returned?  The more products there are the more confusion for travellers.

4. Shop like a customer: Minimizing the number of clicks to booking is a vital skill. So every now and again act like a customer and search for your property via a search engine, then navigate through to the booking page. Is it a straight forward task? Are there unnecessary diversions or steps? Do the same to see how your property is sold via third-party sites and see where you could improve this customer experience.  Also review your competitors.  What is their customer journey like and what best practices can you apply to your properties?

Sally Richards is a managing director with RaspberrySky Services.

©2011 Hospitality Upgrade
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Smoothing the Journey

  • Hotel groups are often seduced by technology companies and Web developers and the range of new functionality offered.  Implementing all of the gimmicks without considering the customer journey results in overly complicated websites. 
    Less is more.
  • Avoid Flash animation at all costs. It’s bad for SEO and is an unnecessary barrier between you and customers.
  • Label pictures clearly so images match room type descriptions, especially in the booking process.
    Do not mislead guests.
  • Do not ask for personal data to check availability.


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