How to assess the value of your hotel’s most profitable online distribution channel
In the ultra-competitive world of hotels, it’s easy to be wowed by the possibilities of digital technology. Take for example Marriott’s launch of a global creative content marketing studio (à la Red Bull and Go Pro), or Starwood’s Apple Watch door key initiative. But for the independent hotelier, there is often simply not enough resources to reach for the stratosphere (literally, in Red Bull’s case).
At Travel Tripper we advocate the need for digital innovation in the hotel industry, but we do find that it’s equally important that hotels — particularly the independent and boutique hotels that have limited resources — understand the foundational aspects of their consumer-facing digital presence. Your hotel’s direct booking channel offers the potential for the highest ROI, but only if all the building blocks are in place.
Assessing the value of this channel goes beyond looking at sales figures. Are you maximizing the potential of each element in the sales funnel? Are you converting “lookers into bookers”? Working backwards from the point of sale, we’ve dissected the key elements of the direct online booking channel and the fundamentals that independent hotels should evaluate:
- A booking engine that converts. This is where the sales transaction happens, and it is the cornerstone to any hotel’s online sales funnel. The booking process should be absolutely simple and seamless. Ask yourself, do users have the optimal number of booking options so that they feel comfortable booking? Can they trust that the hotel’s booking engine is giving them the best rate available? If you’ve gotten a customer this far, the last thing you want to happen is for them to defect to an OTA because they feel they can get a better deal there. Lastly, ensure that your mobile booking engine is up to par and isn’t holding you back from potential revenue.
- A good looking website that works across all digital platforms. Your customers won’t make it to the booking engine if they leave the website first, so it’s crucial that your hotel’s website is designed well and presents all the information that a customer needs without having to dig deep for it. Take a look at your website’s analytics — how high is your bounce rate (the number of users that leave after visiting only one page)? A high bounce rate can indicate that your website is visually unappealing or difficult to use. This may also be a symptom of having a site that isn’t mobile friendly, a problem for which we advocate the use of responsive web design.
- A website that can easily be found by Google. Sure, customers can find you by Googling your hotel name, but are you reaching those potential customers who don’t know you but want a “boutique hotel brooklyn”? Don’t wait until after you’ve launched your website to invest in SEO. Develop a solid hotel SEO strategy from the get go as you are developing your website and its content, and make sure that your hotel is listed in all the proper online directories (especially Google Business). While we recommend working with an experienced SEO team to ensure everything is executed properly, it’s good to educate yourself on the basics on hotel SEO best practices so that you understand what’s going on.
- A digital marketing strategy that effectively utilizes paid and organic traffic. Digital marketing for hotels is more of an art than a science. How much should you spend on paid advertising such as PPC and remarketing, and how much should you invest in generating organic traffic through social media and unique content? While bidding PPC or metasearch ads can be costly when you have to compete with OTAs’ bigger budgets, the conversion rates tend to be higher as audience targeting is more precise. But social media and content development are much better at engaging audiences and conveying brand, which has long term benefits in cultivating guest loyalty. Either way, both are good for business and it’s important to strike a fine balance between the two.
So now that your hotel has mastered the basic fundamentals of the direct booking channel, you’ve got some room to experiment on the digital frontier. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll produce a hit action comedy stunt show or develop “fully immersive, 4-D virtual journey teleporters” via Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles. Maybe. Just maybe.
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