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Neil L. Salerno, CHME, CHA

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"What the Heck is Hotel Revenue Management, Anyway?"


The Dollars & Sense of Hotel Internet Marketing

By: Neil Salerno         

It seems to me that many hoteliers are missing the proverbial “boat” when it comes to marketing their hotels on the Internet. We all know that the Internet presents many opportunities to produce business, so let’s put all those extravagant web statistics aside and look at the Internet with our god-given common-sense. 

The Popularity of the Internet

There are many superlatives that can be applied to the Internet; the biggest, the best, and the most cost-effective medium ever, somehow, these just don’t seem adequate enough to describe it. It has changed our lives and the way we operate our businesses in ways too numerous to list here.

The growth of the Internet has been nothing short of miraculous; Google indexes more than 8.8 billion webs pages; while the total population of the Earth is only 6.4 billion. That’s pretty astounding. More web sites and more people looking for them, creates quite a market whether you’re selling marbles, cars, or hotel rooms.

There are many people who think that all they need do is to have a published web site and the business should come flowing in…wrong. The biggest challenge is designing a site to be easily found by search engines; and, once found, does it have the proper text information to “sell” rooms; this is called web site optimization (WSO).

It just makes common sense that all hotels, big or small, independent or franchise should be actively engaged in this medium. If the Internet was a print magazine which could reach every human on Earth, we would all be lined up to buy ad space; so, why aren’t more hotels benefiting from the Internet?

Hotel Involvement

I‘ll make the huge assumption that most hotels , but probably not all, have a presence on the Net; the frustrating fact is that there are still many hotel sites which are dysfunctional from a search and sales information stand-point. There are far too many owners and operators of hotels who judge the effectiveness of their web site by the way it looks; instead of the way it functions.

Just ten years ago, there were just a few web designers who began to develop hotel web sites; many early hotel sites were designed by the hotel owner’s nephew or the like. Like the California gold rush of years past, many new web designers, from many other design disciplines, now lay claim to being hotel web site specialists. On its surface, this is great; if they only knew what they were doing.

The fact is that many of them haven’t a clue as to how to design an effective web site. We see the improper use of flash, poor selection of key word/phrases, wacky navigation schemes, too little text content to be search effective, and often lacking the necessary sales text to sell visitors.

To add insult to injury, some hoteliers decide to “do-it-themselves” using readily available web site design (template) software; their only motivation…to save money. After all, the software is usually cheap and/or even free, so why not? That answer is simple, templates don’t work for hotels.

As the old saying goes “sometimes the cheap comes out expensive”. If the site doesn’t generate traffic and reservations, any expenditure, no matter how small, can be expensive, indeed.

Recently, I read an excellent article with tips on choosing a web site designer. It emphasized the need to find someone with hotel marketing experience, something I’ve been saying for years. It makes common sense that it’s just as important to choose a designer who understands that the goal is reservations production, not simply to entertain site visitors. Choose a designer who takes responsibility for that production.

Sometimes bigger is not better; beware of large design companies who charge huge hourly rates then assign your project to a $15 per hour person on their staff. How qualified is the person who does the actual designing of your site?

Web Site Optimization (WSO)

If you already have a site that is under-performing, get an honest assessment of what can be done to make your site functional. A site analysis can reveal basic structure and information errors and determine your site’s ability to generate business. This should be done long before you spend dollars on search engine optimization (SEO) or online marketing; promoting a site which, in itself, is inherently inoperative is just throwing money away.

Dollars & Sense

I’ve written many articles extolling the value of the Internet to hotels and the internet still remains as the best hotel marketing value in existence today. From an investment standpoint, the pay-back is usually a matter of just a few months for most hotels.

The absolute beauty of web site marketing is that results are almost entirely measurable; not true with most other forms of marketing. Its measurability and instant feed-back make it possible to fine-tune-it to any market, anywhere. Since it is a “live” medium, even small improvements can produce huge results…quickly.

Many hoteliers, operating franchise properties, debate the need to have their own proprietary web sites; several franchises discourage their franchisees from this practice. To me, this is like discouraging hotels from publishing print and other types of advertising…it’s silly and short-sighted.

Several franchises have seen the light and encourage individual hotel sites as long as the hotel’s reservation link leads to the franchise web site booking engine. If you are a part of one or more of these franchises, congratulations, you are part of an enlightened group.

The fact is that only two out of ten Internet users search for hotels by brand-name. The vast majority of consumers, either booking or researching hotels online, search by the hotel’s location. Some franchises participate in pay-per-click “location” advertising in major markets, but beware, most don’t.

Unless you are part of these lucky few that means that your hotel is practically invisible on the Internet unless you publish your own web site. The irony is that these franchises generally do this only where they have multiple properties in the same market; other properties which are part of your competition.

Use your common-sense and do a search for your hotel “your city and the word hotel”; did your hotel come up on the search engine’s first page of results? More than likely, the most prominent results are one or more third-party travel agents; they spend $millions to show up on sponsored searches. If you don’t see your franchised hotel on the first page, you probably need your own web site or you need an improved one.

Since we’re talking about dollars here, it just doesn’t cost much to have your own selling web site; a good site can provide pay-back in less than six months. Where else can your hotel get world-wide exposure for less than that?

The dollars and “sense” of internet marketing are simple and affordable; every hotel should be involved.

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