In the fourth quarter of 2013, bookings through a hotel’s branded website continued to trail reservations made through online travel agencies (OTAs), according to data from TravelClick. To stay competitive with OTAs and take back direct bookings, a static website with some pictures, a few lines of text, and basic contact information isn’t going to cut it. Hotels that optimize their websites for the modern-day user will see a boost in revenue and a bump in customer loyalty.
According to Bryan Estep, senior vice president of global sales for digital marketing firm Buuteeq, many people who run hotels only consider websites as tools for bookings and reservations. That’s important, says Estep, but there is more to a website’s success than revenue.
“The website plays a role in almost all of the transactions of a hotel,” he says. “If you think about people who call in or people who walk in, they usually check the website first.”
Although OTAs such as Expedia and Priceline help book rooms for hotels, the agencies take a percentage of the room rate. But the way people use OTAs, says Estep, provides hotels an opportunity to create direct relationships with customers. About 65 percent of travelers who learn about a hotel through an OTA look at the hotel’s website before booking.
“There are two things that happen there — there’s an opportunity to catch that client for a direct booking and save yourself the cost,” Estep says. “Or, if they go back to the OTA to do the booking, there’s a possibility of reinforcing your brand value by having the website organized and showing your product well.”
DJ Vallauri, founder and president of Lodging Interactive, says that for independent hotels, about 75 percent of online bookings are made via OTAs. A good website can help turn that number in the hotel’s favor.
Pictures are Important
Vallauri points to one easy-to-accomplish factor that is essential for success—dynamic and appealing photos.
“You want to make sure that the images on the site really convey the experience of what people are going to see and feel at the property,” he says. “It’s no longer about text—no one wants to read that. They want to see beautiful pictures of the environment and the pool and the spa and the dining area.”
Pictures should be high quality and high resolution. It’s also a good idea to keep photo galleries up to date. For example, a hotel in the northeast shouldn’t have pictures of sunshine and people sitting poolside during the winter season.
Make it Mobile and Intuitive
Mobile-friendly websites are also becoming more and more important as guests turn to smartphones and tablets for researching hotels and making reservations.
That’s why Estep recommends the use of “responsive design,” which takes a website’s text and photos and adapts them to all formats and screen sizes.
“There is a continuity that the shopper sees and experiences in responsive design,” Estep says. “The same photos and the same text will be repositioned to fit the device in a logical manner.” That, he says, makes the site consistent and user-friendly on all three formats.