Category Archives: Hotels

The Evolution of Online Search: SEO, SEM and Keyword Bidding

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Search engine optimization and search engine marketing can be very effective ways for hotels to reach prospective guests, but as the “keyword world” changes, hoteliers need to keep pace.  As online search features continue to change, there must be a greater focus on developing higher quality content for guests to compete against online travel agencies.

OTAs’ ads outnumber hotel brands’ ads on Google, Bing and AOL, but not on Google Mobile according to a recent BrandVerity study titled “Hotel Brands, OTAs and paid search: How do these relationships unfold on the SERP?”

According to the study, each Google Search Engine Results Page included almost two OTA ads.  Bing and AOL had considerably more, with 4.77 and 5.27 OTA ads per SERP, respectively.  The number of OTA ads per SERP on Google Mobile was only .49.

It is important to nail down the art and science of keyword bidding, and this is evident in the case of Expedia. They spent a substantial amount of time studying the science, and as a result their “quality score” translates to less expensive cost-per-click prices.  You can learn more about keyword bidding here.

Budgeting for SEO and SEM can vary across the spectrum of hotels.  Budget and economy hotels do not need to spend as much time on SEO because they rely more heavily on brand traffic, walk-in traffic and ratings and reviews sites.  However, If the return on ad spend is positive and you are getting better returns than spending with OTAs, meta-search, meeting planners or travel agents, the investment should be considered worthwhile and continued.

Putting a New Face on the Same Old Brand

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Continuing the discussion of whether hotel brands are doing enough to stay relevant, let’s take a look at the work being done among some of the heavy hitters of the industry to change the face of the brand, and create a unique experience for guests staying in their accommodations.

At one time, hotel owners and developers designed hotels with conformity in mind.  That trend appears to be fading away as guests are now looking for something more than indistinguishable guest rooms seen nearly everywhere.  Here is what Best Western’s managing director of design had to say:

“Millennials are looking for something unique.  They’re online looking at pictures. They’re looking for something that makes the hotel special. They want to post a picture of it on Facebook and say, ‘Look what I saw,’ at such and such property,” she said. “… We do have design guidelines, but they’re written in a way that allows for flexibility in terms of the aesthetics so hotels can become very regionally appropriate. We want it to make sense to the guest, but we are interested in pushing the envelope.”

Several Best Western properties have already pushed the envelope with regards to design.  The Best Western Music Capital Inn in Branson, Missouri, re-purposed a drum set as a light fixture in the lobby.  The Best Western Plus Intercourse Village Inn harnessed the regional appeal of being located in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country, and went through a top to bottom renovation that included incorporating a post and beam barn design at the lobby entrance.

This is all part of Best Western’s “Design Excellence” initiative, a program through which members of the chain’s design staff are visiting each Best Western hotel in North America in hopes of helping the owners devise a customized property-improvement-plan that must be complete within three years.  Currently, the program is in its second of five years, and 40% of PIPs are underway.

Mitch Patel, president and CEO of Vision Hospitality Group, believes that adding unique design elements not only creates a custom hotel that tells a story, but also can yield a greater return on investment, something hoteliers are always looking for.

Patel’s company worked with Marriott International’s Gen 4 prototype designer OPX, a Washington D.C.-based architectural and interior design firm, to further customize the company’s Marriott-branded hotels.

Are Hotel Brands Doing Enough to Stay Relevant?

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In a travel industry that is constantly undergoing some sort of change or improvement, it is important for companies to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack.  There was a time when having a common brand flag was a necessity to keep your reservation books full.  Now, it is the independent and boutique hotels that are in their best position in years.

Search engines and third-part distribution partners are leveling the sales-and-marketing playing field.  Independent hotels now have the tools to get just as much exposure and recognition as brands, while targeting the right mix of customers.

The up-and-coming generation of travelers – those traveling today, not years from now – are far more brand agnostic than former generations according to a study by travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt.  His study showed that even consumers considered “elite” loyalty members will not remain blindly loyal, and often times these guests will choose a hotel based on the promotions as opposed to loyalty.

Protean Strategies also conducted a recent study showing that hotel brands are not making it clear enough to consumers what segment they are playing in and what kind of experience guests should expect for that price point.

So, what can individuals brands do differently to stand out amongst an increasingly crowded landscape?

To capture most travelers’ attention, just be at the top of the list when they do a Google search for “hotels in the Poconos”, have a comparative price and good guest reviews.  Today’s consumers simply don’t care about the “feel good factor”.

Brands should focus more resources toward optimizing those technological necessities and further assist property managers in key areas including online reputation management, search engine marketing and dynamic pricing.  Do not waste your time commissioning studies that reveal mind blowing facts like contemporary travelers are looking for WiFi internet access in their hotel rooms.

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From Desktop to Mobile: The 2013 Shift in Hotel Bookings

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As technology continues to shift the way people acquire information, travel sites have observed a shift in the way potential travelers are accessing and booking hotel reservations.  A HeBSdigital case study has quantified this data, and shows how dramatic this shift has been in the past 12 months.

Some of the Key Developments found in Q3 2013 include:

*Over 35% of web visitors and nearly 32% of page views were generated from non-desktop devices including mobile and tablets.  Within this statistic, the iPad outperformed all other tablet devices and was responsible for 88.2% of page views and nearly 97% of tablet revenue.

*Over 12% of bookings, room nights and revenue came from tables and mobile devices.  This does not include voice reservations originating from the mobile websites of HeBSdigital clients.

*Tables generated 210% more room nights and 603% more revenue than “pure” mobile devices.

Notable Developments from Q3 2012 to Q3 2013 include:

*Page views, visits, bookings, room nights and revenue have all declined through the desktop channel.

*Website visitors to desktop websites declined by 17%, while increasing by nearly 85% via mobile channels.

*Revenue from mobile devices nearly doubled as travel consumers become more comfortable conducting transactions through their smartphones and as smartphone penetration reaches an all-time high – nearly 50% in the U.S.

With this dynamic shift from desktop to mobile/tablet options, what can you do to ensure your content is properly accessed?  Try to treat the desktop, mobile and tablet as three separate channels:

Desktop Channel:  Always make sure your desktop website is in good health, and complies with best practices in hotel distribution, design, site architecture and SEO.

Mobile Channel:  A mobile website generates incremental revenue through mobile and voice reservations.

Tablet Channel:   Present tablet users with an enhanced, highly-visual version of the desktop website enabled for the touch-screen tablet environment.

Make sure the correct website content is being served in the right device category while ensuring the maximum user experience, relevancy of information and conversions.  All three channels (desktop, mobile, tablet) must be integrated in the hotel’s multi-channel marketing strategy. Use analytics to determine contributions from and the dynamics of each of the three channels.

For more information on this study or to see additional studies regarding the Three Screen Shift, click here.

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Future of Content: Upcoming Trends in 2014

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It is a tremendous time to be involved in the digital marketing sector with almost half of the global population having access to the internet.  However, the way consumers consume this content is rapidly evolving, and with that comes an interesting array of challenges and opportunities.  Having a firm understanding of these upcoming trends is vital in laying the foundation for defining the content goals within an organization and deciding where resources will be allocated.

Knowledge regarding these four trends is paramount for those companies looking to succeed in both B2B and B2C communication going forward.  Let’s take a look at the upcoming content trends of 2014.

Trend 1:  Competition to Gain Consumers’ Attention Will Increase

Each day there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 92,000 new articles posted on the internet.  This means that posting new, unique content regularly is not enough to drive traffic to your site.  Digital media publishers have created systems to produce the greatest amount of content for the lowest price.  Need an example?  The Huffington Post produces at least 1,200 piece of content each day, while Forbes produces 400.

What can smaller businesses to do differentiate themselves when they are unable to compete based on sheer volume alone?  This is where the development of a content strategy can come into play.  It is incredibly important to understand a company’s unique value proposition, and if a company does not have one, you must understand where there is space to create one.

Are you marketing a “think” product that requires heavy consideration before purchase, or is it a “feel” product where emotion plays an important role in the buying process?  You could be marketing a “high involvement” product, one where the consumer is heavily involved in the buying decision, or a “low involvement” product that is more likely purchased impulsively.

With high involvement/think products, the focus of your content should involve plenty of information on the product features, benefits of the product in addition to growing the product and brand awareness.  This will make it easier for consumers to both discover and search for your product.

Low involvement/feel products should have a campaign focused on connecting with consumers and appealing to emotions.  There should also be a focus on building brand loyalty and retention of customers for repeat purchases.

Trend 2:  Determining Key Metrics to Measure Content’s Success Will be Important

Traffic and page views have long been the chosen metrics for gauging content success, but these statistics on their own can be misleading.  More importantly, solely focusing on traffic can lead to an overemphasis on click-worthy headlines, overuse of keywords in a title and changing the focus from creating content for users to creating content for page views.

Whether you are using a combination of metrics to target and analyze (organic traffic, % returning visitors, changes in bounce rate and time on site), or gauging content by social metrics including Facebook likes and Twitter retweets, all of these activities can demonstrate the ability of a piece to gain a user’s attention, and that awareness is always worth something.

Trend 3:  Increased Interest in Content Integration/Content Being Produced for Multiple Channels.

The most sizeable obstacles involved in content often times have nothing to do with the content itself, and everything to do with proper resource allocation.  Whether this is lack of time to implement all goals, lack of budget to implement these strategies in an ideal way, or the constant battle with readjusting priorities, marketing becomes especially challenging.  This is only enhanced as more and more channels develop and digital innovation advances so quickly.

There is no perfect solution to this problem, but one way to balance hard resource constraints with the constant need for innovation is to develop better integration methodologies.  When a group of CMOs was polled by Forbes, they ranked integrated marketing communications ahead of effective advertising when it comes to the most important thing they want from an agency.

People are looking for that seamless retail experience, providing an on-brand, personalized, and consistent experience regardless of channel.  This requires content to be heavily involved in the multitude of channels from online to in-person to provide potential and current customers with one consistent conversation.

Trend 4:  Experimentation with Content in New Mediums

Did you know that approximately 60% of online devices are now smartphones or tablets?  Technology and digital innovation are experiencing rapid increases in growth, causing PCs to become a smaller percentage of connected devices.    As competition for attention increases, companies must be increasingly willing to experiment with content in new mediums including Smart TVs and connected wearables.

2014 will be an exciting time for the future of content. As technology evolves and competition for user attention increases, marketers need to be agile and adapt to the growing needs and expectations of their customers.

 

10 Travel Technology and Distribution Trends

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With the continued growth of technological progress in the travel landscape, hotel and travel companies that seek success must either catch up or risk becoming irrelevant, according to a new report.

“If you want to be successful and grow and perform well, you really have to understand the technology and what’s out there,” said Cees Bosselaar, director of business development and a destination marketing specialist for PhoCusWright, who presented findings from the company’s “Travel innovation & technology trends: 2013 and beyond” report during the World Travel Market in London.

Here, you’ll find five of the Top 10 Travel Technology and Distribution Trends that will help hotel and travel companies leverage innovation in the coming year and beyond.

1 – New Patterns of Content Challenge Distribution

The old model of travel distribution, which saw large intermediaries, including global distribution systems, aggregate content for booking, is being undermined by new models.

Personal clouds, for example, allow travelers to access information anywhere, anytime and on any device. The “Internet of things” enables integration of connectivity and objects that can influence a trip, such as real-time baggage location, weather conditions and homeland security advisories.  Pervasive online communications allow even small hotel companies to connect with customers in real-time, allowing them to shop and book without delay and from nearly any device. Those same companies, as well as the individuals they serve, also are better able to collect and integrate itinerary data from multiple sources without a GDS.

2 – Too Much Choice Means Less is Better

When people are given too many choices, their satisfaction level tends to decrease.  This model holds true with travel options as well.

Online travel agencies used to provide as many options as possible to exhibit their computing clout. Today the focus is on providing relevant results that target the specific needs and wants of each traveler.

New travelers have embraced technology and the multi-device format in which content can be consumed.  They want to be shown the correct information for their needs.

Providing targeted content is even more critical in the mobile arena, where smaller screens necessitate both streamlined offerings as well as the presentation of those offerings.

3 – Social Technologies Change the Shape of Travel

Facebook alone has more than 1 billion users, while social media as a whole reaches 85% of the world’s total Internet users, but some experts believe that travel companies have yet to unlock the true potential of this technological boom.

When it comes to a discussion of social media, the discussions of return on investment are outdated.  Instead, social media must be viewed as a way to engage with target customers.

Whether you like it or not, social media is here to stay.  And in the next five to 10 years, it will continue to generate leads and performance will be up.

4 – New Efficiencies Re-Energize the Customer Experience

As demand for customer service increases, new technological advances will lower its overall costs.  But travel companies must consider whether a penny saved comes at the risk of a pound of customer preference.

Excessive menu trees and outsourced call centers may cut monetary costs in the short term, but frustrate customers in the process.  Each travel company needs to determine how to use customer service technology appropriately in a way that continues to reduce cost while increasing customer satisfaction.

5 – Cross-Platform Data Access Engages Users

As customers realize their dreams of accessing desired digital information on any device or platform, hotel are facing a nightmare in providing the necessary development and support for this content.

HTML 5, which allows programmers to “write once, run anywhere” could be the solution to this frustration.

According to Bosselaar’s report, Cross-platform data access requires travel companies to track the changing user-interface patterns of their customers to provide the appropriate level of service. This must be a continuing process as new technologies evolve and businesses become less restrictive about the devices their employees can use for particular tasks. Suppliers and distributors that support the most user-friendly, convenient interfaces will enjoy increased market share.

It’s a continuing process of improving your apps and improving your mobile websites.  You have to continuously experiment, and you can’t be afraid to make some mistakes along the way!

You can see trends 6-10 and read the rest of this article here.

7 Ways to Build Customer Loyalty

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Online hospitality is transforming into an industry defined by personalization, relevant content and the social experience travelers influence everyday. As this trend continues to unfold, it is becoming increasingly difficult to build brand loyalty. How do you win a customer over and keep them coming back time and time again, when the travel process starts earlier than it ever has, and is not over, even after booking and stay?

This is a dilemma that has been creeping up the alley of online hospitality marketers everywhere. Finding the right combination of social interaction, email marketing, promotional activities, etc. can be a fine line to walk. At the core of any successful business (or hotel in this case) is a loyal customer base. Customers are the primary factor in shaping the success of your hotel, resort, or lodge.

The question now becomes; how do we, as hotel marketers, build a customer base that is loyal, and remains that way for an amount of time that will prove to be profitable for our business? In a recent white paper released by Maxymiser, 7 primary ways to build a loyal customer base were revealed. Let’s take a look at each one, and explain the significance of each as it pertains to your business.

1. Ensure a Quality Experience - It is important to recognize that customers attitudes are shifting. What was once a market dominated by the best value, or lowest price, is (and really, already has) shifted to a market in which buyers are looking for an experience that will set one resort apart from another. When you are attempting to lay the foundation for a loyal customer base, keep in mind that travelers are looking for that once in a lifetime experience, that little something that makes their stay different from anywhere else.

2. Increased Ancillary Sales - Depending on the size of your hotel, ancillary revenue will obviously shift one way or the other. The tricky intersection of when and how to offer ancillary value to the traveler is one that hotel owners and GM’s have played with for years. When you are thinking of how to adopt a loyal customer base, think “Timing and Description.” It is important to offer an ancillary opportunity to the traveler at the right moment, as well as very clearly depict what exactly is being offered.

3. Personalization – According to data from Google, 83% of leisure travelers, and another 76% of business travelers now plan their travel online. The planning process includes anything from reviews, to price points, social media to video and visual assets. Because the road to selection is so clouted with variables, personalization becomes extremely important. The key to personalization is ensuring that the process begins in the earliest phases (research) and continues through the travel journey, concluding with personalized follow up, post trip.

4. Transform the Experience - Personalization can be thought of as points similar to what is explained above. However it can also be thought of as transforming an online experience to make the message more personal to the traveler, and enhancing the likelihood of purchasing. For example, a common message on several hotel sites is a “no availability” pop up of sorts, often times on the event calendar or booking engine. A simple way to improve this message, and make it a positive for the traveler is to add in something like “here are some other available dates that you may find helpful,” or something equating to a message of that nature in an attempt to squash any discouragement.

5. Ratings & Reviews – The always important and heavily relied on online reviews are a sure shot way to build a loyal customer base. Hotels with reviews are viewed as more credible in the eyes of the consumer. More credible sources typically have a higher rate of conversion and a more loyal customer base.

6. Leverage Social Media - According to independent research, one out of every four travelers uses social media to research and plan their vacation. Furthermore, a Forbes study of Facebook users revealed that 50% of travelers were “influenced” by seeing friends pictures of travel on Facebook. So what does this mean for your social media efforts? Billions of users scroll the pages of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more, everyday. It is important to have an understanding of your customer base and reach out to them in ways that connect to them on a personal level – if you are a family resort and your Facebook audience is comprised of families who have stayed with you before, put out relevant offers, offer special savings to your fans, etc.

7. The Mobile World – Development across the mobile platform has reached new heights in the previous months. Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices have become more widely used than the everyday computer. Consumers are on the go. Plain and simple. In fact, tablet use is projected to spike by 180% in the next year alone. If you are a hotel marketer, this is big news. It is extremely important that your website is responsive – fits to exact screen sizes across multiple devices. Why is this so important? Failure to run a responsive site means that your messages, visuals and representation of your hotel are distorted when they are not viewed on a computer screen. The masses are moving to mobile and tablet. Your website must do the same!

Fill Vacant Rooms

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Vacant rooms are a problem for hoteliers across the world. There is seemingly always a few rooms open here, a few rooms open there. Old logic will tell us that these rooms are going to remain empty; if you did not book anyone in advance, that room is going to sit empty. In today’s tech-savvy, multiple device world however, this is not the case. There are several great ways that hoteliers can fill vacant rooms – even last minute. A recent article by hotelmanager.net shed some light on 3 simple, efficient ways to fill last minute availability. Here they are:

1. Always Have Something to Offer - Creating a deal or a package is a great way to fill last minute availability. Same day booking discounts, special incentives for the duration of a guests stay, etc. are all great ways to drive guests to your front door. Some may argue that by offering a discount, money is being lost. Think of it this way: if the room sits empty, is that also not money being lost?

2. Leverage Social Media - Recent data published by eMarketer, revealed that 1 in 4 individuals will use social media in 2013. With this trend continuing to rise year over year, social media is hoteliers gold. If you have last minute availability, broadcast it to the billions of people using these platforms. Keep it consistent and deliver a solid message across your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Google+ page, etc.

3. Use Travel Ads - Fairly similar to the second tip, travel ads require leveraging a second, and even third party to assist you in promoting last minute deals, packages, and awareness. There are dozens of opportunities and companies to lend a helping hand with travel ads. They have a history of being affordable and yield effective results.

Last minute availability does not have to be a waste of a room or lost profit! Using these simple and effective ways to create awareness around your open rooms can prove to be very valuable.