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.

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.

Time is Running Out! Creating Urgency in your Hotel Marketing

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In the hospitality market, a seemingly lost conversion tactic is the employment of urgency on hotel websites, in hotel marketing collateral, and across social media platforms. Urgency is a long-used tactic in the world of driving conversion and increasing eCommerce. So the question remains to be asked, why don’t hotel owners use this tactic more often?

It may be for a simple lack of understanding of how to implement urgency into daily messages. It also may be the fear of turning to something different than what has been working well in the past. Whatever the reasons may be, creating a sense of urgency is a great way to increase website conversions for your hotel.

A recent article published by Marketing and hospitality insider Sam Weston discusses 7 simple tactics that any hotelier can take to increase website conversion. Let’s take a look at the best practices and explain in detail, the significance of each.

1. Availability Messaging – Availability messaging is as simple as advising your guests how many rooms remain at a discounted price, how many spots are still open on the wine tour that comes with their stay, etc. For example; “Hurry, only 3 rooms remaining at this rate!”

2. Tell Your Guests How Popular you Are – No, not literally. This is a simple tactic that advises your guests on how many travelers (like them) are currently viewing your property, package, or room offer. For example; “22 people have viewed this suite in the past 12 hours.” Simple messages like this create the sense of urgency that we as hotel marketers are looking for.

3. Countdowns & Timers – Perhaps the oldest tactic in the book to creating a sense of urgency is to place an ultimatum, timer or countdown on your offer. Adding a countdown timer to the deal pages of your website is a simple way to let your guests know that “time is running out!”

4. Countdowns TO Events and Sales – Similar to the “time is running out” idea, a countdown to a big event or sale is a great way to create a sense of anticipation and urgency in your customers. Getting the message out early is the key here. For example; “Only 3 days remaining until you save 50% on your 3 night stay!”

5. Adjust Your Message – Standard hotel language can grow repetitive and lose its luster…fast. Next time an offer, sale or event comes across your planning, try switching up the delivery of your message. For example; Rather than saying “Rooms starting from,” spice it up with something along the lines of “Today’s Best Rate.” Experimenting with what works best for your hotels brand will prove to be valuable time invested.

6. Give a Friendly Reminder – In the case that a guest starts to book but does not complete the process, a simple follow up email will do you great justice. A message as simple as “I see you were inquiring for a stay the week of November 20th, but it looks like you stopped. How can I help? The rate you were considering was $89 per night, per adult, a savings of 30%!” Messages like this instantly remind the traveler what they were looking at and plant the idea of booking back in their mind.

7. Email Follow Ups – For those guests who may have missed your sale, offer or event, offer them the opportunity to get advanced notice of the next offer. This can be as simple as asking them to sign up for an email marketing message, or distributing the information via social media. This not only creates a sense of urgency, but can also go a long way in maintaining a loyal customer base.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Visuals: They Are Everywhere!

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As valued ResortsandLodges.com customers, you are more likely than not familiar with the emphasis our team places on visual assets. ResortsandLodges.com on the Road, a traveling media team dedicated to making your property shine through photos and videos, is an extension of this emphasis. While the importance of high level visual assets is understood, the question of “why” are these important has been something raising questions as of late. We know it is important to have them…but why?

There is seemingly endless amounts of data, theories, tests, and case studies driving the power behind high level visual assets. When it comes to your ResortsandLodges.com listing, there are 3 primary reasons to invest in your visual assets. These 3 reasons are based off of our travel expertise and industry data, coupled with a dedication to ensuring the success of your listing. Let’s take a look at the 3 reasons:

1. One Minute of Video is Equal to 1.8 Million Words – Think about that statistic. Data published by Diamond View Studios (a video production agency housed in Miami, FL) suggests that just one image holds the equivalent value of 1.8 million words. That’s a lot of words! Simply put, visuals are a great way to get your message across in a crowded web marketplace that can easily become overwhelming with written content.

2. Images and Video Sell – How much you ask? According to a recent study conducted by the same video production company mentioned above, indicates that consumers who view a video during the research phase, are 85% more likely to purchase. The same is true for images, as 67% of all consumers said that images are “Very Important” in the purchasing process.

3. The Travel Industry – Images and video are important across various segments and markets for their own unique reasons. But what about the travel industry? Why are visuals so critical to your hotel, resort or lodge? The answer; we are in the business of selling experiences. There is no true physical product to what we are selling aside from the hotel itself. We are in the industry of capturing emotion, inspiring people, connecting families, and so much more. Visuals play a key element in all of those things. Visuals give our travelers something to grab on to, something to engage in, and something to share.

If your website is in need of new visual assets, take the time and invest in what needs to be done. The metrics are to incredible to deny, and the industry that we as hotel marketers are in is one that sells on experiences and the whole human spectrum of emotions.

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.