Like a lobby that hasn’t been renovated in 30 years, many hotel Web sites are in need of a makeover. The written and visual content on these sites is often outdated or incomplete.
SAN FRANCISCO—Like a lobby that hasn’t been renovated in 30 years, many hotel Web sites are in need of a makeover. The written and visual content on these sites is often outdated or incomplete, turning off would-be guests who are projected to book US$28-billion worth of business online next year.
Only half of online leisure guests in the U.S. are satisfied with the written descriptions and photos of hotel guestrooms and properties they find online, according to a recent report from Forrester Research titled “Poor Content Could Cost Travel eBusiness Money.”
More daunting is the finding that 38 percent of online guests avoid staying at hotels they can afford because they don’t see photos, videos or written content that would make them feel comfortable. These content-sensitive shoppers are young, quality-focused travelers who take more trips and spend more on leisure travel annually than other travelers.
“Travel Web sites have really focused on the booking aspect of (the online experience),” said Henry H. Harteveldt, VP and principal analyst for Forrester Research, who co-authored the report. “But the challenge is that as hotels, in particular, do room upgrades, property upgrades and compete for recession-weary travelers, they need the visual and written content to help the traveler make well-informed decisions.”
Responsibility for providing potential guests with that content usually rests on property-level management, who Harteveldt said are often too focused on pricing, booking and distribution strategies than on making sure each room type is displayed on the Web site with professional-grade photography.
But in today’s entertainment-driven society, where words and images drive behavior, doing so is one of a few key steps necessary to capture the discretionary dollars of value-driven travelers.
1. Provide adequate photography.
In his report, Harteveldt cited three common Web site photography flaws. First, some hotels don’t provide photos of guestrooms, let alone each type of guestroom. A good site lets potential guests see a standard room, presidential suite and every room in between. Second, that photography must be relevant. If a room has a seaside view, for example, display the view. Third, photos are often needed to bring written content to life. If a room offers Italian marble bathrooms, there should be pictures that display these assets.
2. Get specific.
When consumers flip through a clothing store catalog, they usually won’t find bare-bones descriptions that stop at the color of the garment. Instead, they’ll likely read about the quality of the threading, details in the craftsmanship and the well-engineered fit that make that garment the best sweater money can buy.
It’s that level of detail that’s often missing from hotel Web sites, Harteveldt said. Well-written content is usually rife with descriptions that help potential guests understand everything a property has to offer. But detail is only half the battle. Web sites also should provide the context that helps consumers make better-informed decisions. For example, a property might provide a matrix that explains what makes each room type different from the next, thereby justifying the price point and helping guests choose an appropriate option.
3. Make the investment.
Yes, any owner can whip out a point-and-shoot camera and take pictures himself, but Harteveldt suggests leaving the task up to professionals.
“Unless you’re a world-class photographer, you’re probably not going to think through things the way a professional photographer will in terms of lighting and detail,” he said.
The same goes for written content. While most anyone can write a paragraph describing a given amenity or room type, a professional copywriter will do it in a way that’s easy to understand and targeted to the right traveler.
“This doesn’t mean you blow the budget—you don’t need to bring in a big name Hollywood director to do your videography,” Harteveldt said, adding that a phased approach is good solution for a cash-strapped owner.
The important thing is simply taking action.
“With so many travelers allowing their budgets to dictate where they go ... each hotel professional has to make sure all their channels—Web sites, call centers, et cetera—are working as hard as they can and as effectively as they can so the consumer is making their purchasing decision based on something more than price,” Harteveldt said.