By understanding and implementing the fundamentals of online hotel merchandising, hotel marketers can leverage the Internet as an effective sales and marketing channel by capturing shoppers´ attention and motivating them to book.
Here´s a look at the top 10 things to avoid when merchandising your hotel online.
1. Don´t Stick to Tradition
The fact that over 80% of travelers conduct at least some travel planning online1 presents hotels with an opportunity to reach in-market travel shoppers by easily distributing ‘e-brochures´ that display rich, engaging multimedia content. Hotels already have thousands of listings on travel websites. Savvy hotel marketers will jump at the opportunity to extract more value from these listings.
2. Don´t Take Your Hotel´s Online Presence Lightly
Regardless of hotel type (limited or full-service, branded or independent, extended stay, boutique) and location, having a strong online presence is important for a number of reasons.
In most cases people are not traveling just to stay at a hotel. They´re traveling for a specific reason, be it business or leisure and when they´re shopping for hotels online, they oftern have a multitude of options.
Every hotel has unique features and attributes that can be used to sell themselves online as "the best place to stay" in their market.
Those not taking advantage of online opportunities could be failing to entice consumers and drive bookings.
3. Don´t Slash Room Rates
Rates alone don´t sell rooms. Travel shoppers are not solely motivated by reduced rates, but rather, by perceived value. According to a recent Forrester Technographics study over 50% of travel shoppers view travel as an area in which they´ll indulge and over 40% state they will consider trading up for noticeably better quality travel products.
Using descriptive, engaging visual content boosts perceived value, dissuades guests from using price as their primary criteria and increases the likelihood that they will trade up for better (higher priced) accommodations.
4. Don´t Merchandise in Isolation
Online video delivers the best return on investment when distributed across relevant online selling channels (travel websites) that active travel shoppers use to research, compare and book hotels online.
Successful merchandising involves looking beyond hotel and brand websites. It means telling a unique story in a consistent and compelling way on travel booking, review, destination, video sites and more Basically, everywhere consumers shop for hotels online.
5. Don´t Ignore the Online Travel Agencies
Every hotelier online marketing activities should include online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, Booking.com, Priceline and tens of thousands of others because these channels claim 39% of online bookings.
It´s important to note that although the OTAs are typically viewed as booking engines, travel shoppers use them for more than just booking. A considerable amount of research and comparison takes place on OTAs - over two-thirds of online travel shoppers state that OTAs are their primary tool for travel planning.4 The average holiday booked online takes 29 days and 12 searches on 22 different travel sites.5
These facts support that OTAs are used by travel shoppers for more than just booking hotels. As such, hotels should be presented on these sales channels in a motivating and compelling way.
6. Don´t Forget to Focus on the Basics Before Social Media
Social media is on every hotel marketer´s mind these days. Social media outlets like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others present opportunities to reach out to potential guests. Especially the connected, tech-savvy Generation X and Y travelers. But, unless these social media sites are actively used in the travel planning process, hotels should save their precious marketing dollars for advertising on more relevant travel-related sites.6
The hotel marketer´s first goal should be to ensure that existing marketing activities are returning the needed investment before devoting time to social media activities.
7. Don´t Rely Exclusively on the Brand´s Marketing Activities
Most leading hotel brands employ skilled marketing professionals responsible for driving bookings for all of their hotels. As such, they cannot possibly take full advantage of the vast online opportunities for each individual hotel. That´s why it´s the responsibility of the individual hotels to embrace online revenue generating opportunities that complement and exceed the scope of the Internet marketing efforts by their brands.
8. Don´t Just Drive Traffic, Convert It
Well-executed search engine marketing and optimization activities drive traffic to a single website, while online merchandising converts traffic on thousands of websites with visual content that entices shoppers to book. "It´s not simply search marketing... A well-considered and beautifully presented online strategy is a must," states Sheri Lambert, Synovate´s United States-based Senior Vice President for Travel & Leisure research.
9. Don´t Just Tell Guests Why They Should Book Your Hotel, Show Them
When it comes to travel, online consumers have a ‘show me, don´t tell me´ mindset, because of the ‘experiential´ nature of online travel shopping. In a recent study by PhoCusWright, nearly 89% of online travelers indicated that travel-related online video influenced their travel purchase decisions. Further, online video creates twice the average lift in advertising awareness... and nearly twice the lift in purchase intent. So, clearly, video is the way to go.
10. Don´t Miss Out on Bookings
Online travel bookings are expected to grow by 10.5% in 2009 which means hotels have an opportunity to drive more revenue through online channels. That said, it doesn´t really matter how travelers book (offline or online), what matters is that they book your hotel. Chances are though; most bookings will be influenced by online research to some extent.
To succeed in the evolving world of online travel, hotel marketers must embrace merchandising as an integral part of their online revenue generation strategy.