Hotel Marketing: Designed for Success

If your tourist hotel doesn’t have a website, it might as well not exist.

If your tourist hotel doesn’t have a website, it might as well not exist. And not just any old website, either. In a fiercely competitive market, it must stand out. It must instantly connect and engage with prospective guests. 

It must say, in words, pictures and video: “We truly understand your needs and expectations. We offer better accommodation, better value, a better experience, better service, better food—better everything—than anyone else. Come and stay with us!

But for potential guests to get the message, they must first find your site, or have it found for them. And there are basically five ways that can happen: a Google search (eg, ‘best hotel in Mirissa’); social media; key influencers (professional bloggers); personal recommendations; and direct mail newsletters.

You can also pay for Google Ads that place your property and website link at the top of the results for a specific search string. But this procedure is variable and complicated—and costly—and you will probably need an expert to guide you through it, if you have no background in this industry.

Your website is the heart of your marketing campaign, the hub at the centre of your web of social media channels. It is also your shop window, the place that tells your all-important unique story, and where guests can make direct bookings or contact your customer-relations/sales/marketing team.

Increasing direct bookings will grow your bottom line and boost website ROI (return on investment) by avoiding the extortionate commissions charged by online travel agencies (OTAs), which also hit you with a double whammy by ‘negotiating’—pushing down—your room rates.

ROI for any kind of marketing spend is notoriously difficult to measure. Direct bookings aside, this is particularly the case with a website. So do you save money by leaving it to a friend’s cousin who “knows a bit about websites” (a seriously false economy)? Or pay a competent professional the market rate to ensure it is at least technically up to scratch? 

Why blogs are essential

Then there’s the content. To stand out from the crowd, your words, pictures, and video must be the highest possible quality in order to show your property at its best. This includes accommodation, pool, spa, restaurant, food, beverages, ambience, etc etc—the total ‘wow’ factor—plus the happy smiling faces of staff and guests. 

That sorted, who will manage the site day-to-day: regularly refresh it; safeguard it against hackers, viruses and malware; create secure backups; and ensure it accords with Google’s vitally important search-engine-optimization (SEO) algorithms?

What about a blog, where you not only sing your own praises, but also highlight key local attractions and market Sri Lanka itself as the world’s must-visit tropical holiday destination? After all, guests won’t be staying at your property if they’re not actually in the country.

A potential guest in the UK googles ‘best place for whale watching in Sri Lanka … and they’re on your site, direct-booking a three-night stay

And Google’s search algorithms love blogs, not only for their regularly updated, original and (hopefully) compelling content, but also because visitors will stay longer on your site. This tells Google that searchers have found what they’re looking for—Google’s only objective as a search engine—which will boost your site ranking for that particular search string. 

The blog is also a back door to your site. For example, you post a story about whale-watching in Mirissa, with great words, pictures and video, and with all the right SEO keywords and triggers. 

A potential guest in the UK Googles ‘best place for whale-watching in Sri Lanka’—and bingo, your blog post, which includes that key phrase, appears in the search results. Click, and they’re on your site, connecting and engaging, and direct-booking a three-night stay. 

For all of the above you will need two essentials: a knowledgeable, keen, and trustworthy senior manager tasked to hire and deal with the developer—the individual or agency that will design, register, make, and maybe manage your site—and a realistic budget.

The first is the most problematic, because the manager must be trusted with the logins and passwords for the hosting service and the site itself. This is so that when the site is complete and the developer paid, the logins and passwords can be changed for security reasons.

However, if the developer is also being paid to manage the site on an ongoing basis, they will retain the logins and passwords. Your manager must therefore ensure that said developer does what you want them to do, promptly, and to the required standard. 

And if they can’t or won’t, for whatever reason, the logins and passwords—and the developer as well, if necessary—can be changed, hopefully without any downtime or security issues. 

But what happens if your manager leaves (or is fired) and locks you out of your site—or worse, threatens to close it down or upload damaging posts and pictures—and demands a ransom? These situations are more common than you might think.

The good news is that there are precautions you can take that will minimise the risks and effects of such a worst-case scenario.

Be prepared

First, don’t leave it all to the developer. Register your domain and hosting service yourself using your own computer (for possible future IP-address ID purposes), with you as the registered owner and administrator, with your own email address and phone number, and pay with your own credit card.

This way, your manager and designer/developer should not actually need the hosting-service login and password except in specific circumstances, in which case you can supervise and control their level of access.

More to the point, you will not be dependent on the developer for your hosting. You, not the developer, will be in control of your site.

A website must say in words, pictures and video: “We truly understand your needs and expectations… come and stay with us!”

At the same time, if your hosting service (and/or website) is hacked or disabled by a third-party outsider, it will be much easier and quicker to prove your ownership and persuade the hosting service to get you back online.

Second, use the free WordPress.org framework to build your site in conjunction with a premium pagebuilder theme such as Elegant Theme’s Divi, paid for and installed by you. 

This combination can produce excellent, cost-effective, and Google-friendly results that match or exceed what can be achieved—at considerably greater expense—by a bespoke CSS/HTML/Java coder. This is especially the case if your site includes a blog. 

Furthermore, employing a coder who uses his own styles and protocols, which might not conform to industry standards/best practice, could make it difficult or impossible for anyone else to debug or take over management of the site if required. 

Meanwhile, if you are locked out of the website itself, as opposed to the hosting service, you can log into the hosting service, delete the site, reinstall WordPress with a new login and password, and upload the site backup. Voila, you’re back in business!

So why WordPress (and a premium page-builder theme) you ask? Because it powers half the world’s blogs and websites, including for major Fortune 500 corporations such as CNN, Sony, and Samsung; has a huge online help and support community (check out the YouTube tutorials and Facebook groups); and is regularly updated to add features and counter security vulnerabilities. 

There are also loads of free and paid-for WordPress plugins that provide all the extra form and function you could possibly want or need, and the better hosting services will install it for you automatically at the click of a mouse. 

In other words, it couldn’t be simpler, does the job right out of the box—and because it’s so ubiquitous, you should have no problem finding a replacement developer/designer/site manager should the need arise. 

In fact, even your friend’s cousin who “knows a bit about websites” might manage it with a bit (a lot) of online help. But a word of advice: don’t go there—stick with a competent and knowledgeable professional who does this for a living. 

Budget

Marketing ROI (return on investment) is notoriously difficult to measure. Nevertheless, the accepted target marketing spend for hotels is roughly 5-7 percent of gross revenue per year.

Your website is a key element of your marketing strategy, and includes three elements: the build; the content (words, pictures and video); and the ongoing day-to-day management. Each should have its own separate budget.

Bear in mind, and as the saying goes—you get what you pay for, the corollary being that you don’t get what you don’t pay for. 

First, do the research. Check out competitor websites, and ask yourself: which one would most make a discerning guest want to stay there? Then ask at least three experienced developers how much it would cost to create something even better.

Timescales

If you’re starting from scratch, or undertaking a major upgrade and refresh of an existing site, it will take time to see measurable results in terms of visitor numbers and site-related bookings.

The key here is measurable. You will need to regularly monitor your site’s performance across a range of key-indicators, including visitor location and demographics. 

Google has a host of marketing tools that can help you do this, including Google Analytics, which provides pretty much all you need to know about how much attention your site is getting.

It will also tell you where visitors are coming from, including cross-linking from website content you post on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

And if that includes links from your blog posts, it will also help you determine which are the most popular, so you can tailor and focus your content accordingly. 

The takeaway here is—persevere. Because if you don’t try, and keep trying, you won’t succeed. 

Design, mobile-first, site speed, Google

For best search-engine performance and user experience (UX), Google favours responsive, mobile-first design, and fast page loading when it ranks your site in search results. 

A site should be created with ‘break points’—for mobile, tablet and desktop—that essentially present three different visual orientations of the site depending on the screen widths of the most popular phones and tablets. 

Getting it right will enhance user experience. Getting it wrong will have the opposite effect. And Google knows how much time visitors spend—and don’t spend—on your site, which will have a significant impact on site rankings for any given search string. 

Meanwhile, speed is of the essence. The popular consensus is that if a site doesn’t start loading in 3-7 seconds, visitors will abandon it and look elsewhere. 

But there are many factors at play here, including internet connection speed, so that load-time number is not carved in stone. Nevertheless, it’s a ball-park figure for your developer to bear in mind when they are creating the site. 

Target demographics

If your property targets particular nationalities—eg,  Indian, Middle East, Chinese, British,—you might want to tailor your site for their particular cultural preferences.

This applies to colours, fonts, pictures, video, and the general look and feel. Check out some of the most popular hotel websites in your category in each home country, and take note of their design preferences. 

Language is also a vital factor. At the very least, use the Google Translate plugin or equivalent, which can machine-translate your whole site at the click of a mouse.

A more complicated—and better, albeit expensive—option is to have bespoke language versions of your site (with the option to change the language) which load automatically depending on the visitors’ geographical locations/IP addresses. 

Newsletter data gateway: CRM, MailChimp

If you are using a CRM (customer-relations management) tool such as Hubspot—and you really should be—you can link its database to a mail-shot utility such as MailChimp to send out personalised email newsletters. 

Direct mail is reckoned to be one of the most effective marketing tools—with the right timing, it puts your all-important sales pitch at the top of potential guests’ inboxes when they log in. 

This applies to OTA (online travel agency) contacts as well as individual potential guests, plus previous guests you want to keep in touch with and get repeat business from. 

This works well when linked to a subscribe/contact-us form on your website, which can be configured as a ‘pop-up’ to get your visitor’s attention. 

About/contact us, prompt response

‘About Us’ and ‘Contact Us’ pages are cornerstones of your customer-relations effort, so the UX (user interface) must be compelling and user-friendly. You want customer feedback, so make it as easy and simple as possible.

For maximum benefit, you should include a 24/7 contact email address and phone number, and ensure that there is 24/7 communication. Response times should be as short as possible. Take note of different time zones in relation to Sri Lanka – a fast reply is important!

Meanwhile, ensure that whoever is dealing with this can answer the most common and expected queries. And if they need to check something and get back, ensure they do so when they say they will. See above.

Be honest

Above all else, be honest. Make sure that all the words, pictures, and video on your site reflect the reality. Your guests would like the pictures on your site to actually greet them when they arrive, and they will be disappointed if this is not the case. This can affect your reputation, so be honest about your offering. 

Hospitality Insider Issue 4