Speaking yesterday at the Master Innholders annual conference, Sabre’s Suzie Wotton urged hotels to streamline their own websites and their direct communication with customers as a first step in their brand marketing.
“Your direct channels should be at the heart of your distribution strategy; you need to engage directly with your customers,” she said.
A hotel’s own website should be at the centre of its strategy; and with just under 80 per cent of all hotel transactions involving a web search, SEO (search engine optimization) should be a top priority, she told delegates.
“Customers visit an average of 20 sites before making a travel transaction so you need to make sure your site will catch their eye. You should also work to create ‘stickiness’ through blogs and competitions, so people can stay on your site and come back to it”.
In addition, hotels need to make sure the booking engine they use is seamlessly integrated into their site. “The booking engine must feel like part of the site otherwise conversions won’t be maximized.”
Engaging with customers directly also needs to be top of the agenda, and one of the best ways to achieve this is through effective social media communication.
“There are 500 million Facebook users, and Youtube is the second largest search engine. You need to capitalise on the power of these tools; they are an opportunity that needs to be part of your business.”
“But think carefully about what you want to communicate to your customers, because once it’s out there it can’t be taken back. Remember, you are what you tweet.”
Online travel agents – friend or foe?
Online travel agents can (OTA) deliver important customers that may not be aware of your hotel, so they shouldn’t be ignored, said Wotton, who is Sabre’s regional director of sales in the UK.
Selling your brand on online travel sites results in 23 per cent more bookings direct to your brand website, she said.
However, it is important to maintain a consistent offering across all partner agents and on a hotel’s own site in order for OTAs to work for you and not against you.
“Give the same deals to all OTA partners, and also make sure you can match their promotions on your own site. If you find an OTA partner undercutting you, then perhaps they are not the right partner for you.”
The rule of thumb for hotels is to take advantage of traffic driven from other channels and to convert it into business.
“Distribution has moved on from just technology. It is now technology, sales, marketing and also how you communicate. Invest in effective management of all your tools; it’s all about call to action and conversions.”
Wotton was speaking at the Master Innholders Annual Hotel General Managers’ Conference, Creating an Explosive Force in Hospitality.