Most hotel guests won't book at a hotel until they've looked at its website, according to Jerome Wise, vice president Global Internet Marketing Services for TravelClick. He's outlined some tips for aspiring accommodation venues to turn their online lobby into reservations.
The hotel's website should be its prime sale channel with the lowest cost of sale, according to Wise.
"I know that there's some hotels that spend more on flowers in their lobby in a month than they could consider spending on building a website. It is your most important sales channel. That is just a little counter-intuitive to me," he said at the No Vacancy conference in Darling Harbour last week.
He proceeded to outline ways in which hotels could improve their online presence.
1. Content is king
"A content management system needs to be sitting behind that site that's simple to use to enable regular improvements and updates of content," Wise said, adding that a system that required a day's training to use was too complex given staff turnover.
He said he knew a couple of hotels that benefited from being able to change their websites to say they were still open and doing business during the floods.
"The ability to do that through an easy content management system is very important."
2. Use SEO principles
If you build a beautiful site and no one can find it, it's "operation successful, patient dead", according to Wise.
3. Watch the Flash
Flash looks pretty, but search engines don't always like it, according to Wise.
He showed a hotel's website with stunning photography.
"That's pretty nice, that's a pretty aspirational image to most of us," he said. "[But] this site is built entirely in Flash. When Google comes across and spiders that to look at that site to understand exactly what it's about and stores it in its directory so it can pull it up and return it later, this is actually what it sees: nothing at all. It says this website requires Flash Player version 10 and above. Please download Flash player."
All the content on the site was hidden from the search engines, which he deemed a failure. "My guess is that ... there's not going to be a lot of business direct through their own website."
He said that it was possible to use Flash elements without going overboard and suggested the use of jQuery to enable interactivity.
4. Contact details
Wise said that hotels should think about making contact details prominent. Heron Island, for example, puts its phone number on its front page in the top right-hand corner.
"It's high value, so a lot of people would like to speak to someone," Wise said. It had generated a lot of calls.
He said that some hotels were frightened of driving the customer through to a more expensive type of sale, but believed it didn't make sense not to make it available. "At the end of the day you want the booking."
5. Use live rates
This may mean putting a current best rate on the front page, or having the rates next to room descriptions. Pulling them from the booking engine into the main site so that customers don't have to go back and forth can increase conversion rates immensely, he said. One company he worked with saw an increase of 138 per cent.
6. Email sign-up
Email sign-up is "probably one of the most hidden elements there is", according to Wise. Increasing the size of the button and that of the text around it could have "dramatic results", he said.
Wise was a firm advocate of using robust web analytics, so that any change companies make can be tested.
For example, one site Wise had worked with had managed to increase conversion by 1.8 per cent by taking off the Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode logos from the front page. It was counter-intuitive that such features should have had a bad effect, he said.
"[But] the thought process was that people really never thought about not being safe until suddenly they were confronted with this don't worry statement."