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Dont talk to me about Hotel Websites!!!

You might think that’s a strange sentiment from a company that cut its teeth 15 years ago building websites, and by now has produced some 600 hotel websites. However, over time we have come to appreciate that most Hotel Owner/Managers mistake the purpose of websites and where they fit into the arsenal of marketing weaponry.

An oft repeated definition of marketing is;
Getting the right MESSAGE out to the right MARKET with the right METHOD.
ie A 2 Night break with free Golf Tee Times (MESSAGE) is offered to Golfers (MARKET) with an advert in the Golfing Weekly Magazine (METHOD)
You might well ask where a hotel website fits into this and the answer is IT DOESNT. If you want to get a message to a particular audience a website is NO HELP TO YOU. A website only comes into play AFTER you have done your marketing and you have encouraged your target audience to go to the Landing Page of your website to 'convert' and buy the offer.

To ram the point home during presentations we ask the audience to imagine the marketing campaign of a major retailer ie Tesco or Aldi. You the ‘audience’ may see the ad on TV, the Radio or in a newspaper. You then go along to the store and pay the for goods at the checkout till. So in this process what is a typical hotel website? Is it the ‘marketing’ or the ‘checkout till’?

To many peoples surprise the answer is the ‘till’ . You attract your audience with your marketing and get them to ‘transact’ or buy your rooms on the website. Your website should function more as a checkout till, not a brochure.

This distinction is important, because in our view many hotel or marketing managers spend way too much time on the website ‘look and feel’ and forget about the marketing (after all, marketing takes time and energy and costs money, and changing the website often doesnt!!). Playing with the website ‘look and feel’ and ignoring the marketing is roughly the equivalent of Maclaren repainting their Formula One Car a different colour and expecting it to go faster!!

The OTAs of course know this very well and are laughing all the way to the bank. The basic layout of a Hotel page on an OTA hasn’t really changed for years: Photos, Location, Reviews, Rates and Availability END. However, they have invested Billions$ in marketing and making the booking process smoother, faster and more compelling.

We have been in many Management Meetings, discussing interesting marketing plans and budgets, then getting back to the office and drowning under web design change requests from the self-same hotel. If you are wondering why hotels don’t look at web design as well as the marketing, the problem is of course that we all have limited time and resources. The longer we spend on ‘look and feel’ issues the less we will spend on marketing ….. which is the only thing that can truly improve your hotel website performance.

Another tactic we have resorted to with some key customers is installing software on their website that records where customers visit on the website. The recordings inevitably show that customers are likely to visit the Rooms Page and Photo Gallery, but nearly always go to the Date Search to check Rates and Availability. This often breaks the heart of the marketing person who spent hours carefully crafting descriptive text for a page 3 layers down in the website.

Moral of the story? If you are spending more time playing with the ‘look and feel’ of your website than you are in actually marketing the probably have the balance wrong!