Mr. Kistner

Technology

The Top Five Website Failures and How to Fix Them

By Mike Kistner, President, Chief Executive Officer & Chairman of the Board, Pegasus Solutions

Never before in the history of our industry have hotels had so many opportunities to market and sell their room inventories. Mobile, Google, social media, TripAdvisor, GDSs and traditional voice, among countless others, present infinite opportunities to increase exposure for hotel properties on a global level.

However, there is one tool that remains crucial regardless of the channel you're selling through…and that is the hotel website. Many hotels, especially independents, have only scratched the surface with the foundation of their online presence, inadvertently making serious errors that may in fact be hurting their chances to book rooms. Following are the five website failures hotels make, along with how to fix them.

Failure 1: Content is buried, inaccurate, not informative, too informative, etc.

Gone are the days of the brochure GM, who booked reservations with a picture showing a room with a tray offering a croissant, orange juice and a single rose on the bed. Today's hotels still need to paint an inviting picture, but do it for a savvier guest who has likely visited other sites for information about competing hotels before coming to yours.

Visual content

Make it easy for travelers to understand your story by featuring appealing images that can be easily viewed. These will do more to sell your hotel than any flowery description. You can add as many adjectives as you want to a room description, but one unflattering picture will replace all the complimentary language in the world. Spend budget for photography - you absolutely need compelling and inviting pictures.

Accurate content

Since many online shoppers are cross-referencing your site with other sources of information, make sure the details about your hotel are accurate - the address, the rates, directions, hours, phone number, payment, etc. Take the time to read and re-read copy. If you can't be bothered to notice the erroneous spelling on your website, seen by most of your potential guests, then how much care have you taken on your pest control issues, possibly noticed by only a few?

Buried content

We tell the hotels we work with to track their website to see where visitors are going and spending their time. If they're skipping areas they should be visiting, i.e. the "groups and meetings" page for a strong convention hotel, then you need to reevaluate how the information is being presented. Content is as much about appealing to the guest as knowing your audience, and your strengths for that matter.

Extraneous content

The hotel website is designed for the consumer, not the travel agent. I recently looked at a hotel in New York and saw the rates they were selling online were rack rates. Imagine yourself as the consumer shopping that hotel and seeing a rate far and above those you've seen elsewhere online, or those intended for the travel agent. Include content that is meant for the people shopping your site.

Failure 2: Rates and availability aren't readily available

Our data shows that approximately 40 percent of the people coming to your site will visit the quick reservations tab on the home page to check rates and availability. Many hoteliers assume that because shoppers are on their sites they're dying to stay at your hotel and they will act as you'd like them to - visiting the accommodations page to review all the room types and packages available before comparing pricing.

But, many of your website visitors have already done their research elsewhere before coming to your site. They've read reviews on TripAdvisor and compared rates on various OTAs. They're coming to your site to comparison shop and determine if they would be better served booking directly.

It's presumptuous to imagine them thoroughly reviewing content you've created to help sell your property, and for about 55 percent of your site visitors, this is how they will shop your website. But for 40 percent, they'll expect a "teaser box" on your homepage that allows them to find out quickly and easily what's available and what it costs.

Highlight any offerings exclusive to your site in the teaser box, including the cancellation policy. We know that a point of discomfort for travelers booking with OTAs is the absence of this consumer protection directly with the hotel, so remind them how "safe" it is to book directly. And, highlight other amenities available in the booking path. They may be just looking for rates, but will be happy to discover what else you have to offer.

Failure 3: Flash

It's hard to believe that hotels are still using Flash extensively on their websites. While it can offer a sexier look and feel for the desktop version of your site, Flash can and will negatively affect your chances for reservations. For one, it won't work on mobile devices, including any Apple mobile products. Secondly, content featured in Flash can't be "crawled" by search engines, meaning you cannot easily search engine optimize Flash sites in the same way you would a Java-created site.

Many hotels hoping to launch impressive sites in the last decade turned to design groups that presented aesthetically pleasing Flash sites without understanding the limitations of the technology. Site creators offered it because it had better margins on their end - it's an expensive technology that requires more development time and is difficult to change - and because they may not have had the talent to build the more appropriate Java site.

If you're using Flash, it can affect the speed of your site, the size of your images, and again, the search availability of your site. And because it presented such a significant investment for many hotels when they created their websites, they have a hard time justifying the cost to update or change navigation, or to create an entirely new site. However, the future of sites is JavaScript, which is a less expensive and more easily maintained technology.

Your site should create comfort. In addition to the comfort you create on-site - easy check-in, goose down comforters, flat-screen televisions, and wifi - what have you done to create comfort in the booking process? Guests are more likely to participate in a comfortable booking experience - not one weighed down with bulky technology. If they're one of the 29.7 million who are expected to book travel via mobile devices next year, you need to make sure your site features responsive design so it appears quickly and offers ease of use to those booking via smartphone or tablet - any smartphone or tablet. A desktop website displaying on a mobile device simply creates customer frustration. And a site that is inaccessible via mobile because it was built in Flash translates to lost business.

Failure 4: Data impotence

Show your site visitors that you're interested in understanding who they are and what they want. Ask about them, and make sure they know you're there to serve them. In terms of lead generation, your website creates the perfect opportunity to engage with an audience that has already shown proactive interest in your property or your brand. These individuals may only need a small push in terms of a special promotion to book your hotel.

Have a newsletter opt-in in the booking process, highlight a loyalty program and give them a way to stay connected to you. This can include referring to your mobile site, your Facebook page, your Twitter feed, or even showing where your hotel has been featured or reviewed lately.

Once collected, do something with your database. Many hotels have collected data by customer opt-in to only have it sit unused until a moment of desperation when it likely won't make any difference. If you're collecting data, then use it, at least once a quarter. Communicate about your special offers, a mobile site, updated guestrooms, loyalty programs, seasonal attractions, etc. Don't just promise to keep in touch, keep in touch in a valuable way.

Failure 5: Not understanding the needs of your audience

Do the majority of your bookers speak a language other than the English-only you have online? Maybe you're a hotel that appeals to business travelers who may be adjusting their reservation with a mobile device while walking through an airport terminal, and you have no mobile presence. Or, do you rely heavily on guest referrals but have not responded to any of your negative reviews on TripAdvisor?

If your hotel attracts global travelers, make sure you offer a multi-lingual and multi-currency booking process. This doesn't mean you have to translate the entire site into multiple languages, unless a single country makes up a great majority of your bookers. Instead, offer a fact page in each appropriate language with an overview of the hotel and a "book it" button in that language so they can book comfortably in their language of choice.

Also, fish where the fish are at. Be aware of what's out there on TripAdvisor and respond to it. Have a presence on Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter and your strongest OTA, and monitor guest feedback and reactions. While people may not be buying through Facebook, they are using it in the research process before they visit your site to book. The social media may not convert them, but it will lead them to shop your site.

Take the time to evaluate your customers - review that precious data you've collected and use it as a way to discover more about how you can tailor your business to their booking needs. Ultimately, a good website is like a good date. It asks questions, it says all the right things about itself, and will end up being a sure thing.

Mike Kistner is Chairman, President and Chief Executive of Pegasus Solutions. He joined Pegasus from Best Western, where he was CIO and SVP of distribution. Mr. Kistner holds a BS from Northern State University, Aberdeen, S.D., and a MS in Information Systems from Colorado State University. He is the past Chairman and current member of the e-commerce committee of the AH&LA. From 2000 to 2005, he served as Chairman of the Open Travel Alliance (OTA) and has been recognized as one of the leading CIOs in the hospitality industry. Mr. Kistner can be contacted at 480-624-6450 or mike.kistner@pegs.com Extended Bio...

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