This debate has been bubbling away since Thomas Cook took 540 temperance campaigners the eleven miles from Leicester to Loughborough in 1841, and was paid a commission by the railway company.
It has been accelerated since online OTAs became the dominant force in travel, and there are very much two sides to the argument…
Those in favour:
And they include hotels who pay commission willingly and travellers themselves – say that the OTAs:
Reduce the hotels’ own marketing costs
Enable travellers to access the widest choice of accommodation
Provide value to hotelier and traveller alike
Overwhelmingly in the hotel trade, say:
Commissions ramp their rack rates to the detriment of guests
That OTAs are unresponsive to their needs
That users are unaware of the financial arrangements between them and the OTAs
What is undeniable is that the OTAs now have a stranglehold on the hotel booking market. And this is not entirely their own fault. It is possible that hotels have become over-reliant on OTAs (we meet hotels every week who have cut back on all their non-OTA marketing, even letting their own websites suffer).
Here’s a link to a quite remarkable blog post on a small hotel’s own website – we would very much like to hear your opinions – so feel free to comment below…
While we’re not web-designers, we do look at dozens of client websites every week, and most of us come from marketing backgrounds. On top of that we see just how many negatives posted relate to the business’s website. This article in Hotels magazine resonates with us and we thought we ought to share our thoughts:
What do you want visitors to your website to do?
Book (hotels); contact you (estate agents) – so your whole site should be dedicated to this end.
Most common errors…
Not quite the hotel! Definitely not the estate agency!
Photos of Buckingham Palace. Awful photos (out of focus/mobile phone). Small photos (with no way of enlarging). ‘Stock’ photos – a ‘receptionist’ but not the agent’s receptionist). Lots of text that never gets read, links that don’t work, links to sites that take your business away.
Examples (real, but no names!):
“Within easy reach of [Buckingham Palace]” – again – 3 miles and 6 tube stops (that ‘looked close’ to their web designer who was in Manchester)
“Park view” [4 rooms out of 60] setting the hotel up for a constant stream of complaints on TripAdvisor: ‘Our view was of the hotel opposite.’
“Quiet” [unless the nightclub is open, which it is – until 2 am – Thurs-Sat] – enough said
One lonely testimonial (for an estate agent), from 2009 – from a client called ‘Mr P’
A link from an estate agents’ site to a site that ranked them 213th in the UK
Last Christmas’s special offer still on the site in May
What the visitor to your website wants in 2012
It’s all about first impressions. And that impression has to be made instantly. In the early days of the web it was all about telling everything, now we know you have seconds to convince the consumer. By all means include detail but keep your home page clean – the detail can be kept behind tabs.
We are constantly surprised by the contrast between websites and reality; estate agents who spend huge amounts of money on their offices, but next to none on their websites, lovely hotels with awful websites. Great websites need not cost a fortune, but cheap ones will cost you a fortune in lost business.
According to TripAdvisor the average guest visits seven websites before booking. And one of those will be the hotel’s own site – so the hotel has at least a chance of getting the booking (and getting it direct) if their website does what the potential guest wants.
You want them to book through your website, so…
Where DO I start?
Photographs – the bigger (and more professional) the better, with accurate descriptions – of bedrooms and other facilities the guest will use – exterior shots are great, but remember they will be staying in the hotel
An easy way to book – with all the options – booking engine, phone, email
The credible opinions of people who have stayed recently
Biographies of the owner/gm/key staff – it’s a people business
Most visitors to estate agents’ own sites are, by definition, potential sellers/landlords (purchasers/tenants visit once the transaction is underway). What do they want to see?
Just like hotels, it’s all about first impressions:
Clear and informative
The answer to the question: ‘what value will this agent add?’
Biographies of key members of staff – again ‘its a people business’
The credible opinions of clients who have done business recently
Staff photos are great – but steady with the gel!
Lavish the same care as you do with your hotel/office
This week we launch Dynamic Display – you can now show live reviews to visitors to your website before they click through to your Dialogue module – now every visitor to your website sees reviews.
Reviews give visitors to your website the confidence to book – direct! Up until now the Dialogue module performed that function for our clients; the addition of Dynamic Display gives every visitor to your website current guest opinions…
Click to enlarge
For estate agents:
This week two independent reports – one by the RICS (‘Renting: Property’s Wild West’) and one by Which? – address the issue of regulation of letting agents. Whilst we are sure their findings are justified, they damage the reputations of good agents. So It is increasingly important for our clients to differentiate themselves from the so-called ‘cowboys’…
You will see just how powerfully the live reviews support your key marketing messages.
The Dynamic Display can be tailored (size/font/colours) and can be used on any web page you decide. Dynamic Displays will be available for each service you have a module for – ‘weddings’ and ‘conferences’ for hotels, for example; ‘sellers’ and ‘landlords’ for estate agents.
For full details please contact Karen (firstname.lastname@example.org) or your business member advisor
All our clients know that responses to reviews have to be:
…and above all – legal! Only last week one of our moderators spotted a potential PR nightmare in the making where the hotel guest was demanding compensation for a sleepless night and the hotelier seemed to be suspecting a mild form of blackmail and was about to include an allusion to this in their response. We spoke to the hotelier and suggested that an offer of ‘three nights for two’ next time the guest stayed might be a more constructive solution – the hotel adopted this strategy and the guest was satisfied (and did not go on to post a negative review).
In Ottowa things panned out slightly differently – and the result was 90 days in jail for the business owner.
Read the full story as reported in the Ottowa Citizen here
Helpful votes are a good guide to the number of people actually reading a review…
One of our directors wrote a review of a small hotel in France in June this year – the hotel gets about 1 review a week from guests, but just look how many potential guests have read that review in the last four months (and it’s now down on page 3 of their TripAdvisor listing).
He’s a bit miserable about the number of ‘helpful’ votes he’s received, but we don’t think that’s a particular reflection on his review, just a good guide to the proportion of readers who bother to vote (about one in 75).
This is also a good rule of thumb for our clients to apply to their reviews on Dialogue…
Click to enlarge
…on that basis just how many people have read this review on a client’s Dialogue module?
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