Best Practice: Web fundamentals

Strong website presence essential for driving direct bookings

Guests nowadays feel just as comfortable booking hotels on their mobiles as they would using a laptop.
Guests nowadays feel just as comfortable booking hotels on their mobiles as they would using a laptop.

The rise of online travel agencies (OTAs) means a strong website presence is essential for driving direct, non-commissionable room bookings. Amit Vyas, CEO of Dubai-based digital marketing agency Nexa, offers advice on how to create more powerful and relevant hotel websites

The internet continues to transform and reshape the industry and its relationship with customers. A website is no longer an online brochure, a presentation or a shop window, but an extension of your business right into the customer’s own space. It’s not just about communications, but driving transactions and revenue. Here Nexa offers some guidance to help evaluate website fundamentals.

Live booking engine

Many smaller, and especially budget hotels, still do not offer live online access to their room inventory through a booking engine integrated into the website. Once on a hotel website, most visitors will quickly decide whether to stay at your property. They expect instant access to your hotel’s availability and will look for this on a booking engine. Customers will click off the site if they are taken to an email enquiry form, unless they have special requirements or larger groups.

Call to action on every page

Make it easy for visitors to become guests. Once a potential guest decides he or she wants to find rates or availability, it’s vital that they have easy access to your booking engine. Every single page of your website should incorporate this feature consistently at the same place on each page, as visitors may not go to your home page first and could land on any page when they access your site.

Guests make great reviewers

As everyone knows, guests research hotels through sites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com and Expedia, which can all integrate guest reviews into a hotel’s information page. TripAdvisor provides tools that can be integrated into a hotel’s own website, feeding the latest live reviews automatically, and reducing the risk of visitors looking for guest reviews on other sites. Featuring guest reviews also shows transparency that helps build trust and confidence.

Language – lost in translation?

Even though hotels may target guests in overseas source markets, from Russia to China and Europe, some still develop English-only websites, implying a lack of courtesy and care. Languages raise a number of practical issues.

Search engines like Google expect you to use a country’s native language, and if you don’t have this on your site, you run the risk of poor search visibility. Visitors may not understand English very well and there are much higher website drop-off rates, or bounce rates from non-English speaking countries. Keep in mind, a free translation tool may not be reliable or accurate.

Clear, accurate and up-to-date images

Prospective guests and bookers want to see images. It is therefore vitally important to refresh images every couple of years, and if there is some wear and tear, don’t ‘over-Photoshop’ images. A tech-savvy guest will spot the difference and may even highlight this in a TripAdvisor review.

Social Media connections

Guests travelling to resorts, especially, often connect with hotels on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For many people, a holiday may be the highlight of the year, and making contact with their hotel of choice helps build excitement. Hotels can use this opportunity to build a relationship with the guest before they check in, thereby enhancing guest experience. Make sure you have an up-to-date profile on popular social media platforms and check regularly for new messages.

Get smart - get mobile

The UAE boasts the highest smartphone penetration in the world. Guests are now as comfortable researching or booking hotels on their iPhones, iPads or other smart devices as they are with desktops or laptops. So, it’s absolutely vital that your website is optimised for mobiles and tablet devices, since a poor mobile experience may already be costing you a large number of bookings.

Video engages and sells

The enormous increase in the popularity of video platforms such as YouTube has made video more accessible over the internet. Additionally, technological advancements have reduced video production costs drastically for businesses. For a hotel, highlighting the unique selling points and showcasing the property in a short 45 to 60 second video can help to turn a website visitor into a guest.

Be there and use it

You have to be where your customers are. Search is the point of entry into the online world; it’s where your users and customers look for you, especially when they want something instantly. Search is the customer’s roadmap and like any map, you need to be clearly and immediately visible when it counts the most. Social media platforms are increasingly important for making companies visible online.

Case Study: Hilton Worldwide

Hilton Worldwide designs its websites to enrich the online travel planning and booking experience for travellers across Middle East and Africa. Available in Arabic, English and 20 more languages, Hilton’s Multilanguage websites enable travellers to research top travel destinations, compare prices and book directly in their languages using the digital platform of their choice, including mobile devices.

Each of the in-language websites has unique characteristics that are adapted to certain cultures, improving the company’s connection with visitors and enriching their experiences when browsing, by incorporating preferences that cater to the audience from a cultural perspective.

Hilton has seen some good increments from guests across the region by monitoring the browsing patterns and the shift from a web search to a booking engine. The websites feature engaging imagery that brings the stay experience to life but also enhances the brand journey.

By visiting Hilton’s websites, travellers can explore top travel destinations and choose their perfect vacation from a list of participating hotels from Hilton Worldwide’s portfolio of distinct brands including: Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn Hotels.

Mobile adapted websites are also a key focus for Hilton Worldwide, allowing guests to access information when and where needed. Hilton’s mobile website drives incremental traffic, and this has been noticed in particular within the key markets of GCC countries.

Hilton integrates mobile into its cohesive online ecosystem by enabling user-friendly experiences through mobile sites, responsive web design and functional apps. The company customises its digital activities for mobile throughout every step of the conversion funnel.

Hilton Worldwide fosters a collaborative and creative work environment with its technology partners to maintain an innovative dialogue adapted to hospitality industry needs and current trends.

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