Web Site Usability: The New Differentiator to Keep Customers Coming Back

By Maurice Martin President, COO & Founder, iRise Inc. | January 27, 2012

By now, every hotel and travel company executive has figured out that a good Web site is as critical to their operation as an inviting lobby or a responsive front desk. But as many a perplexed customer will tell you, just having a Web site is not enough. A good site must be as clean and inviting as the room itself. And it must be as friendly as your staff.

Ease of use, or usability as Web designers call it, is especially important. You would not expect your guests to return if they couldn't locate the pool or gym, couldn't find a parking spot or valet, couldn't order room service or locate the menu to your restaurant. Likewise, potential guests who have dropped in on your Web site need to be able to locate the amenities there, as well-directions to the property, 3D walk-throughs of the rooms, lists of services and nearby attractions. And these days, visitors also expect to be able to view your room rates, easily determine whether you have vacancies and book a room.

If your site thwarts these activities, rather than encouraging them, you either lose a customer, or your guests will phone the customer service number for help, thereby defeating the very purpose of having a usable Web channel.

Many hotel executives also don't realize that a big benefit of a hotel Web site is in cross-selling and up-selling. A well designed site can suggest a larger room, an additional meal or a booking with a business partner. It may also offer exclusive entertainment packages for events or attractions which require a specified hotel stay, thereby pulling in the traveler by selling a bigger experience. But here again, the look and feel of the Web site will determine your success.

One simple way to approach Web site usability is to follow the same standards you uphold throughout your hotel: your rooms are clean and inviting; your desk clerks are trained and efficient. Both elements help reinforce your brand. Similarly on a Web site, the design should be clean, inviting, helpful and intuitive. That means balancing graphics with text.

For example, if the site is too graphics heavy, the page will load very slowly for the user and could make the experience so lengthy that the traveler abandons the process. Conversely, if the page has too much text or not enough slick photos, it may serve to undersell the hotel experience. The happy medium lies in the middle and the way to understand that is to conduct a user group where you can test out your proposed site look-and-feel and get user buy-in up front.

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.