Leveraging the Internet to Drive Key Objectives

By Jacki Kelley Yahoo! Category Development Officer, Travel | May 19, 2010

The Internet has revolutionized the way consumers make travel purchasing decisions. In fact, according to a recent comScore Media Metrix study, more than 55 million consumers used web searches to research travel throughout the month of July 2006 alone. Moreover, the majority of those who conducted a web search booked travel online. According to Forrester Research, the Internet makes up one quarter of all travel sales today and is projected to grow to just under 50 percent by 2010, making Travel second only to computer software and hardware when it comes to overall category growth.

Lodging companies have made significant strides in harnessing the Internet to leverage distribution and make it easy for consumers to research, compare and buy from their desktops; however, when it comes to building brands on the Internet, opportunity exists. With broadband penetration projected to reach 83 percent of U.S. households by 2008, the opportunities to leverage the medium, engage consumers, drive preference and manage channel distribution has never been greater.

Engage Consumers:

Understanding, engaging and motivating consumers has always been at the heart of marketing initiatives. Today, the consumer is in the driver's seat like never before and technology is helping to facilitate the conversation. As BusinessWeek recently reported in its story entitled, "It's a Whole New Web," "It's no longer all about idly surfing and passively reading, listening, or watching. It's about doing: sharing, socializing, collaborating, and, most of all, creating." Our industry has much to gain with this new phenomenon - dubbed Web 2.0 - because intrinsic to travel is the desire to experience and share.

Social media is at the center of Web 2.0, where people around the world create, share and discuss their experiences, opinions and content. From creating blogs about interests or hobbies to experiencing family and friends' adventures by sharing photo albums and video clips, consumers are creating social communities. The phenomenon of social media adds an exciting dimension to the way we search the Web and will be fascinating to watch as it grows.

It is clear that giving consumers this much power can cause marketers some trepidation, but engaging consumers is not about completely ceding control of your brand; it's about creating a meaningful conversation. Brands are searching for the "holy grail" in de-commoditizing the industry and what better way than to showcase experience and sharing of collective knowledge instead of discounting.

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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.