What Do Travelers Experience When They Walk Through Your Digital Front Door?

By Paolo Boni President & Chief Executive Officer, VFM Leonardo, Inc. | November 28, 2010

"When I started in the hotel business 52 years ago, the first impression customers had of our hotels was the lobby when they walked through the front doors. But in this digital age, often the first impression comes when they visit Marriott.com. It's our digital front door."
- Bill Marriott, Chairman & CEO of Marriott International ('Renovating Our Digital Front Door', Marriott.com)

It's increasingly likely that travel shoppers will first encounter and experience your hotel online. From desktops, laptops and hand-held devices, they consume images and anecdotes, offers and insights. They evaluate, compare and choose. The journey now starts with a search.

The mistake some hoteliers make is in underestimating the full power and potential of the travel shopper's online experience. It's online, in the initial leg of the journey, that expectations are set and decisions are made. As a result, hotel industry success will increasingly revolve around the stories we tell and impressions we make in this hyper-competitive, virtual marketplace.

There's no escaping the Internet's growing impact on the travel industry. In a recent report, the U.S. Travel Association noted that nearly 93 million American adults are now using the Internet to plan travel -- up from 90 million in 2007. In fact, more than three-quarters of all online travelers planned pleasure trips online in the past 12 months.

Given these trends, the USTA argues it's now imperative that hotels provide "complete, accurate and compelling information on their web sites." But it's not just your web site that matters. Considering Google's estimates that the average vacation planner now engages in 12 searches and visits 22 travel sites over a one month period, you would be smart to ensure your hotel can be found on a variety of other travel sites besides your own.

So it's clear that hotels must actively market themselves online if they wish to remain competitive and profitable -- if they hope to engage online travel shoppers. The question hoteliers now face is this: What will it take to provide a compelling experience online that will turn lookers into bookers?

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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.