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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