San Diego conference focuses on the do’s and don’ts of getting online lookers to become online bookers.
SAN DIEGO—Hoteliers need to capitalize on smartphones and other evolving digital platforms to get the most from the United States’ economic turnaround, speakers said last week during the second annual Hotel Forecast and Digital Marketing Conference in San Diego.
“Everybody is using these to book hotels at the last minute or to do research,” Robert A. Rauch of R.A. Rauch & Associates, said while holding up his cell phone.
“You’ve got to have a major presence in all facets of digital marketing, as the digital tsunami era is here,” said the president of the hospitality management and consulting firm. “If you don’t have a major presence in transformational patterns like cloud-based marketing, mobile and social, you are losing leverage in wooing guests to book direct."
Most of the discussion centered on the importance of maximizing mobile and smartphone technology. Adam Brownstein, founder and VP of sales at Buuteeq, a Seattle-based digital marketing firm working with hotels around the world, said hoteliers need to think mobile first.
Smartphones are “fundamentally changing the game,” said Brownstein, who noted that 30% of website traffic and 65% of same-day hotel reservations now come via mobile phones.
Brownstein added that 54% of mobile users will not recommend a hotel with a bad mobile site.
But having a mobile app is not good enough. “You have to have good photography and good marketing copy,” he said. High-quality pictures of rooms are especially important. “Don’t skimp out on the photos.”
Focusing on rooms is paramount. Nearly three out of every four people who visit a hotel website will click on links to photos of the rooms before going anywhere else.
Keeping surfers on your site is important, and there is plenty of room for improvement. Brownstein said the average hotel will draw 1,000 unique visitors in any given month, “but only 400 move into the party” and investigate further. Only one in 10 of those visitors will continue onto the booking page and not all of them will book a room. Part of the turnoff isn’t the price or the location of a hotel, but a cluttered website that requires too much time for a user to navigate.
He suggested hotels need to do a better job of “keeping things simple … This guest, this potential guest, can get overwhelmed,” he said. “If I have to spend too much time, focus and energy here and I don’t have the time, I’m going to leave.”
Research into user experience revealed “a 0.5 second moment of truth where the guest will break down whether this is information I can work with,” Brownstein said.
He advised hoteliers to have a presence on Google+ and Google Places. “Google has made strong forays into hospitality. If you look for your hotel name, you’d better find it on Google Places on that first page.”
Rauch began the conference, which was held at the Hilton Garden Inn Del Mar in San Diego, with a presentation on the state of the hotel industry, which he said is on the rebound.
In the highly competitive San Diego region, occupancy peaked at 73.2% in 2007, plummeted to 63.2% by 2009 and has been rising since—to 65.8% in 2010, to 68.4% in 2011 and 70% in 2012, Rauch said. Occupancy in the region is forecast to hit 71% this year and at perhaps equal the 2007 rate in 2014, according to data from the San Diego Tourism Authority and Tourism Econometrics.
Average room rates remain below what they have been in the past, however. The average rate in San Diego—excluding the relatively low transient occupancy taxes—reached $141.73 in 2008 and despite a few years of increases remained at $132 in 2012. “I give it another one to two years to catch up to ’08,” he said.
Hoteliers, however, might have made an error in dropping room rates too far in an effort to attract customers during the Great Recession, according to Rauch.
“There is a terrible correlation between dropping rates and increasing profits.” Effective strategies, he said, include creating customer loyalty.
Rauch called 2013 a recovery year, with further improvements on the horizon. “I’m very bullish on the next few years,” he said.
In a brief interview before the conference began, Brownstein said the hotel industry is going through a transformation that will require innovations in capturing an audience. Brownstein estimated that approximately 40% of hotels are so-called flag hotels under names such as Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton, but that number is starting to decline. For the 30,000 independent hotels, “it is critically important to have an effective online and mobile presence.”