Monday, 5 January 2015

Delving into Distribution and Digital Marketing

Distribution is one of the biggest headaches for Hoteliers, there is so much to consider when putting your strategies together. Here we interview Angelene Bungay, Revenue and Distribution Manager at Guestline on best practice and tips on how to do it right! 

Distribution is getting more and more complicated by the day. Speaking generally, how aware is the industry of the latest trends in this field – for example, metasearch, mobile, etc?
A, Depending on the size of the property/group, awareness varies hugely. For example, smaller properties have less time and resources to invest into existing and emerging technologies. Responsive websites have become less of an option and more the norm these days, although few smaller hotels realise the true benefits of a responsive website with a mobile-friendly booking interface.Larger properties and groups tend to have more human resources to hand, for instance a dedicated marketing team or division. Investment in time and resources to strengthen the on-line presence and outreach via new devices and systems is paramount on the agenda. 

How important is dynamic pricing for hoteliers? Why?
 A, Extremely – consumers now identify with ‘shopping around’ to get the best price, and because of the airline model, understand if they book far in advance, last minute or are prepared to have non-flexible booking they will get a cheaper rate, to point where this practice is becoming expected.

How can hoteliers implement an effective dynamic pricing strategy?    
A, A-B testing on positioning of on-site elements, social media campaigns and other low-key experimentation can all give insight into behavioural patterns. These patterns differ from property to property, and also in differing vertical markets. However, there are common factors which can be implemented which can have a huge impact right now for almost any size or marketplace in the hospitality industry.


How difficult is it for smaller hoteliers to implement this? What tools are out there to help?

A, Dynamic pricing strategies can be difficult for smaller hotels to maintain on a day to day basis, the updating of PMS, OTA’s and Website Booking Modules is a time hungry activity, which if not monitored closely can lead to overbooking and out of parity situations. Guestline software provides a solution whereby real time availability from the PMS is sent to the OTA’s and Website Booking Module and a daily room rate be changed in one central place that is then distributed to all the necessary channels. In addition to this real time software, Guestline PMS & Distribution products, have functionality which can increase or decrease daily rates dependent on occupancy and lead days, this provides the smaller hotelier a ‘safety net’ to ensure if their property starts to fill, the rate will start to increase and vice versa for low occupancy.

When it comes to distribution, OTAs are a mainstay for most hotels now. What are the key benefits and drawbacks of working with OTAs? A, OTAs provide the hotel will an incredible advertising platform for hotels and exposure to thousands of prospective guests that their marketing budget probably wouldn't [depending on the size of the hotel] be able to achieve. Hotels can manage the percentage of inventory they send to these channels according to what their availability is like at any given time.The obvious drawback to OTAs is the commission they earn.

How can hoteliers ensure they get the most out of metasearch?
A, Taking advantage of as many on-line channels, from blogging and forums through to the more obvious social channels. The more varied and diverse the exposure, the more availability of data for search and metasearch.
Metasearch isn't something that can be forced. Much like the traditional search engines, non-paid organic exposure is a privilege. Exposure in as many organic online channels as possible—whilst retaining a consistency in business details such as email, website address, physical address, business name—will greatly increase the chances of accurate metasearch. Even exposure on channels where the property is seldom or non-active such as Foursquare or Google+ can help.
Direct booking is obviously the most profitable for hotels. What can hotels do to ensure they secure more and more direct bookings?
A, Content is still king for the website. Not only for search engines, who use the content to form their broader opinion and search criteria on this, but also for the general public.Making the website ‘sticky’, i.e. giving the end-user a reason to return or stay on the site will greatly increase the chances of direct bookings.Placement of on-line booking method is also important, as the potential customer needs to ascertain that they can book on-line quickly via the property’s own website.Post-stay communications to reinforce direct bookings play a huge role, especially when the user booked via an OTA. Letting the customer know that booking direct could save time and potentially offer a better deal next time is an often overlooked mechanism.

How important is it for hoteliers to have dedicated mobile sites now? Why? 
A, There is a fine-line between dedicated mobile and ‘responsive’. A responsive site generally makes site management easier as the content is the same between desktop site and mobile site, with the layout automatically adapting to the size and type of viewing device.A dedicated mobile site can be built with a different user interface, and possibly offer different functionality based on technologies such as GPS for location or even a concierge type application.With a huge percentage of users now adopting mobile browsing as their first choice, it is essential that any website is mobile friendly, although a dedicated mobile website is now not always necessary.Modern mobile web browsers can identify interactive elements on a web page, such as address, phone number, calendar dates etc. This means that even a non-mobile site could interface with the mobile phone/device and perform tasks such as dialling a number with a single click, or getting navigational directions from a street address.

Finally, it’s been found that travellers use a number of different sources/devices when booking a hotel. How important is it for hoteliers to have a wide ranging presence – on OTAs, metasearch, mobile etc? 
A, Exposure in as many areas as possible obviously increases presence. For the most part and with the exception of OTAs, many of these areas and outlets can be used as a marketing platform for little or no cost.OTAs for the near future will always—at a cost—provide an undeniable presence in the search engines for properties of any size. Their presence in the pay-per-click portions of the search engines is almost impossible to better, simply because of their spend and budget in these areas.Great on-site content, search friendly website and exposure in social media and directory channels can help metasearch engines find and glean the information needed to raise the property’s online organic profile. By addressing some basic fundamentals and remembering to make the website easy to navigate, full of interest and of course ease of booking are essential.It’s a huge misconception that website design should be based purely on the look and aesthetic of the website itself. If you want your property to thrive on the internet, your site needs to be designed for the web and respect that metasearch and search traffic comes for free, and complacency and ignorance to this fact is a major contributor to poorly optimised and invisible online presence.

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