Hotel Website Design Trends for 2016

For lodging operators who are thinking about sprucing up their property’s website in the year ahead, here are some important current and emerging website trends that are particularly relevant to hospitality and tourism businesses.

Each trend highlighted below helps to tell a hotel’s story — which, due to travelers’ desire for unique experiences and personalization, is now more important than ever.

Clean, Simple User-Oriented Design

The user experience (UX) is a core focus of Web design. According to Google research, websites that are visually complex are less effective; users prefer websites that are easy to use and understand, and this means uncluttered visual design, simple and intuitive site navigation, easy-to-read copy, clear calls to action, and a smooth online booking process.

Flat and semi-flat design, large images, clear typography and lots of clean space are popular elements of simple yet striking websites. The Calgary Attractions website is a great example of a simply beautiful design, created with the user in mind.

Hero Images

As mentioned above, big images work well with simple, clean designs and are excellent at telling stories too. Whether it’s a full-screen background image or an image slider spanning the width of the page, a hero image is basically a large banner image placed front and center on a webpage and is the first thing a visitor sees when they land on your site.

The beautiful centrepiece photos on the Galapagos Reservations website have stolen our hearts!

Galapagos Reservations

Hero images should relate directly to the content of your website and should ideally be professional photos of your business rather than stock photography. It’s important to use sharp, high-quality images when photos are displayed so prominently, but don’t forget to optimize image files for fast page-load times and mobile devices.

Video Headers and Backgrounds

The practice of using video (without sound) for page headers and backgrounds has been gaining popularity over the last couple of years as browser technology has advanced and Internet speeds increased. Video is dynamic and engaging and perhaps the very best way to convey an experience — so it makes a lot of sense for lodging and tour operators to adopt this trend on their websites.

When adding a video background or header to a website, it’s important to use a widely-supported video filetype for compatibility with various browsers. And test video backgrounds on mobile devices; if the user experience is degraded, it’s better to automatically substitute the video for a still image on mobile.

A Personal Touch

Have you noticed that modern websites are all starting to look similar? This is in part due to popular patterns and themes emerging from responsive design and content management systems like WordPress. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — in fact, the Google research mentioned above found that people prefer sites with familiar design principles.

However, we do also appreciate uniqueness and creativity. Adding a personal touch to your website — like clever customizations to a WordPress theme, custom-drawn illustrations, or simply professional photos rather than stock photography — adds authenticity and personality to your site and makes you stand out from the crowd.

Wyatt’s Hotel takes a simple yet effective approach to showcasing its character through beautiful full-screen photos of the property. And we love their pretty peacock illustration (scroll down on their homepage).

Wyatt's Hotel

Captivating Animation

Movement is another effective way to engage and captivate viewers (and we’re not talking about garish flash animations or GIFS like the dancing banana).

We’re talking about animation that enhances storytelling and is more interactive.

Scrolling websites lend well to animated scrolling effects. Subtle scroll animations, such as elements and objects that slide or fade into place as the user scrolls down the page, as well as parallax scrolling (where background elements move slower than those in the foreground, creating an illusion of depth and movement) result in a smooth and memorable user experience.

The Inn of the Rockies website is a nice example of subtle scrolling animation, with headings and content blocks that slide in smoothly as the user scrolls down the page, as well as eye-catching hover effects.

Cinemagraphs (photos with moving elements) are becoming trendy too. Created in GIF format (yes, the GIF is actually back, but better than ever), cinemagraphs use less bandwidth than videos and are quite spellbinding. We love how the Island Plantation website uses cinemagraphs to magically transport you to their resort.

Cool Typography

The visual presentation of words is getting more attention with strong fonts, bold statements and the integration of text and images.

Google Fonts makes cool typefaces accessible to all. When choosing fonts and getting creative with text, make sure that typography reflects the style and personality of your business, is easy to read, contrasts adequately with the background, and is consistent throughout your website (don’t use too many different fonts).

The Calgary Attractions website places words on hero images, the bold font matching the style of the website and prairie city perfectly. Using words in this way makes it instantly clear to visitors what the website is all about, and it looks great too.

Calgary Attractions

So there you have it — our rundown of popular Web design techniques as we head into 2016. As with all trends, don’t just follow along because it’s cool; try out the ones you like and that work for your brand and your customers.

You may have noticed that responsive design is not included on the above list. That’s because by now responsive or mobile-friendly website design is more a rule than a trend. If a website isn’t mobile-optimized, it’s simply missing out on a big chunk of business.

Need help getting your website ready for the year ahead? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

How Independent Hotels Can Boost Bookings This Valentine’s Day

Love and travel go hand in hand and so many properties take advantage of Valentine’s Day to attract more bookings. In fact, as a hotel, it can be hard to stand out among all the other hotels touting red roses, bubbles and chocolates.

To be irresistible, try doing something a little different. Whether promotions are limited to Valentine’s Day weekend, the week, or available to guests throughout the month of love, here are some ideas for attracting more guests this Valentine’s Day.

Create Enticing Packages

It’s true that guests expect classic add-ons like red roses, wine and chocolates with romance packages, but if you want your Valentine’s Day package to stand out, go above and beyond the usual…

Think Local: What’s special about your destination or property? Is it the unbeatable skiing? Your award-winning dining? Think about the features that set your location or hotel apart — your unique selling proposition (USP) — and incorporate it into the design and marketing of your package.

You can get really creative; for example, if your destination offers hot air balloon rides, consider partnering up with a tour operator to offer a “Love is in the Air” package that includes a balloon ride. Or provide tickets to a big show and include dinner for two for the ultimate date night package. If your property boasts a pretty lakeshore or beautifully landscaped grounds in the Southern Hemisphere, why not create a romantic package that includes a picnic lunch, complete with a wicker picnic basket and a cozy blanket?

Think Beyond Couples: Valentine’s Day is often a tad tedious for singles, so tempt them to spoil themselves with an offer that focuses on friends — like a “Girls’ Night Out” package that includes tickets to a show. How about a “Girls’ Night In” package with free in-room movie rentals, chocolates, wine and popcorn? Or tempt singles to indulge with a spa package for friends, or a package that includes a fun activity such as free canoe or bike rentals, horseback riding or amusement park tickets.

Romantic evenings out are few and far between for parents of young children, so a romantic package (perhaps offering a couples massage and a candlelit dinner for two) that includes babysitting could entice family travelers that would have otherwise stayed home.

Throw a Fancy Party

Another way to stand out is to host a big event. Whether it’s a masquerade ball, an old-fashioned barn dance, or a carnival like Hotel Figueroa’s “Love, A Fair” held last year, people love to celebrate and Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse.

Make tickets available to locals, and include entrance with your Valentine’s Day package for overnight guests (which could also work to turn some of the locals into overnight guests).

Hosting such an event provides a great opportunity for boosting F&B revenue as well as overnight bookings, and makes for a great marketing and publicity opportunity too.

Organize Fun Activities for Your Guests

Throwing a fancy party does require a significant amount of effort and might not be right for all properties, but you don’t have to host a big event to get noticed.

Consider organizing special Valentine’s Day activities that are available to your guests, paid or free, or as part of your Valentine’s Day packages. Some ideas for activities include meditation or yoga classes, cooking classes, dance classes, romantic movie screenings, wine tastings, a love-themed happy hour, bocce ball tournament, or paint (and sip) night.

Share the Love on Social Media and Your Blog

Simply joining the conversation does wonders for boosting engagement and reach (and ultimately bookings). Use your social media platforms and blog to share romantic ideas and suggestions, such as the most romantic local date spots, gift ideas and fun activities for couples. Ask your followers to weigh in with their own ideas.

You could even create a hashtag like #myperfectdate and ask followers to share the story of their best date or how they met their significant other for the chance to win a hotel gift voucher or date night.

Finally, promote your Valentine’s Day packages, events and activities on your social media platforms and blog too, as well as on your website, via your e-newsletter, online ads and OTAs. Include enticing images to stand out from the crowd and engage your customers’ emotions. And use keywords like “romantic,” “gift,” “chocolates,” and “Valentine’s Day” to boost organic search rankings.

Valentine’s Day can be a lucrative event for hotels that put a little love and effort into their campaigns — after all, love is a two-way street!

The Power of Post-Stay Emails: Top Tips for Independent Hoteliers

Nowadays, most lodging operators send confirmation emails to customers upon booking. Many properties also capitalize on their customers’ growing anticipation of their stay by sending pre-arrival emails… But how about after the guest checks out? As a lodging operator, are you sending post-stay emails to your guests?

Many of our WebRezPro customers have found that sending post-stay emails generates engagement with previous guests, whether it’s a quick reply directly to the hotel, a review, or a new Facebook fan.

Post-stay emails are an effective tool for keeping your hotel top of your guest’s mind; properties that aren’t sending post-stay emails are missing out on a great opportunity for turning customers into repeat guests and brand ambassadors.

It’s not hard to do, especially with a property management system that offers automated guest email functionality. Here are our tips for a successful post-stay email campaign.

Get Their Email Address!

You’re thinking, thank you, Captain Obvious, aren’t you? But this is just a wee reminder that if for some reason you didn’t get the guest’s email address at the time of booking — perhaps they booked through an OTA — don’t hesitate to politely ask them for it upon check-out. Telling them you would like to email them a coupon code for a discount on their next stay, or for a friend, is an offer most guests can’t refuse.

The Thank-You / Feedback-Request Email

Send a timely thank-you email to your guest, ideally within three days of the guest’s departure, saying that you enjoyed having them stay and that you hope they had a great time. Inject some personality into the message so that it doesn’t sound canned.

In the same email, mention that you would love to hear their feedback on their stay experience and invite them to write an online review. Make it easy and quick for them to do so by including a direct link to your TripAdvisor review page, for example.

In case a guest did not have a good experience, ask them to contact you directly with any negative feedback so that you can attend to it immediately, and provide a specific (eg. manager@yourhotel.com) rather than generic (eg. info@yourhotel.com) email address, if possible.

Some properties use an automated post-stay survey tool like that from Revinate, which makes collecting feedback a breeze. Revinate offers some great tips on writing post-stay surveys.

You can also encourage guests to share their photos on social media, and let them know your social media handles or any hashtags for tagging. Or simply invite them to follow you on social media for opportunities to access special offers.

If you have a loyalty program, invite customers to join by including a link to your loyalty program information page.

Maintaining the Relationship

A successful post-stay email campaign doesn’t end after the thank-you / feedback-request email. As time goes on, targeted post-stay marketing emails are key to reminding your guests of the great experience they had at your property. However, there are some very important tips to consider if you don’t want your customers to hit “unsubscribe.”

Offer real value. Keep customers engaged by offering something of value, be it a discount for a future stay, informing them of current or upcoming promotions or events that may be of interest, sharing a recipe from your restaurant, or reminding them of their experience with a webcam shot of the fresh powder on the slopes outside your door.

Target your offers. Targeting the right offers to the right customers is key to offering real value. The information that you collect about a guest in order to personalize their experience — from the moment they make a booking and throughout their stay — should also be used to target your email campaigns. Even simple segmentation, like targeting corporate offers to business travellers, romantic packages to couples, and kids’ activities to families, results in more effective campaigns. A property management system like WebRezPro also offers the ability to set up customized email templates tied to certain rates and room types.

The data in your property management system is the foundation of personalized service and targeted communications, and can be integrated with your CRM or email marketing system to automate highly targeted email campaigns.

Time it right. There are no set rules when it comes to timing future post-stay emails; it may take some time to figure out what works best for your property. While you don’t want to annoy customers (and lose subscribers) by emailing too often, you don’t want them to forget about you either.

As a start, one or two months after check-out, you could send guests a discount code for a future stay. You could even promote different seasonal experiences by highlighting your location’s best winter attributes and packages to guests who stayed in summer, and vice versa.

Six months post-stay, you might want to check in with them again, to make sure your property remains top of mind as they plan future getaways. Remind them of their previous stay (and offer value) with a cocktail recipe from your bar, or a photo of a stunning sunset from your ocean-view pool deck. Offer that discount code again or let them know of any relevant special deals. Tell them you’d love to see them again.

A few weeks before the guest’s booking anniversary, trigger another email reminding them of their last stay and inviting them back with a special discount or free upgrade.

General Tips

Personalize. As mentioned above (and mentioned here again because it’s very important), inject your brand’s personality into your emails. If you want to engage your customers, make the message personal and friendly; canned or generic emails are a big turn off.

Address the guest by name, rather than “Dear Guest.” This process can be automated through your property management system by using template keywords. Sign off from an actual staff member.

Optimize for mobile. With more than half of all emails opened on mobile devices, it’s now more important than ever before to make sure all of your email communications are mobile friendly. Constant Contact offers some good tips for creating mobile-friendly emails, like keeping it simple, using easy-to-read text, and limiting images. If you use an email marketing service like Guestfolio or Constant Contact, you’re in great hands.

Social media buttons. Social media buttons that link directly to your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages make it easy for your customers to connect with and follow your property on social channels. They should be included in every email template.

“Unsubscribe” option. Always include an “unsubscribe” link in all emails. This is required by spam law.

Automate. It’s just not possible for busy hoteliers to take the time to personally write to each and every guest. That’s why property management systems like WebRezPro offer customizable email templates and automated delivery.  While standard template wording is included, we recommend you take the time to word your own emails to reflect the personality of your brand, as mentioned above.

Property management systems can also be integrated with CRM and email marketing programs that take your email campaigns to the next level through automation of email list management, targeting based on guest data, and scheduling, as well as professionally designed and fully customizable templates, and results tracking.

To sum it all up, post-stay emails are a powerful customer retention tool — as long as they are relevant to the customer. To be relevant, they should be targeted to your guest and offer something of value. Remind your guests why they love your property and they’ll come back for more.

Inn at Middletown

The Inn at Middletown is a beautiful 100-room hotel in historic downtownMiddletown, Connecticut, and close to Wesleyan University. The hotel offers a wide range of amenities including meeting and banquet space, onsite dining, a swimming pool, a fitness center, free WiFi and valet parking. The Inn at Middletown has just started using our cloud-based WebRezPro Property Management System to help with their operations. Visit their website to see how they’re using WebRezPro’s integrated Web reservation software to take online bookings!

2016 Online Marketing Checklist for Independent Hoteliers

The holiday rush is almost upon us, so now’s a good time to get a head start on strategizing for success in the New Year — after all, 2016 is just around the corner! With US adults spending an average of six hours a day on digital media, your digital marketing strategy is one thing you want to get right.

Here’s our digital marketing checklist for a successful year ahead for lodging operators:

Mobile-Friendly Website & Mobile Bookings

Did you know that 69 percent of travelers begin their search online via a mobile device? Mobile is no longer a trend, it’s a way of life — especially in the world of travel. With Google’s major mobile-friendly algorithm update implemented earlier this year, businesses can no longer afford not to have a mobile-friendly website.

If your website isn’t already mobile friendly, there’s a good chance it’s due for an update anyway. When it’s time for a redesign, consider a responsive website that automatically detects and adapts to the screens of all devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops).

According to eMarketer’s latest estimates (based on research to date), 51.8 percent of travelers who book trips online in 2016 will do so using a mobile device, up from 43.8 percent this year. So it’s also crucial to offer a mobile-friendly (and user-friendly) booking engine on your website.

SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) involves various techniques and can be confusing to the layperson, but if you keep in mind that search engines are designed to provide the most useful results to users and you follow suit with your own website, you are already on the right path. This means your website should be mobile-friendly (as mentioned above) and should feature fresh, local content relevant to your guests, in addition to using traditional SEO techniques like appropriate use of keywords and SEO-friendly design.

With the rise of mobile search, Google has been improving local search results — in other words, tailoring results to the user’s local area — so make sure your property’s website is easy to find for travelers booking accommodation on the day. To do this, include NAP (name, address, phone number) details on every page of your website, verify your business on Google My Business to ensure that your website appears on Google Maps, verify your business with Bing and Yahoo! too, and make sure your business is listed in popular local directories.

As for paid search/SEM (search engine marketing), HeBS Digital just published some great tips for maximizing revenue from SEM campaigns in 2016, including tailoring your ads to key customer segments,  optimizing campaigns for your property’s seasonality needs, creating a dedicated paid search campaign for each multichannel promotion, and utilizing advanced targeting methods like Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA).

Data-Driven (Targeted) Marketing

Sending customer segments targeted offers that are relevant to their needs and interests is more effective than sending generic campaigns to everyone. For example, if you segment your customer base into business travelers and leisure travelers, you can deliver offers for adventure packages and corporate packages to the right customers. You can target your marketing even further by segmenting your leisure guests into family travelers and couples.

Such simple segmentation has the power to significantly boost revenue — 75 percent of hotels in a recent case study agree.

Review the data in your property management system (PMS) to get to know your guests (who comprises your most important customer segments?) and use that information to offer your guests more value through targeted marketing. Consider integrating your PMS with your CRM to automate your targeted email marketing efforts.

Mobile-Friendly Email Marketing

According to Litmus, more than half of all emails are now opened on a mobile device. Whether you are sending a booking confirmation email, special offer, post-stay thank you or survey, your customer email communications should be optimized for mobile so that they look great on a desktop or smartphone.

Email marketing experts at Constant Contact offer some simple tips for creating mobile-friendly emails, including concise content (short, sweet and simple!), single-column templates, clear calls to action (buttons are better than links), and larger font.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is great for SEO because fresh, relevant content provides real value to your customers online. Content marketing focuses on content that is engaging, inspiring and helpful to your customers. Needless to say, knowing your target audience is key to providing content that is relevant to them.

High-quality content tells the story of your property or conveys the stay experience while providing helpful information that prospective guests want to know. Tell your story through well-written text, photos and video, and ensure website content is organized in a user-friendly manner.

Maintaining a blog is an effective way to keep your website fresh, share your local expertise and highlight your property’s personality. World Web Technologies Inc. shares some best practices for hotel blogging.

Social Media Marketing

Working hand in hand with your website, social media is key to improving brand awareness and building customer relationships. Search engines like businesses that are active on social media too. And here’s an inspiring Twitter fact: 70 percent of followers have taken action after seeing travel content on Twitter.

Paid social media advertising is not very expensive and can boost the visibility of promotional posts to targeted audiences. Facebook is an effective advertising platform for lodgings with highly visual ads that can be interacted with in a variety of ways (comments, likes, shares and click-throughs).

Engaging with customers organically (unpaid) on social media involves creating posts that tell interesting stories related to your property or location. Highlight local events and happenings, your blog posts and special packages, and share user-generated content about your hotel to humanize your brand and inspire conversation.

Reputation Management

The first step in managing your online reputation is to optimize your online presence. This means having a great website and being present and active on social media channels, OTAs, meta-search sites and review websites. Make sure online content is truly representative of your property (i.e. don’t make empty promises that will only lead to disappointed guests), and ask for and promote guest feedback.

It is very important to monitor social media and review sites for comments and feedback about your property and respond appropriately. Social listening tools like Hootsuite ensure that you don’t miss a mention. Online reputation management systems like Revinate step it up a notch by providing a whole suite of tools to help measure and analyze feedback for actionability.

Remarketing

Remarketing is the process of targeting email or ad campaigns to people who have previously visited your website. Without remarketing, a whopping 92 percent of those visitors will not return.

You know how that jacket you were looking at online but didn’t buy is now following you around the Internet? That’s an example of remarketing.

Remarketing can be implemented via simple code inserted into your website or email marketing campaign that tracks website visitors or subscribers who have opened your email, and subsequently allows you to target display ads to them throughout the Web. It’s an excellent way to build brand awareness and even bring back visitors who abandoned the booking process.

If you’re new to the concept of remarketing, Google is a good place to start. And here’s some information about Facebook remarketing.

Channel Integration

Simplify online distribution management by integrating your PMS with third-party distribution channels (GDS, OTAs, channel managers) for real-time room visibility across the board. Integrating your PMS with online distribution channels not only enables you to more efficiently maximize revenue, but it also allows you to automatically track where your bookings are coming from to help you optimize your distribution strategy.

We all know how important online marketing is in this day and age — especially in the travel industry. While the above strategies work together to comprise a solid online marketing plan for lodgings, properties will find that some strategies work better than others; the right online marketing mix differs from property to property and depends on such factors as seasonality, customer base, business goals and budget. Monitor and analyse the success of your campaigns to find the perfect balance for your property.

Pre-Arrival Email Tips for Independent Hotels

Many independent properties email booking confirmations to customers that book direct, but are they taking full advantage of this crucial point of contact? For a soon-to-be guest, the pre-arrival stage is one filled with anticipation and a desire to make sure their upcoming stay meets their expectations, so confirmation and pre-stay emails typically have high open rates. This means that pre-arrival emails offer great potential for building a relationship with the customer and driving incremental revenue before the guest even sets foot through the door.

If you’re a lodging operator and want to make the most of your pre-arrival email campaign, consider the following tips.

Confirmation Email

Reservation confirmation emails are important for a number of reasons, perhaps the most important of which is to reassure the customer that the reservation was successful. I recently made a telephone booking with a small hotel in a tiny town. Because of my accent I had to repeat myself a few times and wondered if my details were recorded correctly. The hotel manages reservations manually on paper and did not email me a reservation confirmation, so I was a little nervous that I would arrive at the property and find myself without a room. To my relief, my reservation was intact upon check-in (although, my name was wrong) and I had a great stay, but a simple confirmation email would have alleviated that niggling worry leading up to my trip.

Confirmation emails are also a great opportunity to:

>> Thank the customer for choosing to stay at your property. This shows that you value and appreciate their business.

>> Find out more about the customer. Finding out more about customer preferences or special requests before arrival will help you to personalize their stay. While you don’t want to bombard them with questions, simply inviting them to contact your property directly with any questions or requests is often all the encouragement a future guest needs to get in touch. If your property makes use of pre-stay surveys or a mobile concierge like that provided by Guestfolio CRM, you can invite customers to start personalizing their stay by linking to these platforms directly from the confirmation email.

Pre-Arrival Email

The stage between booking and arrival is one of the best times to reach out to your customers, catching them when they are excited about their trip and particularly receptive to opportunities for enhancing it. Pre-arrival emails are typically most effective a week or two before a leisure guest’s arrival, while corporate guests tend to appreciate pre-arrival information and options closer to their check-in date. Determine the right timing for your property and guests.

>> Remind guests about their upcoming stay (not that they’re likely to have forgotten!) by letting them know that you are looking forward to welcoming them to your property. You can include helpful details about their stay, such as dates, check-in time, room type and directions.

>> Upsell. Including relevant upsell options in your pre-arrival email is a great way to enhance the customer’s stay and boost incremental revenue. In addition to room upgrades, you can upsell amenities like spa services, in-room extras and transportation (consider offering discounts for services booked before arrival), or offer to make restaurant reservations. The more targeted the offer, the better. Include a strong call to action that invites customers to contact the hotel directly to make their request, or links to a portal on your website or digital concierge for adding extras to their stay.

>> Be helpful. Inform guests about onsite amenities they might find useful, and local events and attractions. Again, the more targeted, the better; business travelers would likely appreciate knowing that you have a small meeting room available by the hour, while those traveling with kids would no doubt like to know about family-friendly local attractions. Link back to specific information on your website, like the business amenities page, or your blog post about local family attractions. Take the opportunity to again invite the customer to get in touch with any questions or special requests they may have.

Optimize for Mobile

Now more than half of all emails opened are opened on mobile. Most of us have experienced the annoyance of trying to read non-mobile-friendly emails or websites on a smartphone — we wouldn’t want to do that to our customers, right? Design email templates for the small screens of mobile devices and the variety of email clients your guests are likely using; in other words, keep it simple. Images are great for branding, but if your templates aren’t responsive, it’s best to keep images to a minimum — perhaps just your logo. Email marketing services like Guestfolio and Constant Contact provide beautiful, customizable mobile-friendly email designs that take email communications to the next level.

Automate

Automate your email campaigns to save time and ensure that no guest is missed. A property management system (PMS) like WebRezPro allows you to create various email templates and set them to send automatically, depending on arrival date and other parameters like room and rate codes. Setting parameters like room codes allows you to target relevant offers such as room upgrades to the right guests and to tailor communications to different customer segments like group reservations and corporate customers.

If you are working with an email marketing service like Guestfolio or Constant Contact, integration between your PMS and email marketing program makes professionally designed email campaigns that are automatically timed, targeted and tracked even more effortless.

Personalize

The main purpose of a pre-arrival email campaign is to start building a relationship with the customer, which is bound to be more successful if you use their name. It’s the first step to personalizing the guest experience. Automated email programs will allow you to personalize emails by inserting keywords into template text that are replaced with information from the guest’s reservation, for example, the guest name, stay dates, room type and so on. Be sure to also make it clear who the email is from, preferably signing off as an actual person — and use a relevant, official reply-to email address.

Targeting email content and offers to customer segments by setting parameters or conditions based on reservation data (as mentioned above) takes personalization to the next level.

Include Social Media Buttons

It’s a good idea to include social media buttons that link back to your social pages on all email communications with customers. This gives customers an easy way to connect with your property on social channels, opening up more opportunities for you to build a loyal relationship.

Aim to take full advantage of your pre-arrival email campaign to get a head start on engaging your customers. And don’t forget: customer responses to pre-arrival emails — from questions about your property to upgrade requests — should be recorded in guest profiles and used to personalize the guest experience and future offers.

Tips for Attracting Business Travelers to Your Independent Hotel

With fall around the corner, the hospitality industry is getting ready to welcome more corporate travelers as the peak business travel season heats up. The business travel market is a lucrative one; business travel spending in the U.S. is expected to reach $302.7 billion by the end of the year — an increase of 4.9 percent from last year. Even Airbnb is directing more attention toward business travelers, recently announcing a new product suite for its Business Travel program, which has enjoyed a 700 percent growth since it was launched a year ago.

If your hotel is busy on weekends but quiet during the week, business travelers could be your ticket to improved occupancy and ADR. But just how can you attract them to stay at your property?

Just like leisure travelers, those traveling on business are looking for a comfortable and convenient stay. But, unlike leisure travelers, business travelers are also looking for an office-away-from-the-office (as well as a home-away-from-home). Your business guests want amenities and services that help them work efficiently, and perks that lessen the burden of a corporate life on the road.

For some tips on how to attract business travelers to your independent property, read on.

A Mobile-Optimized Website – A mobile-optimized hotel website gives busy businesspeople easy access to your property information on the go and is more likely to rank higher in mobile searches than non-mobile sites. For the business traveler or travel planner, make sure your website features your property’s location (pinpointing major companies and conference venues nearby) and amenities clearly, and no more than a single tap or click away. Consider a dedicated Business Travel page that highlights all relevant amenities, services and packages geared toward business travelers — this is not only helpful to prospective corporate customers, but is a great way to boost SEO.

Online Bookings – Businesspeople are busy, efficient types, and they demand convenient services that save time. Hello, online bookings. A smooth, simple online booking process that provides access to corporate rates (via access codes) is much appreciated by those organizing business trips.

Targeted Communications – Generic emails that promote amenities, services and local attractions geared toward your leisure guests are irrelevant and unhelpful to business travelers. Pre-arrival communications with your business guests should offer assistance and highlight services that will help make their stay productive and efficient; Would they like to reserve the meeting room? Do they need restaurant reservations? An airport pick-up?… Likewise, post-stay communications with corporate clients should target their specific needs by offering them special business packages and discounts, and informing them of any new amenities or services that will improve future stays.

Speedy Check-in & Check-out – Time is precious to us all, but business travelers tend to have even less tolerance for inefficiency. Start off on the right foot with your business guests by ensuring your check-in (and check-out) process is a swift one. Some cloud property management systems (PMS) like WebRezPro offer paperless check-in via mobile device, allowing front desk staff to check guests in and out on the go for maximum efficiency — without sacrificing personal service with a smile. Self-service check-in and -out via hotel app or kiosk is also increasingly in demand, especially by millennial travelers.

Flexible Check-in and Check-out Times – Speaking of check-in and check-out, a recent MainStreet article revealed that a number of hotels are becoming more flexible in regard to check-in and check-out times as part of their service personalization efforts. Some properties charge an extra fee for this request, and some offer it to loyalty members for free. Flexible check-in and check-out times couldn’t be more relevant to corporate travelers, who often arrive to their destination in the morning, needing to freshen up before their 1 o’clock meeting, or don’t fly out until later in the afternoon. While offering early check-in and late check-out can complicate housekeeping and room allocation, modern property management systems provide the departmental integration and transparency that helps to keep operations running smoothly. And the convenience to your guests will go far in earning their loyalty.

CONNECTIVITY – Notice it’s typed in CAPS? That’s how important it is. In fact, perhaps no other amenity is more important to business travelers than reliable Wi-Fi and 49 percent of business travelers consider free Wi-Fi a deciding factor when it comes to their choice of hotel.

Well-Equipped Business Spaces – If your property features a business center, but the technology (computers, fax machine, printer) has seen better days, it’s worth investing in some new hardware if you want to increase (or maintain) your corporate clientele. Remember, time-saving technology and services are very important to the business guest and if your temperamental printer gives them a hard time, you’ll likely never see them again.

Properties that don’t have a dedicated business center can entice corporate guests to utilize communal areas, like lounges and bars, by offering comfortable spaces for guests to work informally in a social setting, if desired. That means providing comfortable seating, plenty of power outlets and access to Wi-Fi, of course. Offer access to a printer, too, whether you set up a printing station in a quiet corner, or allow guests to utilize the front desk’s.

In-Room Conveniences – Are your guestrooms conducive to office work? Do they offer ergonomic desks and chairs, good lighting, reliable Wi-Fi and easy access to all power outlets? Other in-room amenities that business guests typically find handy are hair dryers, ironing boards and irons, coffee makers and full-length mirrors. You can really impress with thoughtful extras like the ability to easily sync their devices to the TV, pillow menus and black-out curtains. Needless to say, quality bedding for a good night’s sleep is crucial.

If outfitting all your guestrooms with work-conducive amenities is a bit of a stretch to your budget, consider offering a limited number of “business suites.”

Wellness – Because business travelers are on the road a lot, staying healthy while traveling is important to them. If your property offers onsite dining, review your menu for healthy options. Do you provide gluten-free and vegan meals for guests with food allergies and intolerances?

Whether your property features a restaurant or not, both business and leisure guests will appreciate the availability of healthy snacks (how about a lobby fruit bowl?) and breakfast — it doesn’t have to be a cooked one; think fast, healthy and convenient, like self-serve toast, cereal, yogurt and fruit.

When it comes to fitness, consider partnering with a nearby gym to offer guests complimentary or discounted passes, if you don’t have fitness facilities on site. Some properties are even offering in-room fitness kits comprising the likes of yoga mats and resistance bands. Or how about offering a Corporate De-Stresser Package that includes a relaxing spa treatment?

Transportation – Waiting for taxis, taking public transport or renting a car can all be bothersome for a tired traveler who’s just flown in. On the contrary, an airport pick-up is a convenient, hassle-free welcome to your property. And during the guest’s stay, offer to make arrangements for transport to and from nearby venues and meetings.

Billing Itemization – For expensing purposes, the ability to itemize charges on the same or separate folios makes life for both the traveler and their company’s accounting department much easier. Does your PMS do this?

Loyalty Programs – While companies love loyalty programs that offer free nights and discounted stays, the actual guest appreciates perks that make constant business travel a little less tiresome — like free transportation, complimentary beverages, discounted spa services and more personalized service. A loyalty program is not only a great way to attract corporate clients, but it provides the opportunity to gather guest data that can be used to personalize service and target marketing more effectively.

While not every hotel will be able to implement every idea on this list, any property can cater more effectively to business travelers by focusing on convenience, efficiency and technology. Powerful core systems like cloud PMS and CRM will set you off on the right foot by supporting efficient processes, personalized service and targeted marketing.

It’s also important to note that although you are catering to the business traveler, you are typically marketing to their companies, which are organizing travel on behalf of their employees. Get the word out to business travel bookers by advertising your business-friendly amenities, services and packages on your (mobile-optimized) website, and running targeted ads on OTAs. And be sure to keep corporate clients updated about relevant special offers and new amenities and services through targeted email communications and social media.

Getting in on the Health Kick: Wellness for Independent Lodgings

In our recent post about hospitality trends for 2015, we included a focus on health and wellness. The general population is increasingly seeking a healthy lifestyle, not only in daily routine, but while traveling too. Both leisure and business travelers are looking for experiences that support and enhance their personal health regimes when away from home, and, more and more, are using such criteria to choose accommodation.

A hotel gym alone just doesn’t cut it anymore; health and wellness is not only about physical fitness, it’s about nutritional and mental health too. Today’s vacationers are traveling to rejuvenate body and mind. Big players InterContinental Hotels Group and Starwood Hotels & Resorts have embraced the growing wellness travel sector by creating the healthy-lifestyle brands EVEN Hotels (InterContinental) and Element (Starwood).

While we’re definitely not suggesting to shift your brand focus, almost everyone appreciates having healthy options. Wellness-based offerings can help your property stand out and earn glowing reviews. You don’t need to renovate for more natural light or make room for a fitness center; here are a few simple ways independent properties can put a health and wellness spin on the guest experience…

The Indoor Environment

Stagnant, musty air is not only unpleasant, but it can be a real health concern for asthma and allergy sufferers. Thorough cleaning and good air circulation are important for keeping rooms fresh. Any mold or mildew problems (typically occurring in bathrooms) must be eradicated, and ventilation systems need to be serviced regularly.

Consider hypoallergenic cleaning products to help decrease indoor air contaminants, and offer guests allergy-friendly pillows and bedding for better quality of sleep.

The Las Vegas MGM Grand steps things up with “Stay Well” rooms that feature vitamin C-infused showers (the vitamin C neutralizes the chlorine), light therapy, air purification, water filtration and optional aromatherapy.

Go Greener

You are probably already implementing some green practices at your property — after all, they make sense for both the planet and your property’s bottom line. TripAdvisor conducted an eco-travel survey last year that showed travelers are growing greener too, making more eco-conscious travel decisions. Good for the planet and, therefore, good for us, environmentally-friendly and sustainable actions are part and parcel of the wellness tradition.

Towel and linen reuse programs, recycling programs, energy-efficient lighting, low-flow shower heads, composting and non-toxic cleaning products are all simple ways to reduce your property’s environmental footprint, save money, and make your guests feel good about staying with you. Did you know that cloud property management systems are greener too?

On the Menu

If your property offers on-site dining, consider using organic, locally-sourced ingredients in your kitchen. Not everything has to be organic and local, but make sure your menu highlights what is. Take a look at your menu — does it offer a variety of healthy choices, including vegetarian and vegan options? With food allergies becoming so widespread, it’s important to cater to these guests now too. Gluten-free options are popping up on menus everywhere.

Even if your property doesn’t have a restaurant, you can still offer your guests healthy nutritional choices. Some ideas include offering a range of wholesome selections for breakfast, complimentary in-room or lobby fruit bowls (you can wrap washed fruit with safe cling wrap) displayed with a card that says “help yourself to a fresh, organic apple!,” organic fair-trade coffee, and healthy vending machines.

Physical Pursuits

Your property doesn’t need to have a gym to support your guests’ physical routine. More and more hotels are offering in-room “fit kits” containing yoga mats and props, stability balls, resistance bands and the like. Couple these with on demand fitness programming or a selection of DVDs guests can borrow from the front desk. If your location is safe for cycling, consider offering guests complimentary bikes for exploring the area — you could even provide maps marked with cycling and jogging routes.

Reassess your space: are there any underutilized areas indoors or out? Perhaps you do have a small, unused, well-ventilated space that could suit a couple of fitness machines, or an open, flat outdoor area where you could set up a badminton net.

Consider developing a partnership with a nearby gym or fitness studio to provide free or discounted access for your guests.

Relaxation for Body and Mind

Because wellness is about a healthy body and mind, it’s important to provide guests with opportunities to relax both. Create quiet, tranquil spaces for reading, contemplating the scenery or even meditating. Uncluttered spaces with comfortable furnishings and plenty of natural light can be accentuated with greenery and quiet, soothing background music. Well-maintained outdoor hot tubs do wonders for this writer.

Properties with on-site spas should have relaxing experiences down pat, but for the spa-less, consider the possibility of outsourcing in-room massage services or on-site meditation instruction, depending on your typical guest profile (business travelers and honeymooners, for example, are likely to appreciate this).

Healthy Work Habits

Whether your property offers in-room workstations or communal areas, work spaces should be comfortable, calm and conducive to productivity. Ergonomic chairs for good posture, stand-up desks, healthy snacks and plenty of water are some components of healthy work spaces found in hotels today. And fast, reliable Wi-Fi goes without saying – you want to relax, not frustrate, your guests!

Package It All Up

Help guests make the most of the great outdoors by partnering with local tour operators to offer guests exciting packages that get them out and active. Activities running near your property, from surfing lessons to trail rides to hiking to canoeing, can be packaged with stays to add value (and fun) to the guest experience.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas. As long as you remain true to the unique character of your property, and relevant to your particular guests, you can get as creative as you wish! Generally, the more creative you are, the more you will stand out. And, finally, remember to promote any wellness initiatives on your website and social media.

Online Hotel Bookings Continue to Rise: How to Get Your Due Share

According to data recently released by the TravelClick North American Distribution Review, online channels continue to lead hotel bookings. In the second quarter 2014, OTAs experienced the largest increase in bookings, up 12 percent over last year, followed by brand.com bookings with a 6.9 percent increase, and then the GDS channel with 2.9 percent. (Read the full article on the Lodging Magazine website.)

While we probably don’t need the data to tell us that online booking channels — OTAs, hotel websites and the GDS — are increasingly popular with travelers, the numbers contribute to hard evidence of the importance of utilizing these channels effectively for maximizing online revenue.

But improving your online revenue takes more than simply offering bookings on your website or signing up with an OTA like Booking.com or Expedia; it takes a coordinated approach where the various channels complement each other and work together.

Optimize Your Website and Online Booking Engine for Mobile

Let’s look at some more figures: data from HeBS Digital, a marketing consultancy, shows that one in eight bookings at independent hotels are made on mobile devices, and more than 42 percent of website visitors come from smartphones and tablets. So, in order to maximize online bookings — and bookings in general —properties should have a mobile-optimized website offering mobile-friendly online bookings to capture this significant (and growing) proportion of mobile bookers.

While large brands with plenty of resources frequently invest in both a mobile site and traditional website, for smaller, independent properties we recommend a website built with a responsive Web design approach. A single responsive website automatically customizes content for all three screens — desktop, tablet and mobile — providing an optimized user experience on each device without requiring you to manage separate sites.

A well-designed, mobile-friendly website that is easy to navigate and use inspires consumers to click (or tap) the “book now” button, whether they are using a desktop computer or a smartphone. Your mobile-optimized online booking engine should also be integrated with your Property Management System (PMS) for automatically centralized reservations.

Work With GDS and OTA Channels

We’ve blogged before about the benefits of working with GDS and OTA channels to expand your property’s global reach and increase online bookings. Choosing a major channel like Expedia or Booking.com is quite a safe bet, or consider taking advantage of the extensive connectivity of a channel manager like Siteminder. Think about who your ideal customers are and where they like to book.

To maximize your property’s exposure (and ultimately online revenue) through GDS and OTA channels, ensure that your listing features a full description, a complete amenities list and pretty pictures, make certain your rates and packages are competitive and current, and work with your OTA account manager to improve your listing’s performance and to stay on budget.

Then, take the logical next step: integrate your online distribution channels with your PMS. Direct integration between your PMS and your GDS and OTA channels will save you a lot of time managing your OTA reservations by centralizing and automating the process through your PMS. It also improves real-time accuracy of availability and rates, maximizing online revenue while greatly reducing the risk of double-booking. WebRezPro PMS offers integrations to 18 online distribution channels (and the list is growing).

Don’t Forget Social Media!

The traveling population has taken to social media like ducks to water and so most lodging operators now consider social media a key sales, marketing and customer service tool. Adding a booking widget to your property’s Facebook page can help turn your social media visitors into paying guests. Make sure your booking widget is integrated with your PMS.

To help entice your Facebook fans to click the “book now” button, actively engage with potential guests through your social media accounts by answering questions, posting eye-catching photos of your property, and responding promptly to any feedback from guests. (You can do this with the time you save by integrating all your online booking channels with your PMS!)