Essential Elements of a Hotel Website

Your hotel’s “shop window” to the world, your hotel website is the platform through which most new customers first become acquainted with your property.

Through your website, prospective guests should get an accurate view of your property that leads to an informed booking decision. For a hotel website to successfully lead customers along the path to purchase, site design must be focused on the user experience, which comprises usability as much as visual appeal. That’s why current web design trends align with simple, uncluttered designs that are easy to use as well as easy on the eyes.

But in addition to simple design, there are other essential attributes every hotel website must have to ensure a user-friendly experience that conveys the property’s story and ultimately converts lookers into bookers.

Mobile Friendliness

According to Google, more people now search the Web using their mobile devices than desktop computers, so it’s critical for any business to ensure their website is mobile friendly. The best way to do this is through responsive web design.

A responsive website design automatically detects the device the website is being viewed on and adjusts the layout, content, menus, etc. accordingly for the best user experience on that device. This means there’s no need to design and maintain a separate mobile site; with just one website, you have all devices (and operating systems) covered, from smartphones to tablets to desktops.

Direct Bookings

Did you know approximately 60 percent of travel bookings are made online? In addition to expanding reach through OTAs, capturing commission-free direct bookings on your property’s own website is critical to the success of your distribution strategy and the health of your bottom line.

Today’s travel consumers expect to be able to book accommodation online — and many prefer it over calling or emailing a hotel for availability. Without a (mobile-friendly) online booking engine on their website, properties risk losing customers to competitors that do offer the ability to book direct online, or pushing customers to book through OTAs, which take a significant cut from those bookings.

What’s more, a direct online booking engine is available 24/7, offering customers the convenience of making reservations whenever they want, even when your office is closed, which means you’ll never miss a booking. And if your online booking engine is integrated with your property management system (as it definitely should be), it will always show customers live rates and availability and will automatically send all reservations coming through your website to your PMS, greatly reducing your administrative workload.

Clear Navigation

Google research shows that Internet users prefer websites that are easy to use and understand over visually complex sites. From room descriptions and packages to services, amenities and location information, hotels and other lodgings have a lot of information to cover so it’s especially important for hotel websites to organize content well.

Website navigation must be intuitive, making it easy for visitors to find the information they need and leading customers along a smooth path to booking. This involves organizing content with customers in mind and making sure key information such as rooms and rates, amenities, contact details and online bookings are never more than a single click away. As well as strong CTAs (calls to action) — such as “book now,” “check availability” and “view rooms” buttons — it’s important to use a familiar menu style like the horizontal navigation bar across the top of the page (or “hamburger” menu for mobile) and to keep things simple by limiting primary menu options.

High-Quality Images

Nothing conveys the experience of your property (without actually being there) more effectively than photos and video. Images say a lot about a property and are critically important to consumers throughout the hotel-selection process. While badly-taken photos put people off, images that show a property’s rooms, exterior, facilities and location in their best light have real power to sell.

Current homepage design across industries favours big hero images — those eye-catching photos that fill the entire screen — and they work especially well for hotel websites trying to immerse visitors in the stay experience. Throughout a hotel website, quality images should be used to appropriately illustrate page content. Slideshow photo galleries are especially attractive to travel shoppers.

World Web Technologies Inc.’s blog post 4 Photo Tips for Your Hotel Website offers guidance on getting property pics right.

Well-Written Copy

Well-written copy and big, beautiful images go hand in hand in telling your property’s story. Rather than simply stating the cold, hard facts, put yourself in your guests’ shoes and describe the stay experience (think sights, scents, sounds, tastes, touch) to appeal to your customers’ emotions. Use your property’s USPs (unique selling points) to shape your story and stand out from the competition.

Be careful, though, not to turn your website into a novel. Most website visitors scan through content and are put off by long paragraphs of text. Keep your property’s story short and sweet by sticking to the point of each page, putting the most important information first, using subheadings, and keeping paragraphs short.

Contact Information

It’s essential to make it as easy as possible for your customers to contact you however they prefer, be it by phone, email or even via social media. Don’t assume that everyone will complete your online contact form or wants to book online; make sure that your property’s full contact details (including a map that pinpoints your location) are readily available on a dedicated “Contact” page, and that your phone number is consistently displayed in the header of every page as well as throughout the online booking process. If you can fit the property’s email address and physical address in the header too, even better — otherwise provide full contact details in the footer of every page.

Guest Testimonials

As travel consumers, most of us check guest reviews before choosing a place to stay. As lodging operators, providing reviews on your property’s website can help provide prospective guests with the social proof they require in order to make the decision to stay with you — without leaving your site (and getting distracted by other options).

Consider including a dedicated “Reviews & Testimonials” page on your website, kept fresh and updated with a selection of recent reviews, or highlight recent reviews on your homepage and throughout your site via widgets and plugins that rotate through a selection of reviews.

Speed

We’re increasingly spoiled for choice when it comes to online services these days — and decreasingly tolerant of badly designed and slow sites. Page loading time significantly affects the user experience to the point where every second counts. Aim to have your site’s pages load within about 3 seconds, especially on mobile.

Ways to ensure quick page load speeds include optimizing images for the Web, prioritizing loading of above-the-fold-content first, enabling compression, and using responsive design.

As the face of your property online, your website is an investment you want to get right. If it is visually appealing, genuinely conveys the stay experience, and provides a great user experience across devices, it’s bound to be a hit with prospective guests and search engines alike. Our talented Web designers specialize in building successful websites for the hospitality and travel industries — drop us a line to find out how we can help turn your property’s website into a powerful revenue-generating machine.

Is Your Property’s Online Booking Engine Mobile Friendly?

Market research company eMarketer predicts that this year more than half (51.8%) of travelers who book accommodations and airfare online will do so using a mobile device. That’s up from 43.8% last year.

Improved technology and user experience as well as increasingly tech-dependant consumer behavior (think Millennials) contribute to the growing trust in mobile commerce. It’s pretty plain to see that mobile travel bookings are going mainstream. Properties that want to maximize room sales and remain competitive must offer customers the ability to book direct online — via desktop and mobile devices.

What Makes a Mobile-Friendly Online Booking Engine?

Just because you can see the booking widget on your property’s website when you look at it on your smartphone doesn’t mean it is mobile friendly. A long-winded booking process with hard-to-read font and hard-to-tap menus and fields is going to send all but the most determined customers packing (for your competition or an OTA).

When it comes to mobile bookings, user experience is key. From a simple step-by-step process to secure payment, a mobile-friendly booking engine should provide users with convenience and confidence.

How can you tell if your online booking engine is mobile friendly? The easiest way is to grab your smartphone and test it out yourself. An online booking engine that is optimized for mobile devices will offer:

  • A user-friendly experience – The quicker and easier it is to make a booking, the better. A mobile-optimized booking process is a simple one; it does not overwhelm customers with too many options and is ideally limited to two or three steps or pages. It should be easy to read and navigate with tap-friendly (not too small) drop-down menus, text-entry fields and buttons. It should also able to display rates in different currencies, and should load fast too.
  • Secure bookings – A secure online booking process will use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption to keep personal and payment data safe. Pages using SSL encryption will display HTTPS:// in the URL, rather than HTTP:// (missing the “S”), which tells users that the page is secure. Make sure the URL for the booking page that askes for personal and payment information begins with HTTPS. If a user clicks on the little padlock icon that appears alongside the URL, they can view the page’s security certificate and whether it is valid. Displaying a secure payment badge when asking for credit card information also reassures customers that the booking process is secure.
  • Compatibility with various operating systems – iPhone or Android? Everyone seems to have their favorite so it’s important for an online booking engine to work well across various mobile devices and operating systems, from Apple iOS to Google Android to Windows Phone (and there are others!). Online booking engines that use responsive design automatically detect and adapt to the user’s device for an optimal user experience whatever the screen size or operating system.
  • Automatic booking confirmation – Upon submitting their reservation request, the user should immediately see an on-screen booking confirmation that affirms their booking was successful. The customer should also receive an automatic confirmation email.
  • PMS integration – When integrated with a property management system (PMS), a mobile-optimized online booking engine automatically offers customers real-time rates and availability, maximizing inventory and avoiding overbooking. Mobile bookings are automatically entered into the PMS and availability adjusted accordingly.
  • Prominent placement on your site – The booking widget should be prominently displayed on a property’s website with a strong call-to-action (“book now” button), whether viewed on a desktop computer or smartphone. If the online booking form is not easy to find, you risk losing customers who are ready to book.
  • The look and feel of your brand – A booking widget that reflects the branding on your website and includes the property’s logo and contact details on all pages of the booking process helps to inspire trust.

With more and more consumers turning to their mobile devices to research and book travel, it’s fast becoming essential for hotels and other lodgings to offer mobile bookings.

If your direct online booking engine does not play nicely with mobile devices, you are probably already losing customers. Feel free to ask us about our mobile-optimized, commission-free online booking engine, included with WebRezPro PMS, to capture more bookings on any device.

3 Mobile Musts for Hoteliers in 2015

Of all adult Internet users in the world, 80 percent own smartphones. We are firmly planted in the Age of Mobile. In our world where increasingly connected travelers rely on their smartphones for planning, booking and experiencing travel, lodging operators must incorporate mobile technology into business strategies across the guest life cycle to remain competitive and provide the kind of experience guests have come to expect.

Mobile innovation in hospitality is rapid. Mobile bookings are no longer novel; they’re necessary… Properties are engaging guests more effectively through mobile apps… And mobile room keys have already made their debut at numerous big-brand hotels. It’s hard to keep up, let alone know where to start.

Here are three mobile milestones most properties should have met by now:

1. Mobile-Friendly Website and Booking Engine

Just this week Google rolled out its major mobile-friendly algorithm update that rewards mobile-friendly websites with higher rankings in mobile search results. The search engine king has been promoting mobile-friendly websites for months already, with a mobile-friendly site testing tool, mobile usability report, and mobile-friendly tag in mobile search results. The reason for all this is simple: with mobile searches looking to surpass desktop searches this year, search engines must give the user what they want — which is relevant sites that work well on smartphones. If a site doesn’t function well, users tend to look elsewhere. These days, a mobile-friendly website is essential.

Responsive Web design ensures that your website provides an optimal user experience on all devices — smartphones, tablets and desktops — and all Web browsers.

A fundamental component of your website, your online booking engine should also be optimized for mobile. Recent research by ad tech company Criteo revealed that more than 25 percent of all digital travel transactions in the U.S. are generated by mobile devices. If your online reservation system is not mobile-friendly, it’s costing you bookings.

2. Mobile-Friendly PMS

Mobile-optimized property management systems (PMS) essentially allow hoteliers to take the front desk (and back office) with them wherever they go. Providing secure access to data from anywhere onsite or offsite, mobile PMS enable staff to attend to operations and guests on the go, resulting in increased efficiency and better guest service. Guests can be checked in via smartphone or tablet without having to wait in line at the front desk, housekeeping staff can update room status and housekeeping notes instantly from their mobile device, and guest requests can be resolved faster by whichever staff member is nearer.

Cloud PMS put lodging operators ahead of the game, bringing mobility to the heart of operations and facilitating easy integration with other hotel systems and mobile applications for improved efficiency and service.

3. Mobile-Friendly Guest Communications

Here are some inspiring numbers: 53 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices (tablets and smartphones); and there are 745 million mobile Facebook daily active users and 288 million monthly active Twitter users worldwide. Right about now, you are probably asking yourself some questions about your digital guest communications — like whether your property’s pre- and post-stay emails are optimized for mobile, and whether it’s time to start engaging with customers on social media (if you haven’t already). The answer to both should be a resounding yes.

Looking Ahead

There really should be a fourth point in the list above, because a mobile-friendly mind is another mobile must for lodging operators who want to stay competitive and maximize revenue. Hoteliers should be aware of and open to innovations that are relevant to their property and guests, and consider those that offer real potential to enhance the guest experience and improve operational efficiency.

Some big-brand hotels have already implemented mobile applications that not long ago seemed like gadgets from the future. Take Virgin Hotel’s cutting-edge personal assistant app, Lucy — the mobile app controls the thermostat, orders room service, serves as the TV remote, recommends the best spots around town, and more. Starwood already offers mobile room keys in a number of Aloft, Element and W hotels. While mobile applications like these are not quite yet mainstream and might not suit all types of lodgings (at least not presently), such technology is becoming more accessible to independent properties.

Going forward, it’s important to identify the applications that will provide the most value to your guests. And, due to the rapid evolution of mobile hospitality technology, it’s also important to adopt platform-independent solutions that will adapt to new innovations as we head into the future.

 Photo: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock