How to Sell Hotel Rooms Without Offering Discounts

Slashing room rates can feel like an obvious and easy solution to a decline in bookings. However, your marketing strategy should not appear obvious or easy. Low prices invite the idea ‘you get what you pay for’ and discounted rates can indicate a hotel-in-trouble. For many, price determines quality, and price is likely to determine a potential guest’s first reaction to your hotel. If rates were the only factor in selling a room, the hotels with the lowest rates would always be fully occupied. So, while discounts may lead to some short-term bookings, they rarely lead to the long term goal of establishing a sustainable and flourishing business. But the question is: how do you sell rooms without slashing rates?

1. Be Distinct.

It’s laughably obvious, and of course, what everyone and every business desires to be. But it’s worthwhile to spend time and repeatedly revisit the following questions: What makes you different than other hotels, inns, and B&Bs in your area? Why should someone book with you instead of with the hotel down the street? Who are your ideal guests? What do they value? Be specific. You cannot build a successful marketing strategy without understanding who you are. Get out a piece of paper and jot down ideas. If your hotel’s unique qualities and distinct assets do not come quickly to mind, this is where you need to spend time and energy because the following pieces of advice rely on your answers to these questions.

2. Add Value.

Instead of discounting prices, maintain your rates and add services and products. Your potential guests will perceive and then receive increased value, which not only sells rooms but strengthens your brand by providing another opportunity to highlight your assets.

Add value in two ways:

Offer hotel products, amenities, or services. Consider offering unlimited access to your onsite gym, a complimentary massage at your spa, free laundry services for business travellers, or whatever services or products that make your hotel unique. This takes some creative thinking, as you want to ensure you’re offering something that your guests find valuable but also keeps costs low.

Collaborate with local businesses. Approach restaurants and music venues to offer a combined price for a night or weekend away. Collaborate with museums to bring out-of-towns guests to see the opening or closing of an exhibit. Create packages with sports teams or theatre companies that offer season passes that would bring guests back multiple times a year. Understand what experiences your ideal guests desire and work with local businesses to offer mutually beneficial packages.

3. Enhance your Online Presence.

Website. Your property’s website is vital. It offers a powerful first look at your hotel and should immediately present the feel of your establishment. Your website should make someone want to stay at your hotel. Currently, minimalism is the trend for websites, which is particularly effective for hotels because it gives a clean and calming impression. It’s important to understand that a website should be updated regularly, not just for its content but to keep it looking fresh and modern. This is especially important if your brand incorporates these traits. A website should be easy to navigate, responsive (so that it can be viewed on every possible screen), feature high quality images, and offer information that’s readable and concise. It’s recommended that you hire a professional. A good website designer, writer, and developer can help you tell your brand’s story through images and concise words, and can also ensure that your website is easily found through online searches.

Hotel Rating Websites. Websites like TripAdvisor have become a necessity… and a thorn in the side of many service oriented businesses, even the ones who consistently get good reviews. You cannot stop people from posting negative reviews, but you can respond to them, giving potential guests an opportunity to see how you resolve issues. Here’s a helpful guide to maintaining online reputation.

Social Media. Social media is a good medium for showcasing your carefully curated packages, but mostly it’s a storytelling platform. Many modern travellers seek individualized experiences, and one way to show that you can fulfil their desires for individuality is to be unique yourself. Tell and show the behind the scene stories of your hotel through original photographs; highlight the people who work for you or the people who stay with you (with their permission); and feature your surrounding area’s attractions. Remember, too, that social media is meant to be social. Don’t focus solely on presenting your story. Interact with other businesses and members of your community; engage with former and potential future guests; and respond quickly to inquests.

Cultivate Repeat Business. It’s easier to encourage repeat guests than to attract new ones. To do so: think small. Small gestures have a big impact. Ensure the front desk staff know and address repeat customers by name. Walk around at breakfast and briefly chat with guests about how their enjoying their stay. Send handwritten thank you notes and birthday cards. Offer complimentary champagne upon the arrival of a repeat guest. Also, consider starting a customer loyalty program based on the number of nights booked or referrals made.

Empower your Staff. While their main role is not to sell rooms (although staff members are potentially your hotel’s greatest ambassadors), they can upsell. Whenever the opportunity arises, your front desk staff should have the knowledge and freedom to offer room upgrades – the suite with the oceanfront view, the room with the king size bed or garden terrace – for a suitably enticing price.

Welcome Pets. More and more people desire to travel with their pets, especially dogs. This is particularly important for guests travelling within a 300-kilometre radius. These are the clientele who are most willing to pick-up-and-go for a weekend (or even mid-week) getaway, and they’re more likely to embrace spontaneity if they do not have the added complication of finding care for their four-legged family members. Need more incentive? It’s likely you can charge extra for a pet-friendly room. Here are some considerations for accepting four-legged guests.

Offer Discounts when Appropriate. Discounts have a time and place, but they should be offered for a reason. Guests become irritated when they discover that they could have found a reduced rate through another website or if they had waited longer to book. However, there are ways to offer discounts fairly and effectively. Consider offering discounted rooms for extended stays, for repeat customers, and for referrals.

If you offer discounts too frequently and without a specific purpose, you run the risk of having discounted room rates become your regular rates, which means your revenues will decrease, you will no longer be able to offer a high level of service, potentially driving away repeat customers. It’s a trajectory you do not want to instigate. When facing a slump, it’s natural to think ‘let’s try lowering prices,’ especially if other hotels are doing so. However, it’s best to maintain your rates, maintain your service, and return to the foundational questions: Who are you as a brand? What do you do well? Who are your ideal guests? What do they most desire? The answers to these questions will help you build packages, market your assets, tweak services, enhance communication with the public, and ultimately, sell rooms without slashing prices.

Beat Your Competition this Busy Season

Here in the north the days are warming up, travelers are planning their summer vacations, and accommodation providers are eagerly anticipating more guests. But along with higher occupancy comes more pressure and strain on property staff — the high season can be an exciting but stressful time! With increasing competition in the hotel industry, it’s more important than ever to handle operations skillfully and strategically during busy times to encourage travelers choose you.

Here are our tips for staying ahead of your competition this season.

Know Your Competition

You probably know who your competitors are, but are you familiar with their strategy? Having an idea of your opposition’s tactics is key to winning the game. Do a little digging to find out what your competition is offering customers and how they are offering it. Look them up on OTAs, visit their website, check them out on social media and read their online reviews to compare pricing, discover their USP (unique selling proposition) and learn what guests like (and don’t like) about them. This knowledge is useful for sharpening your own strategy and, by comparison, pinpointing areas where your property stands out.

Identify and Promote Your Strengths

While your property’s strengths are due to your property’s own merits, getting to know your competition can help shine further light on what differentiates your property from others. Enhance and promote those areas in which you do (or can do) better than the rest.

Identifying your USP (unique selling proposition) is not necessarily an easy task, especially in a crowded market. Your property’s own reviews are a good place to look for insight on why your customers choose your property and what they like about it — and also for highlighting areas that need improvement.

Whether it’s your outstanding customer service, location, interior design or unique local experience(s), make your USP the cornerstone of your marketing strategy. Promote it fiercely on your website, in OTA listings, on social media and in email and advertising campaigns.

Price Strategically

Being the cheapest hotel in town isn’t going to win you customers. Attempting to beat the competition by simply undercutting their prices not only eats into your revenue but can actually undermine your property’s credibility. And while price is a significant motivator for most travelers, value for money is more important.

When it comes to comparing your rates with your competitors’ rates, also consider the value and experience your property offers relative to theirs. If your property is offering a superior experience — perhaps your rooms are nicer, you’re renowned for your onsite dining, or you provide more amenities — your price should be higher than nearby properties that offer less. Just make sure the value you offer is clear to customers.

Analyzing your data is key to successful pricing. Use your property’s occupancy and revenue data, as well as local market data (events, weather, economy, etc.), to help price rooms and optimize your distribution strategy. Implementing minimum and maximum length-of-stay restrictions can be effective for boosting RevPAR during peak times, depending on demand. Offering special packages is a great way to create high perceived value and stand out from your competitors.

As competition heats up, automated revenue management software is increasingly important to independent properties. Using powerful algorithms to forecast occupancy and optimize room rates, revenue management systems save lodging providers a lot of time and give properties a competitive advantage managing their rates.

Stand Out Online

It can be difficult to stand out in such a crowded place as the Internet, especially in the travel space.

As the most important piece of your digital marketing puzzle, it’s crucial to get your property’s website right. Your website must look great and be easy to use and navigate. High-quality images are key for painting an inviting (and accurate) picture of the experience your property offers, and go hand in hand with compelling and helpful written content about your property and location. Optimize your site for search engines and mobile devices (critical in our mobile-dependent world), and make sure you offer user-friendly (and mobile-friendly) direct online bookings. Read our recent post, Essential Elements of a Hotel Website for further tips.

Online travel agencies (OTAs) play a key role in expanding reach. While independent properties should always strive to increase direct bookings, studies show that more travel consumers currently use OTAs to shop for travel rather than supplier sites, so it’s essential to be visible on these channels too. Make sure your OTA listings are up to date and optimized with quality images, complete descriptions and amenity lists, and the right rates. Integrating your OTA channels with your property management system can give you an advantage over your competitors by automating (and therefore speeding up) rate and inventory updates across all channels.

Social media is another online space where most of your customers spend a great deal of time. According to recent research, 84 percent of millennial and 73 percent of non-millennial travelers are likely to make vacation plans inspired by someone else’s vacation pics and updates on social media. A great way for accommodation providers to stand out on social media is to encourage and share user-generated content. Read our Seven Smart Social Media Practices for Hotels for other effective strategies, including social media advertising (inexpensive, targeted and high-reach), posting videos, and adding a “book now” button to your property’s Facebook page.

You’ll want to make sure you are keeping on top of your property’s online reviews too. Reviews play a critical part in the average traveler’s decision-making process so be sure your property has plenty of good ones. The more positive reviews you have, the more likely customers will choose your property over the competition (and the better for SEO too).

Treat Every Guest like a VIP

If your property offers a consistently high level of customer service that exceeds guests’ expectations, word will get around, especially via social media and online reviews. Excellent customer service is born of genuine people who love what they do, supported by good training and the right tools.

An automated property management system (PMS) is an indispensable tool for managing daily operations and the guest experience. By streamlining and automating daily tasks, PMS greatly reduce the manual workload on staff, affording them more time to interact with guests — which, after all, is what hospitality is all about!

A modern PMS offers the ability to store rich guest profile data (and integrate with powerful CRM systems), facilitating the kind of personalized guest service that surprises and delights customers. Imagine being able to recognize repeat guests, surprise couples with a complementary bottle of wine on their anniversary, or swap the regular in-room welcome cookies for gluten-free ones for the arrival of an allergic guest. Imagine your customers’ satisfaction at being treated like valued guests (rather than just a reservation number).

From guest profile data to automated and customizable guest email communications to mobile (on-the-go) access, a cloud PMS equips properties with practical, relevant tools for upgrading the guest experience and for standing out in the market.

All the best for your busiest and most profitable summer yet!

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.

It Only Takes One Bad Experience: Don’t Send Your Guests Packing!

As consumers, customer service is important to most of us across the board, from retail to utilities. How many bad experiences are we prepared to put up with before switching brands? Our tolerance of bad service tends to depend on the availability or quality of the actual product. In the case of hotels, where customer service is such an intrinsic part of the product, recent research revealed that it only takes one bad experience to send approximately half of survey respondents packing for another brand!

As travel consumers’ expectations continue to rise (along with the proliferation of online review sites and social media), it’s more important than ever for lodging operators to hone customer service throughout the entire guest cycle to increase guest satisfaction. Focus on the below touchpoints pre-, during and post-stay to make sure you’re not sending your guests packing!

Pre-Stay

Online Experience

A property’s website is often the first point of direct contact with customers and makes an important first impression. Done right, your website has the power to convert lookers into bookers; done wrong, it will quickly send customers packing for another property.

Approximately half of travel consumers now research their trips online via their mobile devices, so having a mobile-friendly hotel website is essential. It’s important to get this right as a bad mobile user experience puts customers off especially fast. Make sure you stay on top of customer emails coming through your site, answering all in a prompt and helpful manner.

Social media plays an increasingly important role in customer service before, during and post-stay, so it’s wise for hotels to attend to customers on these channels too (particularly Facebook). Our blog post, 6 Tips for Doing Social Customer Service Right will guide you in managing your social customer care.

Your property’s online experience should manage your guests’ expectations from the get-go. Be truthful and helpful when representing your property and stay experience online; embellishing your property’s assets will only lead to disappointed guests.

Booking Experience

The booking experience should be clear, simple and quick, whether guests book online, by telephone or in person. A complicated or unhelpful experience is likely to cause customers to abandon the booking process entirely.

The direct online booking process on the property’s website should be mobile friendly and easy to use, with as few steps as possible required to complete a booking. It should also be integrated with the property management system for real-time rates and availability. An intuitive system that recognizes previous guests, accepts discount or loyalty codes, displays alternative currencies, shows rates for flexible dates and sends automatic reservation confirmation enhances the booking experience further.

Friendly, knowledgeable reservation agents are also key to a positive booking experience. Every call from a guest wanting to make a booking or asking for more information is a valuable opportunity to establish the customer relationship (read our blog post about converting calls to bookings for some tips).

It’s important to find the right people for the job and to support them with the right software. A property management system should equip reservation agents with the tools they need to answer questions about availability, rates and rooms, to access and update customer profile information, and to enter reservations into the system efficiently.

Pre-Arrival Communication

The time between booking and arrival presents a prime opportunity for starting the customer relationship off on the right foot. During this period, customers may have additional questions about services such as transportation or might want to make special requests. Again, it’s important to manage customer enquiries (via email, messaging, phone or social media) promptly and helpfully.

Guests always appreciate it when you anticipate their needs and a good way to do this is by sending a pre-arrival email. Sent a week or so prior to check-in, the pre-arrival email can serve guests as a reminder about their stay (dates, check-in times, room type, etc.) and can include helpful information, such as directions to the property and onsite amenities and services they might find useful. It’s also a good time to invite guests to personalize their stay through targeted offers such as room upgrades and ancillary services — or simply invite them to let you know of any special requests they may have.

Relevant, helpful pre-arrival communication sets the tone of the stay experience to come. The process of sending pre-arrival emails can be automated by your property management system or CRM.

During Stay

Guest Check-in

One of the most important touchpoints, check-in is the first moment of face-to-face interaction with new guests and sets the stage for a positive guest experience. A smooth, guest-centric check-in process relies on your front desk staff and property management system.

The face of any property, staff must be personable and helpful, even when they are having a bad day! Hospitality professionals are able to read and respond to guests appropriately and anticipate their needs, which is important from the moment of check-in and throughout the guest’s stay. Supported by an efficient and intuitive property management system, front desk personnel can focus on the guest in front of them rather than administrative processes.

Modern property management systems help streamline and humanize the check-in process by providing check-in reports, making it quick and easy to locate and edit guest folios, helping identify returning guests, and reducing manual administrative workload through automation and integration with other systems such as payment gateways and keycard systems.

While a negative check-in experience can dampen a guest’s mood and expectations from the beginning, an efficient and personable check-in experience will make the guest feel welcome and valued, and begin their stay on a positive note.

Occupancy

The time for a property to really shine is during a guest’s stay. All staff should be focused on creating a positive stay experience by responding to guest requests promptly and effectively and by anticipating guests’ needs to meet and exceed guest expectations.

Touch base with guests during their stay to check if they need anything and to remind them that you are there to help make their stay as enjoyable as possible. Showing you care goes a long way with customers, even those that always manage to find something to complain about, no matter how exceptional your amenities and services are.

Managing complaints and special requests in a timely and helpful manner is a skill frontline staff must perfect. It involves listening to the customer to understand what the guest really wants, empathizing with them, apologizing for the shortcoming or inconvenience, taking action swiftly and satisfactorily, and following up to reinforce that you care. It takes personnel who are resourceful and can remain calm under pressure. Our blog post on How to Maximize Positive Employee-Guest Interactions looks at ways to support staff in this role.

Your property management system also plays an important part in managing the guest stay by automating processes for more efficient service, and providing the tools to manage guest requests and anticipate their needs — such as guest folios and profiles, and housekeeping and maintenance reports.

Guest Check-out

A pleasant send-off is also important when it comes to building and strengthening the customer relationship. Like check-in, the check-out process should be quick and personable. Use the guest’s name, thank them, and ask if they enjoyed their stay. The moment of check-out is another valuable opportunity to show guests they are valued customers — and to iron out any issues that may have arisen during the stay.

Do your best to ensure guests walk out the door happy. Explain all charges clearly, and ask if they think anything could be improved for next time (or for future guests). If any conflict arose during the stay, apologize again and confirm whether the issue was resolved to their satisfaction. Simply showing you care can help prevent negative reviews and bring guests back.

A good property management system will support this process by streamlining the check-out procedure. Front desk staff can easily access any requests or notes recorded in a guest’s folio for follow-up, and integrations with POS, call accounting and in-room entertainment systems, etc. make generating invoices as easy as clicking a button.

Post-Stay

Post-Stay Communication

The guest relationship doesn’t end after check-out. Leave guests with a lasting positive impression — even if they experienced some level of dissatisfaction during their stay — by sending a post-stay email thanking the guest (by name) for staying and inviting them to provide feedback, ideally via a quick post-stay survey. Invite guests to contact you directly with any negative feedback so that you can make things right, reducing the likelihood of unhappy guests venting publicly online via review sites or social media.

Again, this process can be automated through your property management system or CRM. Following up with guests in this way reinforces that you value you customers and care about the quality of service you provide.

You can find some helpful recommendations for managing post-stay communications in our blog post, The Power of Post-Stay Emails: Top Tips for Independent Hoteliers.

Monitor Feedback

Despite your best efforts, not all guests will voice complaints directly to property staff in the moment, preferring the less confrontational (but more damaging) method of sharing negative feedback with the world online. It’s crucial to monitor review sites and social media to catch those unhappy guests that slip through the cracks; with the right approach to managing negative online feedback, even those customers (and potential customers reading the review) can be recovered.

Think of guest feedback (both positive and negative) as a gift. When customers take the time to point out inadequacies, they are giving you the opportunity to improve. Analyze feedback to identify actionable points — and act on them.

For more tips on handling online guest feedback, read our Best Practices for Managing Your Online Hotel Reviews.

As travel consumers’ expectations continue to grow, it’s essential for lodging operators to be receptive, attentive and proactive to each guest’s needs throughout the guest cycle. If all it takes is one bad experience to send half of travelers packing for another brand, it’s more important than ever for lodging operators to make sure guests have a great one.

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.

Contenta

Located in the heart of Carmel Village, California, and just 12 miles inland from Carmel-by-the-sea, Contenta offers 19 fresh accommodations equipped with free WiFi and private patios. This property has just had a brand new WordPress website created by our talented Web Designers. They’ve also just started using our cloud-based WebRezPro Property Management System to help with their day-to-day operations. Visit their website to see their new design and you’ll even see WebRezPro’s integrated Web reservation software in action, allowing them to take online bookings!

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2015: What’s Hot in Hotel Web Design

Everyone knows you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we’re just not that forgiving when it comes to websites. If you want your property’s website to make a great first impression, here are a handful of the hottest design trends to consider for your website’s makeover.

Immersive Storytelling

With modern travelers seeking moments they can Instagram and tweet about, hotel Web content is shifting away from pages of descriptive text about property features and amenities, to conveying an experience, not just an overnight stay. The story your customers want to know is what a stay at your property is really like, from the morning coffee on the sun-drenched patio to stargazing from the hot tub after a day exploring local sights and activities (which are also part of the tale). On your website, the best way to immerse customers in the story of your property is through a range of media — photos, video, text, blog posts, and social media and review feeds, that blend together to form a cohesive narrative and recreate the experience of staying at your property. The Peninsula Hotels provides an inspiring example.

Using a variety of media on your website is not only a great way to immerse your customers in the story of your property, but it is also a great SEO technique; Google likes multimedia sites because users do. Just be careful that images and videos are not so large that they slow down your site. Long load times are detrimental to site ranking, not to mention the average user won’t wait more than three seconds (or six seconds on mobile) for pages or images to load.

Whatever your story is, keep it real. Don’t mislead your customers into thinking you’re something you’re not — that’s a sure fire way to disappoint guests and they’ll definitely tweet about that.

Bountiful Imagery

Along with the storytelling trend comes bountiful imagery. High-quality, relevant images and video establish authenticity and help to strengthen your brand. One of the latest eye-catching trends is to use photos that go across the full width of the page, like those on the websites of the Bearfoot Inn and Maligne Rafting Adventures. Big, beautiful images immediately engage our emotions and evoke a sense of place. Inspire your customers to imagine themselves at your property by putting guests in the picture… If your property attracts vacationing families over summer, you could use images of kids splashing happily in the pool, and to appeal to your snowboarding clientele over winter, use pictures of them on the nearby slopes, or après-ski by the fire in your cozy lobby.

We’re also starting to see images as page backgrounds — a space that, until now, was largely underutilized.

Even responsive, HTML video can be embedded into page backgrounds now. Or videos can simply be embedded from YouTube, or included in a rotating carousel along with stunning photos. Recent research by Software Advice, a company that evaluates hotel management systems, revealed that 51 percent of leisure travelers and 69 percent of business travelers watch online travel videos. The research also shows exactly what travelers like to see in hotel videos, so we recommend having a read.

And remember, as mentioned above, under “Immersive Storytelling,” it’s very important to keep page load times to a minimum. Your Web designer should know how to optimize media files (if not, give us a call!), but for the technically inclined, this Wix post offers some great image optimization tips.

Long Scrolling

Long scrolling is a Web design trend that’s become popular across many different industries. The idea is that most content is displayed on a single page, accessed by scrolling up or down the page, as opposed to clicking through to subpages via multiple drop-down menus. Born of mobile Web browsing, in which scrolling is faster and more intuitive than clicking, long scrolling is an elegant technique and especially effective for storytelling. The citizenM New York Times Square website is a cool example.

However, it can be overdone. Too much information on a single page can make it difficult for search engines to index the site, negatively impacting SEO. To get around this, scrolling with pagination allows the user to enjoy a single-page experience, while multiple component pages serve the search bots. It gets very technical, but Google offers some helpful suggestions for making long scrolling pages search friendly. We think the Buffalo Ridge Resort takes a nice, balanced approach.

Responsive Web Design for Mobile First

We’ve always been advocates of responsive Web design, and we believe the trend toward it will continue to grow stronger. Google is a big fan too; they’ve been ranking responsive sites higher in mobile search results for a while now, and, late last year, the search engine giant rolled out its “mobile-friendly” label to help users identify mobile-friendly sites on mobile search engine results pages.

So while responsive design is more of a norm now, we think the new trend within responsive design is designing for mobile first. Up until now, responsive websites have typically been designed for desktop first, with the design adapting for smaller screens. Going forward, we’ll see responsive site design focused on mobile first, adapting to desktop screens. We’re seeing it on sites like Rawnet, with long scrolling, slide-out menus and an app-like feel on a desktop screen.

Finally, we can’t think about website design (and maintenance) without thinking about SEO. Search engine optimization is a fundamental component of Web design; after all, what’s the point in having a beautiful website if no-one can find it? Our recent post about SEO offers some helpful guidelines.

This post was originally published on the World Web Technologies Inc. blog.

How to optimize your website for success

In our recent blog post about finding a happy balance between direct bookings and OTA reservations, we offered some suggestions for increasing direct bookings. One of those suggestions was to make sure your property’s website looks great, is mobile friendly, and features a mobile-optimized online booking engine. With 80% of travelers turning to the Internet to plan their trips (according to Google’s recent report, The 2013 Traveler), an effective website is particularly relevant to the success of your business.

A hotel’s website is almost always the first point of contact with the guest — and first impressions count. Even when a guest does not book direct, they are very likely to visit your website before deciding to stay. If your site is done right it will not only give a great first impression of your property but will encourage prospective guests to book direct, too. In this increasingly Internet-driven industry, a dreary online presence can lead to a significant loss of potential sales.

Here’s our recipe for a winning website optimized for success:

  • User-friendly layout  While an attractive website goes a long way in making a good impression, make sure you don’t sacrifice ease of use for artistry. Information about rooms, amenities and location should never be more than a single click away, and users should never have to hunt or scroll to find your online booking engine. A simple layout for intuitive navigation and quick-n-easy online reservations is key to turning lookers into bookers.
  • Nice images  Show your property in its best light to give prospective guests a visual experience of your hotel. In addition to showing off your guestrooms (including bathrooms), include photos of your hotel’s exterior as well as amenities like the fitness room, breakfast bar, and sparkling pool. Images should be high-quality and high-resolution. Consider updating pictures seasonally; does the outdoor hot tub look especially inviting steaming seductively in the snow?
  • Solid content  If you write about what prospective guests want to know, travelers will pay attention and search engines will, too. Make sure your amenity lists are complete, describe any special amenities and services, highlight deals and packages, and include information about unique local spots.
  • Optimized for mobile devices – Because 40% of online travel research is conducted on smartphones and tablets and, therefore, search engines rank mobile-compatible sites higher, a mobile-friendly website (and booking engine) really is a must. If you haven’t updated your website in a while, we strongly suggest responsive Web design for your site’s next makeover. A responsive website will automatically detect and respond to the device accessing it (desktop computer or smartphone or tablet), adjusting content to the screen size and platform for optimal user experience. With just one responsive website, you have all devices covered.
  • Mobile-friendly booking engine – We mentioned it in the point above, and we’re mentioning it again because it’s just that important. A mobile-optimized booking engine features a simple booking interface for optimal display and ease of use on small screens, is touch-screen compatible, and takes users through the booking process in as few taps as possible.
  • Speed – If your website doesn’t load fast enough, travelers will quickly move on to the next one. Who has time to wait?
  • Monitor online bookings – It’s easy with cloud-based software like WebRezPro. If you’re doing things right on your website, the number of direct bookings should reflect this. If the numbers are disappointing, or show that many users are not making it all the way through the online booking process, you need to assess why – what can you improve?

 

With the right content and the right technology, your property’s website has the power to increase direct bookings and revenue.

Contact us to learn more about WebRezPro Cloud Property Management System’s mobile-optimized online booking engine and our responsive Web design services.