Global Distribution Strategies: Cracking the Code

Want to crack the code and develop effective global distribution strategies? Know that most of the time, simpler is better for everyone involved, from the manager to the customer.

 

Cracked Code #1: Rating Games

Let’s start with how to define your hotel’s rate codes. Many hotels with their own independent central reservation systems (CRS) develop their own “language” to assign special rates to certain customer segments (military, business, weekend, mid-week, special holiday rates, and more).

 

The problem arises when you input your hotel’s unique rate codes into whatever global distribution system (GDS) you use. If your hotel’s rate codes don’t match up with the codes the GDS uses for the same customer segment, your hotel won’t appear when an online travel agent (OTA) uses those criteria to look for rooms.

 

Happily, all you have to do is ask for a list of your GDS’s rate codes and—just as important—descriptions of what each code means. Once these codes align, you won’t miss out on any opportunities to sell a stay.

 

Cracked Code #2: Digital Footprints

If one of your global distribution strategies is to appeal to a customer who appreciates high-quality facilities, amenities, and service, don’t settle for less than high-quality digital images. This goes for the entire scope of the hotel’s online presence, from web site to GDS presence to social media interfaces.

 

Tip: For your hotel’s public face, it’s worth it to invest in the services of a professional photographer. Also consider that what you think is your hotel’s “best face” may not be what the customer finds the most appealing. Think about what types of customers book a stay at different times of the year, whether it’s vacationing families in the summer or business retreat customers in the colder months. Think about what’s important to those customers, and rotate your online images accordingly.

 

Tip: Monitor what pictures your customers post online in places like TripAdvisor and Facebook. If they’re great photos, interact with customers by thanking them and inviting them back. If it shows a flaw in your maintenance program, interact by thanking the customer for calling your attention to the problem, and deal with it promptly. Then post an “after” picture of your own!

 

Cracked Code #3: Global Distribution Strategies—PPC Spotlights

Similarly, your hotel’s pay-per-click (PPC) advertising strategy should evolve with the seasonal ups and downs of your target customer base. PPC is an excellent opportunity to gain equal visibility with competing hotels while spotlighting what’s unique about your particular facility and what you can offer that other hotels don’t.

 

Tip: If you’re serious about PPC advertising, don’t run just one campaign at a time, or even just two or three. Dip all your advertising toes in the water at once! Running up to ten PPC campaigns at a time allows you to more easily monitor which keywords are performing well (that is, translating into bookings), allowing you to tweak or eliminate those that aren’t. Experimentation is your friend, and particularly suited to this type of advertising.

 

Tip: Monitoring your hotel PPC campaigns doesn’t mean logging in once a month. It requires touching base much more often, such as on a daily basis during peak travel season.

 

Cracked Code #4: Think Global, Act Local

Getting customers through the door means more than casting your online advertising net far and wide. Look closer to home, and think about attracting local customers.

 

Tip: Think about what your hotel has to offer the community. The same chef that wows wedding reception guests and business meeting attendees can draw local customers to the hotel restaurant. Hotels situated near a major sports or concert venue can offer area residents a room package in conjunction with a special event.

 

The online world is constantly changing. Make sure your global distribution strategies are evolving with it. For expert advice, contact us today.

Hotel RFP: Want to Make it Stand Out? Take the Inside Track

Downloading a hotel RFP (request for proposal) template from the web is super easy. (Here’s a good example.) This saves a lot of time, especially if you’re sending and tracking RFP submissions to multiple hotels.

 

Keep in mind, though, that meeting planners just like you are downloading and using the same templates. Do you really want to squash your business or organization into the same, cookie-cutter mold as everyone else?

 

With a few tweaks, you can customize and localize your RFP so yours will wind up at the top of hotel’s short-list piles.

 

Localize it

Local convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) are more than happy to work with you and help customize your RFP for a specific destination. This can show hotel managers you’ve taken the time to understand why their particular hotel venue is a suitable fit for your event. CVBs can also provide a general idea of high and low seasonal room rates.

 

If you’ve been in touch with a local CVB contact, he or she may even pitch your event to a hotel on your behalf since CVBs work directly with local hotels. This is networking at its finest. In addition, a knowledgeable local contact at the CVB can often answer questions you might have about specific hotels, saving everyone time and preventing you from worrying over little details.

 

Beefing up your knowledge of the hotel facility’s locale can also help when you’re planning event activities. Is it in a region known for its wineries? Plan a tasting for an after-hours social mixer. Is it in an area where outdoor activities are popular? Get creative with team-building exercises. If meeting attendees will be bringing spouses and children, then seek out a hotel facility near family-oriented attractions.

 

Convention and visitors bureaus can be your key to the inside track on landing the perfect hotel venue for your business meeting or event.

 

How Smart eHotels™ Can Help

These tips can go both ways—whether you’re a meeting planner looking for a hotel venue, or a hotel letting meeting planners know your facility is available. If you manage a hotel and want to put your hotel RFP submission on meeting planners’ short lists, we can help. Contact us today.

Hotel PPC: Are You Doing it Wrong?

Hotel PPC (pay-per-click) is quite the buzzword these days. It looks deceptively easy—set it up, wait for customers to spot it on their search engine results page, and let the reservations roll in. However, the reality is it’s not that easy, and if you’re doing it wrong, you’re wasting money. Find out how to get it right using these five tips.

 

Tip #1: Good SEO Isn’t Enough

You may be thinking, “Why should I employ PPC when my web site’s search engine optimization (SEO) already puts my hotel at the top of most customers’ natural search results? Isn’t PPC a waste of money?”

 

Not necessarily. On average, a customer needs to see your hotel’s name at least seven times before it begins to “stick” in his or her mind. Ensuring your hotel’s name appears twice on the same page is like getting a two-for-one advertising deal.

 

Tip #2: You Can Set it and Forget it—Sort of

Sure, you can set up a hotel PPC campaign and let it do its thing, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore it. That’s a recipe for disappointment and a conclusion that “PPC doesn’t work.” It does work, but you have to work it. Check on the progress at least once a week and tweak it as needed.

 

Tip #3: Google Isn’t the Only Game in Town

Arguably, Google is the biggest and baddest paid search engine on the web, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the other search engines or treat them all the same. Studying how PPC works differently for each one will help you gain even more clicks.

 

Tip #4: Just Throwing Money at PPC Doesn’t Help

Conventional wisdom says if your PPC campaign isn’t generating enough click-throughs, simply raise your bid to improve page positioning. But it doesn’t work that way. Much like SEO content, search engines look at more than just how much you’re willing to pay when determining optimal page positioning. They look at the quality of the clicks you’re generating, which includes the click-through rate and the relevance of the ad content to your landing page.

 

Tip #5: A Good PPC Campaign Won’t Fix Everything

If your web site isn’t prepared to meet the expectations of the potential customers clicking through, you’re wasting your advertising money. Make sure your site is user friendly, especially the booking system. If a visitor has to click more than twice to find what is needed, you’re at risk of losing business to an easier-to-navigate competitor’s site.

 

Let Smart eHotels help you get your hotel PPC campaign right the first time. Contact us today!

Hotel Technology: What’s New in Hotel CRO Software

The list of hotel CRO (central reservations office) software choices seems to grow longer by the minute. It wasn’t too long ago we posted an article on the newest CRO packages on the horizon. In a few short months, more have popped up.

 

Which one is right for your hotel? There’s no one-size-fits-all, but we’re happy to give you the rundown on what’s available.

 

yourVoyager

Trust International’s yourVoyager takes a “create your own” approach to the CRO experience and includes these benefits:

  • Multiple languages to eliminate a commonly encountered barrier
  • Simple, easy-to-navigate user interface
  • Flexible enough to create one interface for a multi-facility hotel chain and another customized interface for each individual facility
  • Ability to choose which performance indicators are most important to you and to generate regular reports
  • Internal messaging system for quick, easy communication among all linked facilities

 

A few key features include:

  • Smooth integration with all major hotel global distribution system (GDS) channels
  • Ability to integrate with property management systems (PMS), revenue management systems (RMS), and customer relations management systems (CRM)
  • Embedded modules that help you manage room inventory, customizable reports, and HTML emails in response to customer reservations

 

Optima CRM

Optima CRM is just one part of an overall hotel management software universe developed by Silverbyte Systems Ltd. Optima’s main functions include:

  • Ability to include and handle the needs of all members of the traveler’s party, not just the one paying the bill
  • Modules for marketing campaigns and mailing lists
  • Tools to manage the sales representative team and their myriad tasks
  • Members’ club/loyalty program features
  • Data cleanup and management tools to eliminate duplication and accidental profile loss
  • Familiar and easy-to-use interface if you’re already using the Optima suite

 

Most hotel CRO software developers offer training, try-it-before-you-buy-it options, and 24/7 support. Whether you choose an established CRO package or a new kid on the block, you have nothing to lose by trying one on for size. For expert advice on hotel CRO, contact Smart eHotels today.

RFP Solutions: Resolve to Plug Into the RFP Process

Even though the year is new and winter snow is still falling, it’s not too early to prepare for when the majority of hotel RFPs (requests for proposal) start pouring in. RFP “season”—the period when most of the RFPs for the following year are generated—starts in mid to late summer and runs into early fall. Since the best RFP solutions involve early preparation, starting now will improve your chances of landing a healthy share of business conferences and meetings.

 

Solution #1: Realize the Ball(room) Is in Your Court

If your hotel is part of a larger chain or international brand, don’t assume there’s a corporate sales team standing ready to funnel RFPs in your direction. In general, they’re thinking globally, not locally or even regionally like you are. It’s up to you to reach out to businesses in your region and put your hotel on their short list.

 

Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a corporate-level staff working with you, remember that they don’t know your hotel’s capabilities as well as you. They may think they’re doing you a favor by screening out RFPs that aren’t an exact fit for your facility, when in reality, you could find ways to make them work. Avoid this by keeping the lines of communication open.

 

Solution #2: Hone Your Competitive Edge

Knowing your competitors’ biggest meeting clients can be as simple as keeping an eye on their front-yard marquee or the “what’s new” page of their web site. If you think your hotel can host an event better, let those businesses know what your facility has to offer, and do it well before the RFP season starts. If nothing else, the possibility to network is worth the effort.

 

Solution #3: Pick up Loose Ends

Another one of the RFP solutions you may not have considered is contact management software. If you noticed a business that’s regularly sent you RFPs didn’t send one last year, now is the time to pick up the phone or send an email to touch base. Perhaps there was a change in personnel, and the new meeting planner is starting from scratch. Make sure you put your hotel back on their distribution list.

 

Solution #4: Tap Into Consortia

Travel agencies often work together to market to and meet the massive travel needs of large corporations and government entities. Hotels can tap into this source of potential RFPs. Even if you have to pay a fee to gain access to these potential clients, the increase in exposure can be worth it.

 

Solution #5: Review Last Year’s RFP Results

Which of last year’s RFP responses didn’t result in a booking? Do you know why? Make a friendly call to the meeting planner to find out where your facility—or just the RFP—fell short. Ask what information is needed to get your hotel shortlisted the next time around. Showing that you care can prevent your hotel from getting dropped from a hotel’s RFP distribution list.

 

Solution #6: Simplify from the Start

No matter how great your RFP solutions, the repetitive submission/consideration/acceptance process, year after year, can start feeling like a grind. Give yourself and your clients a break that benefits you both. Offer a multi-year contract to book their conferences and meetings at your hotel. You’ll have that business on your books, and they’ll no longer need to spend time and resources searching for a new venue each year.

 

The downside to this solution: Hotel rates are difficult to predict from year to year, much less vendor costs for putting on a big meeting or conference. While this approach may work for some clients, it’s not a panacea.

 

Solution #7: Focus on the Off-Season

Worried that your hotel is getting lost in the crush of July-September RFP submission season? Get a jump on the competition and start making contact with your potential clients a few months early.

 

Solution #8: Know What Clients Want

“What does this client want?” is the million-dollar question, right? These days, meeting planners choose hotel venues based on more than just the cost for rooms, facilities, and food. More and more want to know things like your hotel’s carbon footprint, locally sourced food options, and if you serve only fair-trade coffee. See the solution above about reviewing the reasons why your hotel didn’t make the grade during last year’s round of RFPs. If you notice a trend, pay attention.

 

If you’re ramping up for RFP season, Smart eHotels has your RFP solutions! Contact us today.

Hotel Online Marketing Plan: How to Maximize Pinterest

Pinterest, the wildly popular online bulletin board, is a brainstormer’s paradise. Who hasn’t cut a picture from a magazine, clipped a recipe, bookmarked a web site, or tacked a list to the fridge to reference later? Trust social media users to take a simple concept and find a million and one ways to use it—such as including it in a hotel online marketing plan.

 

In the past couple years, the number of Pinterest users connecting to all kinds of business web sites has outpaced all other social media outlets, including Facebook. It’s a powerhouse that can’t be ignored.

 

In fact, hotels can now take advantage of Pinterest’s business accounts. If you’ve already set up a regular account for your hotel and aren’t sure how to use it, you can easily convert to a business account and explore tools that let you integrate Pinterest with your web site.

 

Button It Up

Next, after you’ve created an account, use a simple code to add a Pinterest button to the page template of your web site. It’s pretty easy if you know even basic web site coding; even easier to turn over to your web designer. A button makes it simple for customers to find and follow your boards, similarly to how they “follow” your Facebook page.

 

Even better, you can have a small “Pin It” button pop up whenever a visitor rolls a mouse pointer over a picture. This is an easy way to make that connection that could later lead to a booking.

 

Weave Your Web

Like many other social media sites, you can link your hotel’s Pinterest account to your Facebook page and Twitter feed. Anytime you post something new to a board, a notice will then post to your other social media feeds.

 

Your First Boards

You’ll quickly learn that it’s easy to get caught up in exploring the labyrinth of Pinterest topics. Start simple with boards that focus on your hotel’s rooms and its amenities like restaurants, bars, pools, workout facilities, public areas, and more. The idea is to pin high-quality photos from your web site. Then when a picture catches a potential customer’s eye, a click on that picture will take him or her directly to your web site.

 

More Pinboard Ideas

Once you get the hang of creating boards and pinning, widen your horizons a little. Create a shared board that lets customers pin their photos of a recent visit. Add another board that highlights special promotional rates. And perhaps start a new board of the bartender’s latest cocktail creation or the restaurant’s current special dish. Make boards with connections to local attractions, popular travel writers, and more . . . the possibilities for getting your hotel’s name out there are endless.

 

In fact, it’s easy to get a little too scattered. Just make sure every pin serves a specific purpose that links back to fulfilling your hotel online marketing plan and, ultimately, your business goals.

 

Connect With Us

Let us show you how well social media can work for your hotel. Contact us today!

Your Hotel Internet Marketing Plan: Chart a Course to Social Media Success

You have a hotel to manage. Maybe several hotels or even an international chain. You’ve heard that anyone and everyone is on Facebook. So, like a good manager with a vague idea of a hotel Internet marketing plan, you create a Facebook page for your hotel.

 

Now what?

 

Chances are you’ve also heard about Twitter and Pinterest. However, this scattered approach to hotel Internet marketing isn’t going to work unless you find a way to braid these dangling threads together into a cohesive, functioning unit.

 

Marketing = Business, Business = Marketing

When in doubt, always refer to your business plan. If the only business plan you have is floating around in your brain, deposit it on a piece of paper. Once it’s written down, it’s easier to look at objectively and adjust as needed. Even if it’s just one page or a few sentences, write your business plan down! After reading it, if you decide to change it, that’s why erasers and backspace keys were invented. If you’re not sure where to start, search the Internet for “write a simple business plan”, and you’re off and running.

 

Next, every move you make in social media should—must—support your business plan. If it doesn’t serve the plan, it’s a waste of your time. That doesn’t mean your social media activities can’t be appealing, informative, and fun. It just means you need to work social media like you would a lively cocktail party, making sure your voice is heard above the sound of everyone talking at once.

 

Draw a Picture

Let’s go old school on this. Get out a piece of paper and a pencil. At the top, write the main points of your business plan. Draw a box around that. Now draw one or more short lines down from the box to your target customer or customers. Box those in.

 

Beneath each of those, draw lines that show where each customer can be found online. One type of customer might be found socializing using sites like Facebook and Twitter. Another group might be more easily found in online travel forums. Others may have to be enticed from their email boxes.

 

Make a List

Now list ways to build your audience for each of these channels, and figure out how to make it incredibly easy for each of these customer segments to book a stay. And voila! You have the beginnings of a keenly targeted, functional hotel Internet marketing plan.

 

Now wasn’t that easy?

 

Find Out More

If you need a hotel Internet marketing plan that works, we can help. Contact us today!

Hotel Revenue Management: 5 Tips for Success

Are you an executive for an international hotel corporation? Manager of a ten-facility, regional chain? Or a mom-and-pop operation in a seasonal resort area? Guess what? You all have something in common. You can benefit from a hotel revenue management system.

 

Recognizing that the smaller the business, the further your limited resources have to stretch, a good revenue management system can plump up your bottom line 5 to 10%. Those numbers are hard to ignore. Below are five tips to ensure your system achieves success.

 

Tip #1: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Despite the common need for a hotel revenue management system, unfortunately, one size doesn’t fit all. There is no generic system that’s plug-and-play for every business. In addition, a hotel that’s hobbling along without a system is one thing; adhering to a system that’s a poor fit for your business model is infinitely worse. A revenue management system needs to be custom fit to each unique hotel, even within a large, multi-facility corporation.

 

Tip #2: Sort the Good Data from the Bad

It’s not hard to compile lots and lots of data. What you really need, though, is an accurate and reliable process for interpreting those numbers. For example, how do you distinguish good data from bad data?

 

The answer is to consider the source. Data collected from other travel-related sources, particularly those governed by strict regulations, can generally be considered accurate. Data that’s gleaned from customers, however, which often passes through two or more sets of data entry (paper or online forms, direct entry from passports, etc.) should be examined with a healthy grain of salt on the side, since there is more room for human error.

 

In addition, data gathered from mobile phone users is, literally, another moving target. You may know the age, location, and historical travel purchase habits of the phone’s owner, but what if that phone is borrowed? The search and purchase data is “polluted” by someone who may not be your target customer.

 

Direct, person-to-person contact between your staff and the customer remains the absolute best way to collect information. It’s critical for a hotel revenue manager to make sure the data pouring in from your front desk is clean and accurate.

 

Tip #3: RM Isn’t a One-Person Operation

Which leads us to our next tip: for a hotel revenue management system to work, and work well, everyone within your organization has to be on board and properly trained to collect and pass along the right data at the right time.

 

Tip #4: Move Beyond Spreadsheet Figures

Thanks to modern hotel revenue systems, the sheer variety of data is more vast than ever. However, financial numbers don’t mean anything if you’re not aware of the larger context. While the data can reveal you had an uptick or downturn in reservations last month, the larger question is “Why?” Is it something you had control over, or was something else occurring that impacted sales? Was it an annual event you can anticipate for next time, or an unexpected incident (a closed freeway, a fire at another hotel, etc.) that sent more customers through your door?

 

Tip #5: Customers Don’t Stand Still—Data Doesn’t Either

As the number and variety of booking channels increase (web site, mobile, social media, and third-party booking engines), an effective revenue management system can help you make sense of the data coming in from those disparate sources. The more real-time the data is, the better.

 

For example, it can be extremely useful to know what kind of device is most commonly used to make a last-minute reservation so you can tailor any marketing efforts to that type of device. In general, a week or more before any given arrival date, about half of all reservations are made on a traditional computer. As the arrival date nears, you’ll notice a shift to mobile devices like tablets and phones.

 

Learn More Today

If you’d like to know more about how a hotel revenue management system can help you, contact Smart eHotels today.

Hotel Distribution Strategy: Flash Sales—Deal or No Deal?

There’s an ongoing debate among those in the hotel industry about the wisdom of using flash sales as part of a hotel distribution strategy. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad and how to guarantee these quickie deals make your bottom line shine.

 

What Exactly Is a “Flash Sale”?

A flash sale is exactly what it sounds like—a special deal on a product or service that’s here and gone in a flash, typically 24 to 36 hours. Flash sales are usually offered through deal-of-the-day type sites that require customers to register before viewing these specials. If you’ve ever bought and downloaded a Groupon deal, you’ve participated in a flash sale.

 

The Downside

To make the deal attractive, though, you have to slash prices. Really deep. Probably well below your normal rock-bottom discount rate. In addition, you’ll have to pay the hosting site a commission of up to 50% of that already subterranean offering price. Over the long term, this could devalue your hotel in the eyes of potential customers, and you might lose your target audience as well as profits.

 

The Upside

However, if your hotel needs a boost in visibility, a flash deal can accomplish this very successfully. You can gain a lot of new customers in a short time, customers who might not have considered staying at your hotel until the deal appeared on a site like Groupon. Once you get those customers into your hotel, convince them that your hotel is worth the extra cost of a non-flash-deal stay.

 

You’re also likely to experience a significant increase in web site visits as those considering the deal drop by your site to check out your facility. If you’re looking for a quick, relatively low-cost way to market your hotel, a flash deal could be one of many tools to get your hotel’s name out there.

 

Flash Sale Tips

When it comes to flash sales, also keep in mind the following:

  • More flash sale sites are out there besides Groupon. Look into travel-oriented sites like Jetsetter and Vacationist too.
  • Only offer a limited number of rooms at the flash-sale price. The good news is, customers who buy these deals aren’t going to book their stays for the same dates, which will spread the cost over a longer period of time. An exception would be if the deal is for a stay booked within a limited time span.
  • Stick to your yield management pricing principles. While you’ll be offering the rooms at a narrower profit margin than normal, be careful not to take a loss.
  • Make sure your web site is search engine optimized, and consider increasing your pay-per-click keyword budget for the hours of the flash sale. In addition, fine-tune your web site so it’s running flawlessly for the extra visitors.
  • Timing is everything. Is your hotel brand new? A flash deal is an effective way to get the word out. Once you’re past the first big publicity push, another well-timed hotel flash deal will keep people from forgetting you’re there.

 

Need More Help?

If you’re thinking of running a flash sale as part of your hotel distribution strategy, let Smart eHotels help you make the most of it. Contact us today!

Global Distribution Service: 5 Ways to Prep Your Web Site

Like a spider web, everything you do for, in, and around your hotel—from sheet thread count to marketing ideas—is a thread supported by the other connecting threads. Using a global distribution service (GDS) is only one facet of your business plan, but it has the power to make or break your bottom line if the “threads” connected to it are weak.

 

What can you do to ensure the time and energy you put into a GDS platform aren’t wasted? Here are five tips to maximize your success:

  1. Make sure your hotel’s web site is ready to handle the increase in traffic. Nothing destroys your marketing strategy like being shut down by your hosting site due to bandwidth issues.
  2. Check that your web site is visually appealing and uncluttered, and it’s incredibly easy for customers to book a room. A “Book Now” button on every single web page would not be overdoing it.
  3. If your GDS can be embedded in your web site, take advantage of that function. Requiring customers to click away to a different site to book a room can be annoying, and in this day and age of identity theft, raise enough suspicion to drive the customer to a competitor. If possible, keep the customer on your web site from landing page to reservation confirmation.
  4. If you have different classes of rooms with various prices, always list the highest priced option first. Some customers may be in such a hurry they won’t scroll down the page or click to a different page—they’ll just book the first room they see.
  5. Upsell—even after the booking is finished. Use the GDS’s automated confirmation email to its fullest potential. Tailor it to make customers aware of upgrades, meal options, amenities, concierge services, and more.

 

For Additional Ideas

Smart eHotels can help you weave the perfect global distribution service strategy. Contact us today!