Friday, October 3, 2014

Website Design For Independent Hotels - Part 1 of 3

Travelers are now making the overwhelming majority of their travel decisions online, many via mobile devices. But whether the booking decision is made on a desktop computer at home, or on-the-go via smartphone, these transactions have one thing in common - a website. Independent hotels must offer their customers a viable online booking alternative to the online travel agencies. Antiquated websites that are nothing more than travel brochures, featuring poor quality images and lacking a direct booking option, are not going to help independent hotels keep pace with the big brand chains. There are a number of features always found on effective hotel websites and this series will analyze each of them.

Call To Action/Booking Engine
It is imperative for every independent hotel website to have, at its heart, calls to action pointing the way for users to book their stays directly onsite. The ultimate goal of any hotel website design should be to drive direct hotel bookings. Anything short of reaching the objective of conversion is missing what should be the point of having a website. So the focus of any independent hotel website needs to be on converting the site visitors into paying hotel guests.

The website booking engine must be present on all pages of the site. Potential guests can be anywhere on the hotel’s website when they complete their decision and decide to book now. Their booking process should always begin from the page they are currently viewing. Therefore a button, and associated calls to action, taking users directly into the buying process is required on every page. The booking engine should give the hotel the flexibility to make changes easily so specific offers and promotions may be presented to users. Availability must be readily apparent as well to customers.  This is best displayed in an interactive calendar format. Availability and pricing need to be tied to high quality property images of individual room selections. Specific calls to action can also be added based on availability, for example “only 2 rooms left at this price”.

It is critical for the entire booking process to be simple and straightforward, requiring minimal steps along the way. Nothing should obstruct the pathway for future guests to book their hotel stay directly. The user must have the ability to not only book on the website, but make changes to their itinerary or cancel all together as well. It is also equally vital for an independent hotel to maintain strict rate parity across all online channels, between their website, and on the property. It is acceptable to offer channel specific promotions, but extremely important to identify them as such. If the potential hotel guests find a rate disparity they will book elsewhere or maybe even not at all.

The presence of an Internet booking engine (IBE) on an independent hotel website can be the ultimate deciding factor in its success or failure. As crucial as the IBE is, there are many other features which go into making an effective independent hotel website which will be discussed in the up coming parts of this series.

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