We reported several times during 2012 on the importance of having a website that works well on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. It’s easy – and perfectly understandable – for owners of B&Bs, cottages and guest houses to feel that this is an issue that only affects the big chain hotels at the moment. But, in many cases, whatever affects brand-name properties will affect smaller independents soon after (look, for example at online booking and social media) and the speed at which changes are filtering through the whole accommodation sector is increasing all the time.
Travel marketing gurus have been predicting the demise – or, at any rate, the weakening influence – of Internet search for a long time now. They argue that the trend of customers finding accommodation through social media recommendations is on the rise, while the traditional method of typing a search term like “B&B in …” into Google is declining.
However, as the wonderfully named Max Starkov (of hotel marketing company HeBs Digital) points out, the true picture is mixed at best: “In spite of all the new and trendy digital marketing initiatives and formats that overwhelm hoteliers nowadays, the reliable old search engines generated over 55.6% of website revenue for (our) client portfolio consisting of thousands of hotel properties… Google in particular dominates hotel search; results provide deep and relevant information, the best mapping and directions, extensive customer reviews via Zagat’s acquisition and now provide real-time hotel availability and pricing via Google Hotel Finder. No other meta search or travel site comes even close to match the richness and relevancy of hotel information provided by Google.”
Quite recently, we talked about the fact that growth in direct online hotel bookings seems to be outpacing bookings with online travel agents. At this stage, unsurprisingly perhaps, these direct bookings tend most often to be with the big hotel chains. But as travellers become more and more comfortable with booking accommodation online (and more cost conscious), it doesn’t seem implausible to suggest that smaller properties, like B&Bs, will reap the benefits too (as long as their websites are well set up for it.)
Online travel booking got going in the mid-1990s. Fuelled by an unprecedented economic boom and an explosion in cheap consumer credit, it flourished at an incredible rate for the next 10 – 12 years. In recent times, however, the combination of a huge banking crisis, a sovereign debt crisis and economic slowdown in China has resulted in significantly more sluggish growth. None the less, it still accounts for a third of the global travel market.
Online booking isn’t voodoo. There are lots of private companies out there who manage to provide it to B&Bs in an efficient and cost-effective way (indeed, some of them even do it for free). Yet it seems that the moment government lumbers onto the scene, costs rise and efficiency plunges – all covered up by bureaucratic double-speak.
Getting found is a big issue for the owners of B&Bs, guest houses and small hotels these days. Once upon a time, just having a website gave you an advantage. And if that website was even half-decent – with relevant, albeit thin content – you had a good chance of performing well in Google’s “organic” (i.e. unpaid) search results. Google advertising itself was also much more affordable.
A well thought out, attractive website and a reliable, easy-to-use booking engine are the fundamentals to getting more business for your B&B. But how do you make potential customers aware of your existence? The traditional way is to advertise. This can still be an effective strategy, but it needs to be targeted.
Here are a few suggestions for getting the best out of your advertising…
As reported by EyeForTravel, there was a big marketing, mobile and social media conference (read: digital bun fight) held in Amsterdam the other day. Attendees included four of the world’s biggest travel brands: Disney, KLM, Expedia and the Wyndham hotel group. They talked about how to get customers to your website and how to encourage them to book direct with you. Some of what they said was couched in the usual dismal marketing-speak (e.g. your website should be “platform and browser agnostic”, which just means that it should work on mobiles and different types of browser, like Firefox and Chrome.)
Like most visual aspects of life, a bed and breakfast’s website is very much a personal thing. That said, there are certain practical additions that are absolutely necessary to ensure you give yourself the best chance of getting extra bookings. Here are a few strategies that – if done well – can make a real difference.
1. Great images help your customers relate to your B&B. These are so important it’s worth considering getting them done professionally. Start by identifying what customers like or love about your property and then try to capture that in images. For example, make a note if you really want to show a particular aspect of your property or area that is seasonal: it could be bluebells, a certain shrub in full flower or the autumn leaves in woodland nearby. Never underestimate the power of these images as they really speak to us on a deeper emotional level.
There’s an interesting new article on EyeForTravel about the methods accommodation owners are using to keep customers on their own sites and prevent them gravitating away to OTA sites like Booking.com and review sites like TripAdvisor. It may be focused on hotel groups, but its lessons are equally applicable to B&Bs: