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January 2010

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Print Accommodation, etourism and technology, Marketing ,

The Troubling Trend of Increasing ‘Web Marketing Ineptitude’ in Hospitality… by Max Starkov

The Québec Tourism Intelligence Network is pleased to present some highly relevant thoughts about online marketing of hotels, written by special collaborator M. Starkov, consultant in Hospitality eBusiness Strategies.

Throughout our nearly 15 years of hotel Internet marketing experience, we have been consistently concerned about the increasing level of disparity between savvy Internet/Mobile marketers in hospitality and travel, and the Internet/Mobile Marketing-inept players in the industry.With the advent of social media in recent years, Web 2.0 technologies and the mobile Web, this disparity has accelerated dramatically.

On one side there are the extremely Web-savvy:

  • Online travel agencies like Expedia, Travelocity, etc.
  • Most major hotel brands’ e-commerce departments
  • Airlines
  • Some e-commerce departments at smaller and mid-size hotel and resort chains
  • Some very bright individuals at the marketing departments of full service hotels, resorts and casinos

On the other side there is everybody else, which unfortunately means the majority of hospitality executives and sales and marketing professionals.
HeBS defines “Web Marketing Ineptitude” as the lack of hands-on experience in Internet marketing and all of its formats: website re-designs, SEO optimizations, search marketing, email marketing, strategic linking, banner advertising and online sponsorships, social media and Web 2.0 and more recently, mobile marketing. In addition, this ineptitude also indicates a lack of understanding of best practices and latest trends in the direct online channel.

In the 1990s, it was “normal” that only a few hospitality and travel marketers were proficient in the online channel.  Less than 3% of travel reservations in the U.S. were booked online back in 1999. In the 2000s (in 2001, online travel bookings reached 5.4% of all travel reservations in the U.S.), hospitality marketers and the major hotel brands began to pay closer attention to the Internet channel. In the years that followed, Internet travel adoption increased dramatically and in 2009 alone over 55% of all travel reservations in the U.S. will be online (45% of all hotel reservations) to the tune of a staggering $116.1 billion (eMarketer).

Yet, to our dismay, over the past 15 years the level of Internet marketing expertise in the hospitality industry has not kept up with this remarkable growth. On the contrary, we are witnessing whole new generations of hospitality executives and marketing professionals who are unfamiliar with Internet marketing in general as well as best practices and trends in the direct online channel.

This problem has been exacerbated by a) the social media and Web 2.0 phenomena, and b) mobile marketing. Both of these new marketing and distribution channels introduced an entirely new level of complexity and skill set requirements, as well as new best practices and trends.

  • Social Media have changed how customers plan and purchase travel, how customers access information, and how customers perceive the credibility of information. How can hoteliers create/monitor/take advantage of the social media “chatter” around the hotel, target receptive audiences, and ultimately stimulate hotel website visits, interactions and bookings? What type of Web 2.0 and interactive features and functionality do you need on the hotel website?
  • Mobile Web is expected to surpass the traditional Web within the next five years. The promise of “immediate, anywhere and anytime” Internet access, instant information and transaction capabilities, location-based services and personalization are some of the key factors for the “explosion” of the mobile Web. Hotel guests–past, current and potential–are increasingly becoming mobile-ready and hoteliers have to respond adequately to this growing demand for mobile services. This is the reason why hoteliers and travel marketers need to have robust mobile Web initiatives in place, including mobile brand websites, mobile apps, m-CRM and mobile marketing.

Why Is There a Growing Web Marketing Ineptitude in the Industry?

There are many reasons for this “Web Marketing Ineptitude” among the ranks, but here are some of the most important:

Franchised Properties:

  • Many major brands control all Internet marketing initiatives at the corporate level, including property-level initiatives, thus depriving staff at the property from any meaningful experience in Internet marketing.
  • We have seen a trend among small/mid-size chains to establish small but vital e‑commerce departments. In many cases, these companies outsource whatever online marketing they do to outside vendors. Here again, when outsourcing, they make a crucial mistake by not demanding professional development to be part of the Internet marketing vendor’s responsibilities. This results in Internet marketing expertise not being disseminated to the properties in the process.

Independent Hotels and Resorts:

  • The biggest concentration of Internet marketing knowledge is at this level.
  • Many big full-service hotels and resorts have some form of in-house Internet expertise. However, due to staff turnover and constantly decreasing budgets, these properties tend to have a very spotty Internet expertise retention rate.
  • Smaller hotels and resorts are most vulnerable due to limited budgets and difficulties with hiring and retaining employees with expert knowledge.

Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) and Convention and Visitor Bureaus (CVBs):

  • These organizations boast some of the brightest Internet marketing stars and some of the most inept marketers.
  • In many cases among DMOs and CVBs, ignoring Internet marketing best practices is not even a matter of budget size, but a result of inertia and commitment to traditional advertising formats.
  • The government or quasi -government nature of CVBs and tourism offices does not help with the hiring and retention of Internet expertise.

So What Is the Verdict?

HeBS believes there are different levels of Web Marketing Ineptitude in the industry regarding three important marketing media: Traditional Web, Social Media/Web 2.0 and Mobile Web. Here are our estimates of the ineptitude rates in each of these media:

Internet Marketing/Traditional Web

  • Nearly 15 years of existence of the traditional Web
  • Internet Marketing Ineptitude rate in hospitality:  65%

Web 2.0/Social Media Marketing

  • Nearly 5 years of existence of social media
  • Web 2.0/Social Media Marketing Ineptitude rate in hospitality:  90%

Mobile Marketing/Mobile Web

  • Nearly 10 years of existence of Mobile Web but in reality, the Mobile Web in the U.S. exploded with the introduction of the first iPhone in June 2007.
  • Mobile Marketing Ineptitude rate in hospitality:  97%

Conclusion

Hoteliers should strive to gain a crystal-clear understanding of what the best practices and latest trends are in hospitality Internet marketing: what works, what doesn’t, and why. Hoteliers should recognize that they do not have all the answers in-house and that there are thought leaders and other proven industry experts who can help them and their property stay competitive in these economic times, preserve and increase market share, and generate the highest website revenues and ROIs.

Hoteliers should take a hard look at how Best Industry Practices are being utilized by their corporate offices or major brands, as well as by the hotel’s Internet marketing vendors. Almost 15 years after the first online hotel booking, best practices have been established in practically every aspect of hotel Internet marketing. Hoteliers should not allow their Internet marketing vendors to “learn the business on the hotel’s dime.”

The prospect of professional development should become the main criterion when choosing an Internet marketing vendor.  Hoteliers should hire experts who are able and willing to teach the hotel and staff best practices and keep the hotel appraised of the latest direct online channel trends.

Hoteliers should work only with Internet marketing experts who can help them acquire new core competencies and adopt best industry practices in the direct online channel. 

They should provide crucial professional development as well as guide the hotel’s direct Internet marketing strategies, online brand building strategies, e-CRM, website re-design and SEO optimization, search and email marketing, social media and mobile marketing initiatives.

 
  • Maxime Lamoureux

    This is an extremely interesting post, thinking that the 65% rate of ineptitude in the hospitality regarding Internet Marketing has a direct effect on the most important Marketing channel for the hotel itself. Since a minor portion of the decision maker (or junior decision maker I must say) knows about it, I feel that the other portion are just rejecting it or simply saying it’s confusing and then abandon trying to know more.

    I say if you want to know more about it, you have to do it on your own and being extremely curious. Being part of a hotel chain, they give you a lot of tools to know more about it, but you still need to do 90% of the learning process.

    Maxime Lamoureux

  • artcato

    Max, before moving into search marketing for hotels, I was the General Manager of several hotels. In 2001 I discovered that you could participate in a Pay Per Click Program with Yahoo through a third party. I launched a campaign and had great success. As I talked with fellow GM’s about incorporating online marketing into a hotel’s overall marketing campaign, I watched as their eyes glazed over. It seems they gravitate to their skill set comfort zone. Nothing has changed that much with these guys that are responsible for the overall profitability of a hotel. Some of them would rather walk down a hallway and turn off a light rather than spend that time planning their online strategies and tactics, leaving that valuable SERP real estate to be taken by those guys your refer to as savvy. Some things will never change.

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