One issue that is guaranteed to generate debate is the subject of just how important is the 'beauty' of the overall website design for a hotel?
We have probably created some 200 Hotel Websites, and strangely enough we do NOT find that design is an important factor, many other factors seem to influence a hotels online sales, and it has to be said that unfortunately right now number 1 is PRICE (we know of one hotel in a city that is finding a change of just 2€ makes a difference in room sales). The other factors can mainly be related to HOW you use the website not what it looks like.
We do agree that a website should look pleasing and have simple navigation, but this can normally be achieved with relatively low cost or even 'FREE' 'off-the-shelf' websites, in fact by and large we would advise hotels on limited budgets to spend ZERO on web design and instead spend the money on Online Marketing (Don’t tell my accountants I just said that!).
Back in 2006 we went to a presentation by one of the IT Managers with Ryanair, who asked the audience the question 'How much do you think Michael O Leary allows in the IT budget for web design? Responses varied from 5 - 15 million € Per Annum. In fact the answer was ZERO, the trick being that the budget for web programming and development might be quite high, but 'look and feel' did not get any attention.
It would be easy to argue of course that with a site like Ryanair viewers know exactly what they are getting and dont need to be enticed to make a purchase. Yet look at many of the major brand hotel websites such as www.hilton.com or holidayinn.com and again you will see relatively functional websites without a strong concentration on ‘look and feel.’.
Again we hear the argument that in the Leisure Break market where customers have a choice and are buying an 'experience' in place of a bed, 'look and feel, could be important. This may be, but we would say that if you are truly trying to entice someone to book with your property do it with photography, not the website design. Just to repeat, if you have the budget, spend it on photography before the website.
We suspect this argument can continue to go back and forward, some of the issues that are prolonging the debate are;
Decision makers in hotels are frequently Marketing People or Hotel Owner Managers who have been creating and reviewing brochures for the last 10 years, and still think in the same way. In the offline world there is a brochure, then the transaction when the guest walks in to the hotel, in the online world of course the website does both, it promotes the product and handles the transaction.
Another key issue is 'web browser habits' which are notoriously flighty, with some statistics saying that viewers only stay on a website 7 seconds before moving on, you have to give them something interesting to see in that time or they are lost. It makes no sense sweating over the content of your Christmas Offers and then having them on the second page, or spending time organizing a music event in the hotel only to have it buried on an events page. This information needs to be on the homepage, which tends to lead to what most marketing personnel hate to see (and which by the way Google absolutely loves).........busy websites.
Whenever a new Sales and Marketing person takes over the hotel, the first words tend to be 'I hate the website, i need a new one'. They are probably looking at it the way they would a new pair of trousers ' i dont like the style and colour'. But strangely enough we have NEVER heard anyone walk into our office and say ' i saw a really nice website last night, it was full of pretty blues and greens'. We do hear people say 'I was on the web last night and saw a flight for xx€, or i saw a website selling cheap xxxx etc etc.
The PC answer here is probably that 'look and feel' and 'functionality' are equally important. We would just throw out the thought that at present most hotels seem to have the balance wrong.
So have you got it right? A couple of tongue-in-cheek indicators may tell you if you are going in the right direction.;
- Less than 10% of my calls to my web suppliers is about look and feel, the rest are about online marketing and how to increase sales.
- I paid more for my photography than I did for the website.
Now for my grilling from the accountant!