This is the final part of our 4-part series. Our first 3 articles focused on how TripAdvisor Connnect is likely to impact the marketing plans of independent hotels and lodging properties. Now, it’s time to look at alternatives to TripAdvisor Connect. Of course, there are many things one can do instead of placing your business at the mercy of these large behemoth companies. Here we’ll look at a few of those options.
As we wait to learn the final details of TripAdvisor Connect, it’s interesting to see how they are currently positioning themselves. I just discovered that TripAdvisor has doubled and tripled its Business Listings in preparation for their launch of the new TripAdvisor Connect. This is what a client was recently told, “With the introduction of TripAdvisor Connect and new property specific pricing, your Business Listing price has significantly increased as of October 1st. The rise in price reflects the increase in subscription value and highly qualified traffic, which means an increase in your property’s direct bookings and revenue.” They were then directed to a pricing wizard that spits out a price based on the Trip Advisor profile of the hotel. I understand this is based on ranking and number of rooms. Find the the price of your Trip Advisor Business listing here. Surprised? The writing is on the wall, prices are going up. How will this price increase affect your lodging in property’s ROI?
So what’s an Independent Lodging Property to do?
My advice, whether you go with TripAdvisor Connect or not, is to broaden your marketing base. As OTAs and TripAdvisor struggle to increase their profits, it’s more important than ever to create a strategy that gives your hotel wide exposure with multiple online sales channels.
The goal is to refine that mix over time until it returns consistent acceptable ROI, is affordable, and doesn’t suck all of your time. The entire list would be exhaustive, but here are a few suggestions.
1. Sign up with traveler experience and review sites like LonelyPlanet, Gogobot.com, IgoUgo.com, TripWolf, Yelp!, HolidayTruths.co.uk. Many allow you to create a free listing for your hotel. So split your reviews between the ones that fit your demographic best. Ask some of your guests to provide feedback on some of these select sites, instead of Trip Advisor.
Try to sign up with Oyster.com. This is a revolutionary, professional review site brought to us by the Travel Channel. Their team investigates, reviews and rates each hotel. If your hotel is less than honest in its advertising they will expose that, too. So proceed with caution. Is your property up to snuff?
2. Buy annual commission-free subscriptions to sites like HomeAway.com, VRBO, or FlipKey (a TripAdvisor company). If your property fits into their business model (meaning- is your property set up so that you can advertise with a single room in mind? i.e. cabins and suites that resemble a condo experience) this can bring in excellent leads.
3. Encourage your guests to review via Booking.com and/or Expedia. Guest reviews on these sites are generally seen as more credible. Unlike Trip Advisor, these reviews can only be submitted by people that have actually stayed at the hotel. Good reviews here will also advance your ranking for better conversion on actual bookings.
4. Run a promo with your OTA partner (Expedia or Booking.com, etc.). Recent online development on these sites now include promotional wizards that you can set up on their Extranets and link directly to your PMS.
Run a sale and let those reservations feed into your system automatically. Some of these include: Early booking, Minimum Stay, and Last Minute deal promotions.
5. Maximize your SEO to get found on the 1st page of Google & Bing. Obviously, the best lead for your business is one that links that guest directly to you. Approach SEO with a long-term goal of establishing a solid online presence and reputation and this will feed your hotel direct sales for many years to come. Start a Google+ Business page (Build your Google presence and gain even better SEO to drive guests to your website = no commission).
6. Register with online directories, like SuperPages and Hotfrog, that offer great exposure and valuable backlinks. Many travel-specific sites are available that achieve great position in Google for little to no money. Some examples of great local sites include RelaxWisconsin.com, Mexican Caribbean, and Stowe Travel Guide.
7. Become active on as many social media networks as you and your staff can manage. Of course, Facebook and Twitter are vital and basic. But for hotels, focus on sites that focus strongly on photos like Pinterest and Instagram. Photos are simply the best conversion vehicles.
9. Run a group promotion like LivingSocial Escapes or Groupon Getaways. If accepted, these can really give nice returns. It may seem like you’re giving away your rooms too cheaply, but understand that many of these vouchers go unused which relates to free money in your pocket.
10. Keep nurturing your Trip Advisor rank, BUT simply allow your bookings to flow through to your from your OTA partners. Yes, you pay the commission but as we’ve shown you in a previous article, this may be the better alternative. The Show Prices button sends your potential guest to your page on the OTA, where they hopefully book and then you pay the commission on an actual booking. That might be more affordable than trying to buy all those clicks! (Con- The thing to watch here is to check that the link goes to a specific page of yours and doesn’t send them to a menu of other hotels. This can happen when/if you’re not doing business with the winning CPC bidder. Its bait and switch at its finest.)
After you’ve broadened your online presence, then it’s time to track your progress. A vital part of achieving your goals is in choosing a PMS that supports various marketing channels and allows your bookings to be tracked for accurate measurement. You will need to continuously measure and refine, but over time you will be able to see exactly which channels are paying off. You’ll need a system that allows this to be done without being labor intensive. Give me a call. I’ll be happy help you explore your options (I do not charge for initial PMS consultations).
As an e-business advisor to the hospitality and leisure industry, Social Energizer helps with the selection, integration and implementation of property management systems, online sales channels and social media networks with a special focus on independent hotels, inns, resorts, and campgrounds.
Social Energizer integrates inbound marketing techniques into each marketing plan, creates dynamic and affordable websites fully optimized for Search Engines, then utilizes digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and web-integrated Email Campaigns.