Yearly archives "2015"

15 Articles
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Google Adwords for Activity Centres: Seven Ways to Target Your Customer

 Main Image  by Richard Matthews

Activity Centres occupy a competitive market, and here at gogroupbooking.com, we know how vital it is to stand out from your competitors. Google Adwords is a free tool (free to create an account and research keywords, but not free to advertise, so remember to freeze your first ad campaign before it starts unless you plan to begin putting out advertisements immediately) and it’s easy not to realise just how much it offers. So we decided to put together a few tips to make sure you get the most out of your particular ad campaigns. 

Picture of search results page with advertisements outlined in red

 Paid Ads in Google Search

Those yellow  icons with ‘ad’ written on them at the top and on the right hand side are advertisements that companies paid to have at the top of the results page. Which paid ads show on the page is decided by which keywords are typed into search engines. Keywords vary in price depending on how popular they are, so it’s important to pick yours carefully. Specific terms work best most of the time to distinguish you from your competition, and better target the market that suits you best -you can find more information on deciding on good keywords here. But once your keywords are chosen, there are a few more things you can do to make the most of your account.

1. Use Negative Keywords

 

Activity Centres come with a diverse range of programmes, but no one provider can offer everything. Keywords should be chosen with that in mind. If someone searches for activity centres featuring water sports or paintball, and you have no such facilities, there is not much point in competing for customers that you have no ability to satisfy. Negative keywords are important in preventing spending time and money on keywords that won’t lead to results.

Negative keywords ensure that those searching for particular terms not relevant to your customer will not be presented with your ads, as they would be unlikely to click on them or use your services if they did. They can be especially useful to avoid spending money on demographics you don’t cater to, such as ‘kids’ as a negative keyword for activities that are not suitable for minors.  A keyword planner is built in to Google Adwords, but if you want to find another source, try moz.com categories

Negative keywords must be chosen carefully to ensure potential customers are not accidentally excluded, but they can be extremely useful if used correctly.  Not competing for those who are not likely to be interested frees up time and money for those who are, allowing you to get the most out of your advertising budget. 

2. Monitor Results

 

Related to the above, an early campaign might require a degree of experimentation to start. Decide early on what  constitutes a conversion (what you want the people that see your ad to do as a result) for your particular needs and how much you are willing to spend to achieve it, as this could be the foundation of the rest of your campaign.

Monitor the conversion rate to determine the level of interest, so you can alter the level of funding or which keywords you use based on the performance. Information from Google Analytics (another free tool available to anyone with a gmail account and a website) can help you realise what keywords are used to actually find your website at the moment. If you can find out where your site traffic is coming from and why, this can be invaluable information when deciding what keywords would work best in your ads.

3. Understand the Basic Settings

 

Google Adwords offers a wide range of targeting options. The extent of the service may not be clear at first glance, but fully implementing the available options can be of significant benefit to an activity centre that targets particular groups. Here, the average monthly searches for ‘activity centre’ is 2,400, and competition is high but this will drop as targeting narrows.

graph of monthly searches for Activity Centre

Number of monthly searches for 'Activity Centre' in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

It’s possible to narrow the focus of advertising by geographical location, age, gender, and language. Campaigns may target particular demographics if the particular function is turned on, and although some site visitors may opt out of volunteering certain details, it can also provide valuable information as to demographics available and whether they show particular interest in what you have to offer, which may inform further marketing in the future.

4. Think Long Term

 

A campaign may easily start small and later grow, and it is important to take this into account from the beginning. You may start from a very specific market and area, but you may need to think about whether the existing campaign leaves room to expand if it proves to be a success -If targeting a specific activity is a success, what next? Does your Adwords account setup allow for expansion?

5. Construct Ads Carefully

 

This is another feature that may seem obvious, but is nonetheless important. There is very little space in the basic Google Adwords ad, but that small box has a lot of work to do. It will vary depending on the nature of the activities offered, but including a call to action (what you want the customer to do, and why they should do it) is a compact way to get the most out of the limited area. Google itself has some basic tips here.

If You Found This Article Useful...

Why not  download our checklist of how to increase sales with Google Adwords? All the tips above, laid out in a concise format for ease of access and clarity, and it's absolutely free!

​Setting Up Google Ads

As you can see, the text of the ad has very limited space, and this must be assigned carefully.

Something short and simple, such as ‘Improve fitness and develop new skills. Book now!’, could yield results, but as before, the nature of the message would depend on the services you offer. Include contact details and some of your keywords if possible, but don’t overdo it, as overuse of keywords in your ad may be penalised.

 

6.Find your USP

 

2

Stand out from the crowd with your unique selling point.

If you have a unique selling point, a service or feature that is not widely offered or is particularly appealing in your activity centre, make sure you highlight that in your advertising and keywords. This could be anything from a nice view to a particular kind of astroturf or a highly qualified member of staff. It could be the scenically breathtaking Delphi Valley,for instance.

If it is something your activity centre offers particularly well, make sure that anyone searching for it sees your ad and knows how and where to find you.

7. Pay Attention to Quality Score

The most expensive ads with the highest position may not bring the best results. It does not matter how many customers see your advertisements if none of them act on it. That is why targeting ads is important, and it’s also why you do not necessarily need to outspend your competitors in Adwords campaigns. A high Quality Score for a keyword highlights a word that is relatively effective at a lower cost, allowing your budget to spread further overall. 

            That was our seven basic ways to help activity centres to get the most out of Adwords. Hopefully you found this of use in learning some of the basics of Adwords advertising. There is a lot more that could be said if we had the time or space, but for now, hopefully that is enough to get you started. Good luck!

If You Found This Article Useful...

Why not  download our checklist of how to increase sales with Google Adwords? All the tips above, laid out in a concise format for ease of access and clarity, and it's absolutely free!

Resources List:

moz.com

Google Analytics

Google's Ad support

seo picture

SEO for Activity Centres: 10 Ways to optimize your website.

Practical Tips To Bring More Visitors To Your Website

What Is SEO And Why Should I Use it?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation.

SEO is all about optimizing your website  for search engine like Google. It is ensuring that when people enter search terms like "activity centre" in Google, they will find your business high on the list of search results.

SEO Is the process of ensuring that your website matches what potential customers are looking for. If you optimize your website, you will improve the volume and quality of traffic  to your website from search engines.  It will ensure that people like your website too.

Where Most Valuable Keywords are Determined From

How Can I Optimize My Website?

There are several things you can do now to optimize your website. Here are 10  practical ways to optimize your website.

 

1. How To Do Some Keyword Research

A keyword is a word or phrase that people use when they are searching for your business. If they are searching for an activity centre, they might also search for the terms “adventure centre””, ““outdoor training centre” etc.

They might use the American spelling of “center”. You need to find out what keywords your customer will search for and ensure you have them in the right places on your website. Use a thesaurus to check for variations of the words you are already using. The activities you offer are also keywords e.g. kayaking, rock climbing, paint-balling etc. Your audience will also determine your keywords e.g. stag parties, team building etc.

There are several sites where you can enter your business or domain name to get a list of keywords that you can use. Here is a one such website: keywordtool.io.

 

keyword.io

Searching for keywords in keyword.ie

 

If you put the phrase “adventure centre” into this tool you get the the names people have searched for from Aberdeen to Upminster.  If you scroll down you will see that the word family appears twice.

 

keyword.io-family

Additional phrases found when searching for “adventure centre”

 

If you cater for families, you should add family to your list of keywords.  Check to see if there are any other search results that you can use. 

 

2. How To Optimize For Local Search

If you entered the term “adventure centre” into the site  keywordtool.io you would have seen that most of the results include a local place name e.g. a general area “Peak district”, a county like “Devon” or a town like “Melksham”. If people are searching for an activity centre, they are probably searching for one in a particular area. So if people were searching for an activity centre beside one of the lakes in Cheshunt, they could use any one of the following terms in the search as well as the keywords discussed above:  Cheshunt,  Broxbourne and Hertfordshire.

 

3.  How To Use Your Keywords 

Now that you have a list of keywords and local search words, you need to use them on your website. There are many different parts of the website where you should use keywords, but these are the main ones:

Title: Ensure the title of your website includes the main keywords e.g.  The title of this activity centre includes the keywords “Herts Young Mariners Base Outdoor Centre”.

Page names: You should call each page something meaningful rather than just numbers e.g.  calling them swimming, walking, location etc. is good. If you want to use several words in the page name you should separate the words by  dash e.g. Ultimate-Ops-Laser-Tag.html. Or if you are writing a blog about SEO for activity centres, , you could call your post “seo-for-activity-centres-10-ways-to-optimize-your-website.

Content or Body Text: Ensure your content or Body Text mentions your keywords. Your description or text should naturally mention your keywords.  The first sentence on your home page could be: Welcome to the Lake District adventure centre where we have a wide range of activities on offer: archery, kayaking, swimming …

You should only put keywords on relevant pages. So put the the name of the town or county on the home page and the location page. Put the activity on the home page and the page for the relevant activity.

Don’t be a keyword stuffer! This is the practice of shoving as many of the keywords as possible on every page. This did  previously work in getting pages ranked in search engines, but it doesn’t any more. 

DON’T be this guy:

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4. Use Pictures On Your Website

People really like pictures on a website. If you can, get a photographer to take good quality pictures of your premises, your equipment, people enjoying the activities at your centre and your staff helping your customers. Don’t use stock pictures on your website, there often can be something in the stock picture that will let people know its not a picture of your premises. Take pictures of people being active – e.g. a picture of people surfing like the one below is better than people standing around with their surfboard.

Surf-boarder Enjoying The Waves

5. How To Use Videos On Your Website

People like pictures, but people love videos. It would be great if you can afford to get a professional to take videos customers using your adventure centre, but that could be very expensive. You could use your camera phone to create short videos of the customers enjoying your amenities or telling you how much they enjoyed them. Your videos need only be 30 seconds or a few minutes long – they needn’t be epic productions. Why not let your customers do some of the work for you? Ask customers who use GoPro cameras to upload their videos to the GoPro website or YouTube and share the link with you. Here is a surfing video taken by a GoPro user:

Longbarding the Peak, Bundoran, Ireland GoPro

Get Your SEO Checklist Now!

Receive our free SEO Checklist, a quick checklist to see if your website is optimized. Just sign up below.

 

 

6. How To Get Customers To Give Feedback

Good reviews help your website achieve higher search engine rankings. Have a page on your website where customers can leave reviews. Or email them and ask them for feedback. If it is good feedback ask their permission to put it up on your website. You could add a feedback form to your website. How you do this depends on how your website was built. If it was built using WordPress, you could use this tutorial: 

wordpress-feedback

How To Add A Feedback Form To WordPress

 

Here is an example of a website which has  feedback (at the bottom right of the page): HYMB Adventure Centre .

 

7. How To Create Original Content On Your Website

You should describe what is unique about your activity centre. Ask yourself the following questions to get some ideas about what is unique about your activity centre.

  • What  activities do you offer?  
  • Do you have indoor and outdoor facilities?
  • Do you cater for all ages?
  • Do you cater for particular groups like stag and hen parties?
  • Do you offer corporate events like team building?
  • Have your staff special qualifications?
  • Has your centre received any awards?
  • Do you cater for national/secondary schools etc?
  • Do you serve food onsite?
  • Do you have a shop onsite?
  • Do you cater for birthday parties?
  • Do you offer special packages for occasions like Fathers day, bank holidays etc?

Make sure that people that visit your website know what you are offering that is different to other activity centres.

 

8. How To Build Links To Other Websites

While you need to have good content on your website about your business, it is also important to have links to other businesses on your website.

If your suppliers have websites, agree that you will link to their websites, and they will link to yours.

Provide links to other amenities in the area e.g. If your activity centre is in the Lake District, put links on your site to Dove Cottage, Lake Windermere Cruises.

Provide links to local tourism bodies e.g. Lake District National Park .

Provide links to articles on online sites like Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet about things to do in the local area.

 

9. How To Lay Out Your Content Well

  • Use H1, H2, H3 tags where appropriate.
  • Ensure your content is formatted well and easy to read quickly.
  • Break the text down into easy to read, short paragraphs. Vary the sentence length in the paragraphs
  • Use images and/or videos to break up the text.
  • Use nor more than three colors for the text or headings
  • Use no more than three fonts for the text or headings.

 

10. How To Start A Blog

One of the main things that search engines link on web pages is updated content. This means that there is a good reason for customers to keep returning to your website. A good way of doing this without having to constantly update all of your website is to have a blog page. You can write about anything related to your business e.g. a new activity that you are offering, a new menu, special activities planned for a bank holiday weekend, Summer camps etc.

You need to create a reason for people to return to your website regularly. You do not have to post too often, it could be every week or every couple of weeks. You should post at regular times on certain days of the week so that someone can go to your website on a certain day and expect a new blog entry. 

If you are using WordPress for your site, it is very easy to add a blog. Here is a video to show you how: How to add a blog to your website

If you are not using WordPress, you could download a blogging template and add it to your site. There are many examples here: Free Blogger Templates

Here is an example  of an activity centre that has a nice blog:

blog-example

Kingswood Centre Blog

That was ten ways to help you to optimize your website. If you found this article useful, why not sign up to receive our free SEO Checklist, a quick checklist to see if your website is optimized.

There are several websites which will check how well your webpage is optimised. Here is a good site to start  with: SEO SiteCheckUp.  Why not enter your website now and see what score you get? Then follow the guidelines in this post, update your website, and see how much your score improves.

Summary: That was ten ways to help you to optimize your website. If you found this article useful, why not sign up to receive our free SEO Checklist, a quick checklist to see if your website is optimized.

Get Your SEO Checklist Now!

Receive our free SEO Checklist, a quick checklist to see if your website is optimized. Just sign up below.

A10

Social media and hotels

Are you on social media?

 

I don’t know about you, but to me it increasingly seems like everything revolves around social media. I know I couldn’t live without Facebook and Twitter. How would I talk to my friends, stay in contact with my family and know what’s going on in the world without Facebook and Twitter? And social media isn’t just an important part of our personal lives, it is also increasingly important when it comes to business and our professional lives.

Virtually every industry and every business has now been impacted by the social media revolution, and the hospitality and tourism industries are no exception. A survey carried out by Four Pillars Hotels in 2014 found that, 32% of travellers’ blog about their travel experiences, 30% of hotel guests have used mobile apps to book a hotel, 52% of Facebook users admitted that their friends’ photos inspired their holiday choice, and 46% of travellers post online reviews on review websites.

Clearly social media is having a huge impact on the way guests and travellers think and talk about their hotel stays. Social media is also changing how hotels interact with their guests and their prospective guests.

Betty Mok in her white paper, 2015 Social Media Action Plan for Hoteliers, writes, “In order to build relationships with and successfully market to past, current and prospective guests, it is absolutely essential for hotels to have an effective social media strategy and a active presence across as many social networks as possible.”

In this blog I outline the steps you need to take to develop a successful social media strategy for your hotel.

Why you need a strategy

Your social media marketing strategy should only have two objectives; Brand awareness and enhancing the guest experience. Everything you do on social media must be focused on promoting and ornamenting your hotel brand, while also improving your guest experience.

It has been proven by many of the industry’s leading experts that hotels that devote time to evolving an effective social media strategy achieve higher levels of guest loyalty, repeat business, and increased brand awareness. Unfortunately, creating a potent strategy involves more than just creating a Facebook page or Twitter profile.

Identifying your audience   

Your first step when creating a social media strategy is to sit down with your marketing and sales team and identify your target customers. Too often hotels make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people on social media.

Your social media strategy cannot be like a fisherman casting his net into the ocean and then pulling back and seeing what he’s caught. Your strategy has got to be laser focused, if not it will fail.

Patrick Mayock in his blog, 10 Social Media Strategies, recommends when creating social personas to ask yourself why travellers are visiting are certain destination, who they are, what they want, what’s their incomes and what their goals and aspirations are. Once you have answered those questions then create targeted marketing across your chosen social media domains

Mayock writes, “Being specific allows marketers to offer tailored communications that are more likely to drive engagement with a specific cohort of guest.”

Quality content  

Your second step to developing a compelling strategy involves creating high quality content that social media users will want to read and share. The trick is to find the right balance between uploading promotional material about your hotel and informative content such as fun activities and interesting places to visit in your surrounding area.

Carolyn Murphy in her article, 5 Data Driven Insights: When and What hotels Should Publish on Social Media, writes, “A successful campaign begins with great content, and the best content offers something new and valuable to your target audience while making an emotional connection.

If there is too much promotional content you risk annoying and turning social media users off reading your content. However getting the mix right between promotional material and informative information will allow potential guest know what your hotel has to offer, while letting you engage in a more personal way with them. Social media specialists recommend the 80-20 formula, 20% promotional content and 80% value content.

Patrick Mayock in his article gives us the example of the Four Seasons hotels, to show what kind of content hotels should be posting on social media. The Four Seasons allows prospective guests to put together a Pinterest board, share it with a Four Seasons property, and have a property representative respond to individual posts with recommendations about food, accommodations and activities in a given destination.

Graphic of people with flowchart of thoughts above their heads

Quality Content Crucial

Images    

It is crucial that every image you upload to social media look visually appealing. Nobody is going to like, share, or engage with a social media page or account that doesn’t look good. When it comes to social media looks to do matter and they matter a lot.

Google+ Local   

Google+ Local is fast becoming a major player in the social media world. According to GWI study in 2014, Google+ now has more active users than Twitter. Think of Google+  as a directory that is integrated into Google Maps and Google Search, and allows your hotel appear in Google’s local block.

This means if a traveller types in hotels in West Cork and your hotel is located in West Cork, then your hotel will be near the top of the search page. If you use Google+ smartly you will find your hotel will also have a higher ranking on Google Search.

Google+ is a really good social media domain and can really benefit hotels that use it in the right way. If your hotel isn’t on Google+ then it’s time you get on it.

Facebook

Facebook is the undisputed Goliath of social media, for better or worse it is an integral part of many people’s lives. According to Statistics Portal Facebook had over 1.4 billion active users worldwide in 2014.

Based on the statistics above it is clear that every hotel needs to have an active presence on Facebook. You risk losing out on guests and losing market share to rival hotels if you don’t utilize Facebook to its full potential.

If you make the most of Facebook you will find that you and your team will have access to a wealth of demographic information on your Facebook friends and followers.You can find out data on your followers identity, their hobbies and activities, interests, and location. All of this data is invaluable when it comes to marketing your hotel to your social media followers. You can use all the data and stats from Facebook to create targeted personalized marketing communications to your target audience, which will increase your conversion rate.

Facebook really proves it worth when you have to market your hotel to the millennial generation. Traditional advertising simply doesn’t work on millennials. To market successfully to the millennials you have to have your hotel on social media and provide them with content they want to read, like and share.

Betty Monk in her white paper, recommends when posting content on Facebook tell a story about your guest experience that is real, honest and personal.

Get the Most Out of Facebook

Twitter

The other heavyweight social media platform is of course Twitter. Like Facebook, Twitter affords you a great opportunity to connect and engage with potential guests and past guests. Twitter has over 284 million active users and it is estimated that 500 million tweets are tweeted every day. With such a high level of activity and social interaction, it is essential that your hotel have a manful presence on Twitter.

Neha Arya writes in her blog, 10 best Best Twitter Practices for Small Hotels, “Twitter has the potential to be a great marketing tool for hotels. Hotels from across the globe should seriously look at targeting Twitter as one of their main social media marketing mediums.”

However, despite the popularity of Twitter and the very obvious benefits it can bring hotels many hoteliers are wary of fulling embracing Twitter. I believe this has got to change and Twitter should be an essential part of every hotels social media strategy.  To make the most out of Twitter their are some very important steps you have to take.

 

  • Your first step is to get your hotel’s Twitter profile looking right. It is crucial that your hotel’s profile engage viewers and users right from the start. Your profile page is your first chance to make a first good impression on potential guests, and first impressions are everything when it comes to social media. Bear in mind that you only have 160 characters, so make sure to use keywords.Also make sure that you follow the right people on Twitter. Don’t play the numbers game, when it comes to Twitter followers its all about quality not quantity.
  • Once you have the profile page right then move on to growing your Twitter community. To grow your community you must create posts that are interactive and engaging. It should be your goal to produce posts which lead to your followers responding and re-tweeting. Kurt in his article, How to Use Twitter to Put Heads in Beds, argues posts need to be conversational in order to engage the attentions of followers on Twitter.
  • Neha Arya strongly recommends uploading images to your Twitter. Arya claims that images on Twitter generates significantly more engagement than posts without images. Post images which show your hotel in the best possible light, also post images of your surroundings and local attractions.
  • Over promoting and over selling is one of the biggest mistakes hoteliers make on Twitter. It is critical that you position your promotions correctly. Arya writes, “A hotel should know how not to over promote itself. For every promotional tweet, there should be a couple of engaging and interactive tweets that can provide some tidbits about the city or things to do. Remember that when a hotel tweets about a promotion, words like ‘exclusive”, “free” and “win” tend to drive more engagements. The offers should be self explanatory and exciting.”

If you get Twitter right, then you will have gone a long way in evolving a successful social media marketing campaign.

Conclusion

Social media love it or hate is certainly a major part of people’s lives, and provides businesses from almost every industry and sector the opportunity to engage with their customers in a whole new way. The hospitality industry should be at the forefront of social media marketing.

Hotels  have the potential to benefit more than any other business from the move away from traditional marketing and towards social media marketing. Hotels have always relied on building a personal relationship with their guests and social media allows you to build a relationship with not just your past guests but also your prospective guests.

However, the possible rewards on offer to you will only be realised if you have a dynamic and effective social media strategy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 8

The 2 New Technology Trends That Activity Centres Can Benefit From

As you probably already know, emerging and ever more advanced technology and software is bringing about unprecedented and irreversible change to your industry. Just think how technology has changed your business in the past ten years. Your booking and payment systems use to probably comprise of just a diary and a pen. But now thanks technological advancements, activity providers like you have access to advanced and more efficient booking and payment systems.

I know it can be a bit daunting trying to get your head around all the latest technology and software trends and innovations. However the right technology if used in the right way can really help improve your company’s operating efficiencies and generate higher revenues.

In this blog I want to share with you the two most important technology trends for 2015 and 2016. After reading my blog I want you to have a far greater understanding of how technology is changing and shaping your business.

The Benefits of Cloud Software as a Service

Cloud software as a service (SaaS) is increasingly been adopted by business owners across all industries and the activity sector is no different. SaaS has been around for a number of years but is now only really coming into the business mainstream. If you want to give your business a competitive advantage then make sure to jump on the SaaS bandwagon as soon as possible.

Under the SaaS model you will subscribe to a licensed cloud provider and software applications are delivered via the internet and browser. This means you don’t have buy the software you simply rent the software app from a cloud service. Think of SaaS the same as you think of an electricity company. You don’t produce your electricity yourself; instead you sign up to an electric company and pay a fee for whatever amount of electricity you use.

Low Costs: The main advantage of the SaaS platform is the costs of maintaining servers, networks, maintenance, data backups, and storage capacity is zero.

No Location and No Equipment: SaaS businesses apps are accessible any-time and anywhere by using an internet enabled device. You don’t have to invest in expensive equipment when operating on a cloud service.

Automatic Software Updates: With the cloud platform you are always logging into the latest updated version of property management software solutions (PMS). You will never again be behind the curve when it comes to latest software for activity centres.

Calum Mclndoe in his blog, “Six Technology Trends Revolutionising Business”, writes, “Businesses like SaaS because, upfront investment is lower with the cloud as there are no initial hardware costs or associated expenses such as full time in-house IT staff to maintain the system.” Companies also favour the cloud because they like the idea of taking IT off site and freeing themselves of the headaches IT can bring.

Cloud software as service is finally entering the consciousness of the small and medium sized business owner and once it has arrived it will not be going anywhere, because the sky really is the limit for cloud computing.

Group Payment Software

Organising and collecting payment from group bookings must rank in the top three things sure to stress out activity centre owners and managers. Having to constantly chase up organisers and group members for payment, while also trying finalise the group size in advance of arrival is enough to stresses and frustrate the most penitent among us.

However there are group payment systems available for activity centres that are specifically designed to alleviate many of the problems and stresses linked to group bookings. The best group payment systems allow individual group members to book and pay for their accommodation online via smartphone/tablet/laptop/desktop.

Allowing individual group members pay online for their activity has two major advantages First, you receive payment weeks in advance of arrival, which is always nice. Secondary, a group payment system will automatically finalise the final the group size for you, no more endless calls and emails to your group organisers looking for a final number.

Conclusion

My goal for this blog was to share with you the latest technology trends which are dramatically changing and revolutionizing your business. Traditionally activity centres have been slow in utilizing new technology. But that has got to change, if you are to remain in business you have got to embrace new technology.

B24

Everything You Need To Know To Fight The OTAs

Are you sick of Online Travel Agents (OTAs) reaching into your pocket and grabbing fistfuls of your money? I can only imagine how painful it must be for you to have to pay OTAs 15%- 25% commissions on every booking they send your hotel.

According to research carried out by Digital Key in 2014, 1 in 3 leisure bookings and 1 in 2 business bookings are now made through OTAs; which means there a lot of hotel owners and managers handing over colossal amounts of cash to the likes of Booking.com and Expedia.

However hotels do have options and take steps that will curb the power of the big OTAs and allow hotel managers like you to regain control over your hotel. In this blog I am going to show you how you can fight back against the OTAs.

Meta-search Engines

Investing both time and capital into meta-search is one of the key tools hoteliers from across the globe are using to fight back against the large powerful OTAs.

You have probably heard a lot about meta-search engines in past couple of years. It certainly seems like every hospitality insider and expert has been either talking or writing about meta-search engines. But what exactly is meta-search and how can it help you and your hotel?

Basically a meta-search engine brings together data from various different search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing, in order to bring a user the best possible search results. If that didn’t make sense to you just think of a meta-search as a search engine inside a search engine!!

With meta-search potential guests are able to access information regarding your hotel’s location, availability, real-time rate information, and guest reviews, through your hotel’s website, provided of course you have this information uploaded on your website.

Many hospitality and tourism experts such as Des O’Mahony and Ciaran Rowe have descried meta-search as a halfway house between booking direct from a hotel and booking a hotel stay through an OTA. Meta-search on its own is not the answer to all your problems and troubles concerning OTAs.

Nevertheless meta-search if used in a smart way can definitely shift a guest’s focus away from OTAs and back to hotels. If a guest can find all the information they want on meta-search from a hotel website it serves no purpose to book with an OTA. Meta-search can put OTAs and hotels on an equal footing, if used correctly.

The pie chart above very clearly shows that travellers are really starting to embrace meta-search when booking a hotel. 43% of Chinese travellers and tourist now use meta-search when booking a hotel. It’s time you got your hotel on meta-search.

Capturing Guest’s Email Addresses

Clearly having a presence across meta-search engines is a must for any hotel that harbours ambitions of taking back control from the OTAs. However meta-search does require investment, takes time, and is quite technical (You will have to outsource the technical end of things to a third party).

Making a commitment to capturing and storing every one of your guest’s email addresses is relatively straightforward and is another absolute must for hotels in their battle with OTAs. Capturing and storing guest email addresses also doesn’t require any major investment on your part.

Having access to all your current and past guests email addresses allows you and your team to directly market your hotel to all your previous guests. You will be able to keep former customers informed about any special offers and promotions your hotel is running. The major advantage of direct emails is it lets you re-establish the link between hotelier and guest.

Madigan Pratt in his blog, “The New Hotel Mantra-Drive Profitable Direct Bookings”, argues that hotels who email their guests relevant quality marketing martial will see an impressive increase in their direct bookings.

Capturing and storing your guest’s emails will give you an advantage over the OTAs and will help you drive up your direct bookings. It is for this very reason I suspect Booking.com has decided not to hand over guest’s email addresses to hotels. It is very likely that the other big OTAs will follow suit.

To make sure you attain all of your guest’s email addresses I recommend you enforce a strict policy of making your reception staff collect every guest’s email address at check-in or check-out time.

If your hotel caters for group bookings then it is also worthwhile considering investing in group payment software. A group payment system will automatically capture and store every group member’s email address. If the average hotel takes in three bookings a month and the average group size is between 15 to 20 people, then you clearly have a sizable database of past guests to market to.

Incentivising Direct Bookings

Hotels still own most of the guest experience (although OTAs are increasingly trying to take more of it) and you as a hotel manager must use this to your advantage to generate more direct bookings. Selling your bedrooms at a lower rate than OTAs isn’t an option (because they demand rate parity) but you do have the option to add more value to your guest experience, and that is something the OTAs can’t do at the present time.

Many hotels have started to offer travellers incentivise such as mobile check-in, late check-out, and free breakfast room service to guests who book their stay with a hotel direct rather than through an OTA.

Hotels have also found success in increasing their direct bookings by offering guests who book direct a more personalised guest experience. For example you could allow your guests to choose what kind of bed they sleep in, allow them to set the temperature and lighting in their bedrooms, and let them choose what the minibar will be stocked with.

To achieve more direct bookings you have to keep constantly adding value and improving the guest experience for those guests who book direct. Travellers need strong and compelling reasons to ignore the OTAs and book direct through your hotel’s website. It’s your job to provide the incentives that will make guests book direct.

Hotel Loyalty Programs

Hotel loyalty programs also give you the opportunity to both improve the guest experience and sell your bedrooms directly to your guests. OTAs can’t offer their customers the exclusives offers guest can acquire by being a part of a hotel’s loyalty program. Use your loyalty program to fight back against the OTAs and raise your direct bookings.

A hotel loyalty program works in very much the same way as frequent flyer miles work in the airline industry. Guests accumulate free awards when they make repeated purchases with a hotel. Typically a hotel loyalty program will offer guests (depending on the amount of points they have earned) value-added benefits such as free room upgrades, early check-in and late check-out, free spa treatments and guarantee room availability.

Dan Kowalewski in his article “Hotels, OTAs battle for guest experience,” writes, “Armed with the knowledge and data about how frequently loyalty members use direct booking channels rather than OTAs, hotel companies are increasing the value of their loyalty programs by offering exclusive experiences to members that, in many cases, cannot be purchased in retail channels.”

Focused Marketing

A lot of the success OTAs have enjoyed in the past 15 years is down to excellent marketing. OTAs are completely focused on their customers and what they want and need. All of their marketing and advertising is targeted at different segments of hotel guests. OTAs can never be accused of not understanding their customers.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the hospitality sector. We all know of hotel owners who run their hotel for themselves instead of their guests. Hotels need to become much better at understanding their guests and what they want and need from a hotel.

One of the best ways you can learn about your guests is to go onto hotel review sites and see the good and bad things your guests are saying about your hotel. Base all your marketing around the good feedback and take on board the negative comments and fix any problems.

However creating a marketing campaign that allows your hotel compete with the big OTAs will take more than just monitoring review sites. It will involve you and your team segmenting guests, analysing the results of your marketing campaigns and sadly it will entail you getting your cheque book out and spending money.

Lots of hotels make the mistake of setting a budget for developing a marketing strategy to attract more direct bookings. A general manager at the start of the financial year may come in and say he has £2,000 to spend on establishing his hotel on meta-search engines, another £2,000 to spend on a website and £1,000 to spend on a group payment system. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work like that.

Setting a budget for your marketing is a like setting a budget for your bar or restaurant. Imagine you set a budget of £2,000 for your restaurant to spend on buying steaks, and after you had spent all of that £2,000 you don’t buy any more steaks even though steak was your biggest seller and you made a good profit.

Obviously you wouldn’t do that; you would keep spending money on buying new steaks for your restaurant as long as you were making money. You have to think of marketing in the same way. As Des Mahony says, “Keep spending as long as you are getting a return.”

If you want to redress the balance of power between OTAs and your hotel then you are going to have to continually invest and reinvest in marketing that attracts direct bookings. You have to realise that, every direct booking your hotel gets, the more cash at check-out for you. You make far more profit from a direct booking than a booking from an OTA.

Hotels Need to Start Working Together

No hotel on its own can beat Booking.com or Expedia, and nor can masses of hotels working independently of each other take back the power from OTAs. To really change the dynamic between hotels and OTAs; hotels need to join forces and work together as a collective.

One of the fundamental problems hotels have when going up against the OTAs is the lack of strong collective bargaining power. There is little point in one hotel or even a group of hotels trying to negotiate with joint OTAs. Instead the industry as a whole must negotiate with all OTAs on behalf of the whole industry.

Conclusion

The relationship between OTAs and hotels now resembles an abusive relationship, with OTAs calling all the shots and taking most of the rewards; while hotels are too afraid fight back and are forced to accept whatever the OTAs dictate.

But I believe the time has come for every hotelier to start fighting back against OTAs. In this blog I have outlined a number of actions you can take to achieve more direct bookings and win back control of your business. Do not become resigned to the belief that OTAs will always dominate hotels. You have the ability to fight, so let the battle begin.

To read more blogs about the hospitality industry:  http://gogroupbooking.com/category/blog

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The 3 Technology Trends for Hotels in 2016, You Can’t Afford To Miss

As you probably already know, emerging and ever more advanced technology and software is bringing about unprecedented and irreversible change to your industry. Just think how technology has changed the hotel business in the past ten years. Providing free Wi-Fi in bedrooms used to be a luxury but in the age of constant connectivity, not having free Wi-Fi in a guest’s bedroom is like not having a bed in a hotel room.

I know it can be a bit daunting trying to get your head around all the latest technology and software trends and innovations. However the right technology if used in the right way can really help your hotel improve its operating efficiencies and generate higher revenues.

  In this blog I want to share with you the 3 most sufficient technology trends for the hospitality industry for the next two years. After reading this blog I want you to have a far greater understanding of how technology is changing and shaping the business you rely on.

Personalisation and Mobile Devices

Contemporary hotel guests are a demanding bunch. They want and expect hotels to deliver an ever more personalised service that caters for their own specific needs and wants. Guests want you and your staff to make them feel important and to treat them like a VIP.

The demand from guests’ for greater customer service has lead to the creation of what industry insiders call the “Personalised model” of guest service. The personalised model gives guests greater control over their hotel stay.

For example, guests can decide through their smartphones, the lighting in their room, what size their hotel room will be, what type of bed they will sleep on, what temperature the room will be set at, and what type food will be stocked in the minibar. Just think how impressed your guests would be if they could, through their phones, personalise their hotel bedroom the way they want.

Jonathan Barsky in his blog, “Personalization is Becoming a Reality Across the Hospitality Industry”, gives a really good example of personalized service, “Imagine this, you leave your hotel with the lights dimmed half-way, your favourite news station on the television, and the thermostat set at 68 degrees. Then, two weeks later you return to the same hotel, and you find the room exactly the way you left it, except the room number is different.”

Delivering a personalized service however does require hotels to fully embrace mobile technology. Guests need to be able to download apps to their smartphones that allow them create their own unique personalised hotel stay. Mobile Media are one of a number of companies that focus on developing apps for hotels and have a good record.

During the 2012 Olympic Games Samsung and Holiday Inn teamed up to allow travellers control their room TVs, lighting, and air conditioning via smartphone apps and Samsung has continued to develop apps for the hospitality sector.

No segment of hotel guest embodies the move towards the ultra personalised service than the tech savvy millennial generation (The generation aged between 20-35 years old). The millennials are very used to being able to tailor services and products to their specific needs and wants; and they are also the generation that lives their lives through their smartphones.

As the millennials come of age and their incomes grow they become ever more important to the hospitality sector. It is forecasted that the millennial generation will replace the baby boomers as the dominant consumer group by 2017.

If you want to attract the modern young professional hotel guest to your hotel you will have to ensure your hotel provides the best possible personalised service. Many tourists and hospitality experts argue that technology enabled personalisation service can generate increased customer loyalty, higher occupancy rates, and larger income for hotels.

The Benefits of Cloud Software as a Service

   Cloud software as a service (SaaS) is increasingly been adopted by hoteliers as an alternative to on premise web servers. SaaS has been around for a number of years but hotels have been slow to fully embrace SaaS.

However, 2016 will be the year hotels finally jump on the SaaS bandwagon. Under the SaaS model hotels subscribe to a licensed cloud provider and software applications are delivered via the internet and browser. The hotel doesn’t buy the software, it simply rents the software app from a cloud service. Think of SaaS the  same as you think of an electricity company. You don’t produce your electricity yourself; instead you sign up to an electric company and pay a fee for whatever amount of electricity you use.   

Benefits to this Include:

  • Low Costs: The main advantage of the SaaS platform is the costs of maintaining servers, networks, maintenance, data backups, and storage capacity is zero.
  • No Location, No equipment: SaaS businesses apps are accessible anytime and anywhere by using an internet enabled device. Hotels don’t have to invest in expensive equipment when they’re operating on a cloud service.
  • Automatic Software Updates: With the cloud platform you are always logging into the latest updated version of property management software solutions (PMS). You will never again be behind the curve when it comes to latest software for hotels.

           Calum Mclndoe in his blog, “Six Technology Trends Revolutionising the Hospitality industry”, writes “Hotels like SaaS because, upfront investment is lower with the cloud as there are no initial hardware costs or associated expenses such as full time in-house IT staff to maintain the system.”

Hotels also favour the cloud because they like the idea of taking IT off site and freeing themselves of the headaches IT can bring. Hotels from large chains to small boutique hotels and everything in between are increasingly seeing the benefits of SaaS.

Cloud software as service is finally reaching the hospitality industry and once it arrives it won’t be going anywhere because the sky really is the limit for cloud computing.

Group Payment Software  

If you work in a hotel that caters for a lot of group bookings, you will know the hardships and problems group bookings cause hotel staff. Having to constantly chase up organisers and group members for payment, finalise the group size while also trying to get a room lists together in time can be very frustrating and stressful.

However, there are group payment systems available for hotels that are specifically designed to alleviate many of the problems and stresses linked to group bookings. The best group payment systems allow individual group members to book and pay for their accommodation online via smartphone/tablet/laptop/desktop.

Allowing individual group members pay online for their accommodation has two major advantages for hotels. First, hotels receive payment weeks in advance of the arrival, which is always nice. Secondly, a group payment system makes organising and finalising room lists for group bookings considerably easier and less stressful.

Conclusion   

My goal for this blog was to share with you the latest technology trends which are dramatically changing and revolutionizing the hotel business. Traditionally the hospitality industry has been slow in utilizing new technology.

But that has got to change.  If your hotel doesn’t fully embrace new technology, then you risk your hotel been left behind in the last century along with the fax machine and dial up internet.       

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D2

How Online Review Sites Are Affecting Your Hotel

Before the age of the internet, social media, online travel agents (OTAs), and online review sites, a bad review from a guest was just that, a bad review. But in today’s world where everyone is connected to everybody through the World Wide Web, two or three bad review from guests on Trip Advisor has the potential to seriously damage your hotel.

Just as negative online reviews can hurt a hotel’s reputation, a serious of good reviews can build a strong and respected reputation for a hotel.

The Impact of Online Reviews

Increasingly a guest’s first action after choosing a location is to get their smartphone or tablet out and look up online reviews for hotels in the area they’re going to be visiting. A recent survey carried out by Search Engine Land; found that 88% of people surveyed now trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Big OTA sites such as Holiday Check, Booking.com, and Trivago can offer travellers tens of millions of hotel reviews to look at. In March 2013 TripAdvisor announced it had 100 million reviews uploaded to its site.

As hotel review sites such as TripAdvisor grew in popularity and started to gain more influence over travellers, tensions between hotels and review sites were inevitably going to rise. It looked like hotels were preparing to declare all out war on review sites in 2011, after number of hotels brought TripAdvisor to court alleging that false and misleading reviews were published.

However since 2012, relations between review sites and hotels have improved considerably and a number of hotel chains have now entered into partnerships with review sites. For example, the Four Seasons group allows potential guests to access Trip Advisor reviews through its own website.

The reason for this change in attitudes is because hotels now understand that review sites cannot be beaten and are here to stay. A 2012, study by Forrester found that over 50% of travellers would not book a hotel that didn’t have online reviews.

How to Generate Positive Reviews for your Hotel

Positive reviews on review websites such as Trip Advisor can be extremely beneficial for your hotel. According to hospitality and resource tools.com, a one star increase on your average rating online can increase your hotel’s income by 9%. 360E-commerce found that revenue rose by 56% for hotels that consistently generated good online reviews.

Clearly generating a consistent and steady flow of positive reviews is very important for your hotel. But achieving this is easier said than done. However there are some practices you and your staff can follow to ensure you achieve a high number of good online reviews for your hotel.

Become a Guest: It is a really good idea for hotel managers and owners to experience what it’s like to be a guest at their hotel. Hoteliers that familiarise themselves with the guest experience get a much better appreciation of what a guest like and dislike about their hotel.

Be Honest and Manage Guest Expectations:  A lot of hotels fall into the trap of overselling and over promising. Over selling and over promising will be perceived by guests as been dishonest and will lead to an avalanche of bad reviews been posted online.

Deliver Excellent Guest Service: Exceeding your guest’s expectations is a great way to ensure you generate a large number of positive online reviews. Try and anticipate your guests’ needs before they even ask. This isn’t always an easy thing to accomplish but if you and your staff can pull it off, your guests will be blown away by your customer service and will be far more likely to post good reviews.

In her article, The Best Referral Strategy on the Plant, Marla Diann writes, “When we go well beyond meeting the expectations of our clients, and give them those special “extras” that simply “wow” them – we have the making of a raving fan and a loyal client who will more than likely write a great review.

How to Deal with a Bad Review

We know how important online reviews are to hotels. Regularly obtaining good reviews online will do wonders for your hotel’s reputation and really help boost your hotel’s revenue. But what happens when your hotel gets a bad review on Trip Advisor or another review site? No matter how great your hotel and staff are, you are bound to get a bad review every once in a while. It’s simply impossible to please every single guest every single time.

Some experts claim that one bad review can result in up to 30 lost reservations, while this may be over stating the problem slightly there is no doubt that bad reviews online are bad for business.

However hotel owners and managers do have some options when their hotel receives a negative review. The consensus amongst industry experts is that hotels should respond to every negative online review.

A 2012 survey of 2,800 people carried out by TripAdvisor and PhocusWright found that 84% of respondents agreed that an appropriate management response to a negative online review improved their impression of the hotel. 64% of respondents agreed that an aggressive or defensive management response to a negative review made them less likely to book a stay at that hotel.

It is clear that the way you respond to bad reviews is key. Carolyn Murphy a in her blog, How to Respond to Negative reviews, outlines the steps you should take when responding to a bad review.

Thank the guests by name: You should thank guests by their name for their feedback even if the review is aggressive and upsetting. The effects of a bad review can be alleviated if you handle the situation with tact and politeness.

Apologize for the guest’s poor experience:  An apology is not an admission of guilt. You are simply apologizing and expressing sympathy that the guest’s expectations were not met.

Address Complaints Quickly: If a guest comes to you with a problem or complaint you have to make sure you address that problem promptly and effectively. Failure to deal with the issue will in all probability result in a bad review for your hotel. Guests want their complaints to be taken seriously.

Evaluate the need for follow up procedures: If you have the guest’s email address it is a good idea to email them and ask them some follow-up questions such as.

  • Did this guest experience a systemic problem that each customer could face?
  • Is there an easy fix to the problem?
  • Is the problem unfounded or not likely to be repeated?

Emailing the guest will also mean that the conversation will be moved off a review site and into a private setting, avoiding any more PR damage.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that online reviews are having a major impact on the hospitality industry. The number of online reviews your hotel can expect in a year is growing year on year.This blog has outlined the steps you can take to ensure your hotel generates a consistent flow of positive reviews and outlined the action you should take if your hotel does receive a bad review

Online reviews are going nowhere; travellers trust them and will read them in ever increasing numbers before they book a hotel. Hotels have no other choice but to adapt and expect the influence of online reviews. For better or worse, the guest is now well and truly King.

 

 

 

C1

Why Hotel Loyalty Programs are Good for Hotels

 Why Hotel Loyalty Programs are Good for Hotels 

Generating new business and attracting new guests requires significant investment in marketing and advertising. Media campaigns, improving your search engine optimization, or paying online travel agents such Booking.com a higher commission hurt your bottom line and are drag on your capital resources.

It is far more logical to develop a steady flow of repeat business from your past guests. Research carried out by Second Opinion Marketing found that it cost five to eight times less to retain existing customers than attracting new customers.

One of the best ways to boost your hotel’s repeat business is to establish a guest loyalty program. This blog will provide you with an overview of hotel loyalty programs and the benefits a loyalty program can bring to your hotel.

How Hotel Loyalty Programs Work 

A hotel loyalty program works in very much the same way as frequent flyer miles work in the airline industry. Guests accumulate free awards when they make repeated purchases with a hotel. Typically a hotel loyalty program will offer guests (depending on the amount of points they have earned) value-added benefits such as free room upgrades, early check-in and late check-out, free spa treatments and guaranteed room availability.

Jennifer Nagy in her blog, The Importance of Hotel Loyalty Programs, argues that the so-called ladder format is the best format for a hotel loyalty program. As members of the loyalty program earn more points, they are able to redeem their points for higher-value rewards. “This format makes the ladder system effective at incentivizing loyalty amongst hotel guests,” writes Nagy.

The format of the ladder system also means that guests with a small or medium size budget to spend can benefit from a hotel’s loyalty program. Many hotels make the mistake of solely targeting their loyalty program on elite guests who are able to spend huge sums of money when staying at a hotel. To get the most out of a loyalty program you will have to make sure there are attractive rewards on offer to all guests and not just guests with big wallets.

Communication To build loyalty and generate repeat business among members of your loyalty program you will have to find an effective and efficient way to communicate with your program’s membership. Members of your loyalty program will need to know how many points they have, how they can redeem them, and what rewards they are entitled to. Some hotels have introduced a standalone app for reward management, while other hotels communicate with members through general hotel management apps that also provide guests with information about check-in and check-out as well as information about loyalty points. You can also simply send your members an email notifying them of their points and what their entitled to.

The Benefits of a Hotel Loyalty Programs

Hotel loyalty programs have been around since the early 1980s and were developed by large hotel chains to ensure guest retention and to encourage active purchases. However in recent years some experts in the tourism and hospitality industry have started to question the value of loyalty programs for hotels.

Critics of loyalty programs point to the fact that it costs hotels somewhere between 1% and 5% of room revenue to create, promote, and operate a loyalty program.

So do loyalty programs benefit hotels or are they a waste of time and money? The Centre for Hospitality Research carried a study of 50,000 hotels in North America over two years to determine if hotel loyalty programs were worth the time and money hotels spend on them.

The study found that, once a guest signed up to a hotel’s loyalty program the frequency of stays booked by a guest at that hotel rose on average by 49%. The study also found that loyalty programs accounted for a 57% rise in bedroom revenue.

The authors of the report wrote, “Hotels in the study are seeing a substantial revenue increase when their guests enroll in a properly conceived and executed program.” The authors went on to write, “Loyalty programs can and do deliver positive results in terms of revenue, stay frequency, and guests spending.”

Loyalty programs also provide hotels with a wealth of information on their guests. Hotels that operate a loyalty program have insight in to who their guests are, what they like, and where there from. All this valuable information can be used by hotels to create laser focused marketing campaigns for various different kinds of guests.

Conclusion

There has been a trend recently amongst big utility companies to offer very good deals to new customers while simultaneously raising prices for existing customers. I have argued throughout this blog for hotels to do the opposite, and to concentrate on guest retention and less on attracting new guests. It makes far more sense for hotels to generate more repeat business than constantly trying to drum up new business.

Loyalty programs are becoming an increasingly important factor in determining what hotel a guest decides to book a stay in. A study carried out by Market Metrix found that the desirability of a hotel’s loyalty program ranked fourth in the top deciding factors that influence guests when booking a hotel.

If your hotel doesn’t have a loyalty program then get your team together and make it your top priority to develop an efficient and effective loyalty program for your hotel.

 

To read more blogs about the hospitality industry  click the link:  http://gogroupbooking.com/category/blog