If you follow the 7 steps below, you will be well on the way to a successful online presence. There are really two components. The first two steps are about building your core asset (your website), the platform from which you can do all the rest. To read more about the way all these steps fit together have a read about the accommodation buying cycle.
1 :: Great Digital Content
You need great digital photos and interesting stories to get the attention of travellers when they visit your website or read about you on blogs or Facebook. The smaller the property, the more important it is to focus on the people – the owners and staff. Quality content on your website is important for presenting a professional image for your business. Fresh, original content is also important for search engines such as Google, and helps your ranking on search engines.
2 :: Build a Professional Website
Your website is the first impression people will have about your business. So, from a traveller’s perspective, it needs to be clean (uncluttered), attractive (great photos and stylish layout), have all the important information, and be VERY easy to navigate (i.e. easy for the traveller to find what they want). It should also be trustworthy (professional looking and secure) and allow travellers to check availability and book instantly. From the owner’s perspective, it should be easy to update or change (internally), have all the important information available, rank well on search engines, and be reliable with minimal downtime. It should also be very affordable and easy to integrate with online tools like booking engines and channel management.
3 :: Get Some Free Listings
Once you have your website, your first priority is to be found by travellers, driving visits to your site. The quickest way to do this is to get listed on as many other free websites as possible, such as local or regional government tourism websites. The Fijime site in Fiji is a good example, or this tourism association website in Malawi. The more free sites you can list your website on the better, as they will all drive traffic to your website, and you will not have to pay any commissions for these bookings.
4 :: Get Listed on Google Maps
A couple of years ago, Google started to give priority to map listings when travellers search for accommodations. If you do a search in Google for “Luang Prabang Hotels” for example, you will see a map in the top right corner with flags showing where hotels are located. Also on the front page you will see the links to these “flagged” hotels. This means that it is very important that you register with Google and get your property listed with your website address so that travellers can find you easily right on the top of the search engine.
5 :: Use Online Travel Agents (OTAs) to Boost Sales
A huge number of travellers use OTAs to make their travel bookings. Popular ones include Expedia, Booking.com, Orbitz, Wotif, Agoda, Venere, HotelsCombined and whl.travel. You pay commissions in the range of 10-25% for bookings on these OTAs, so they are not cheap. However, they can process a large volume of bookings, which can be extremely helpful in improving occupancy in low or shoulder seasons. The challenge in working with these sites is firstly that they only process live inventory (you need to keep room availability up to date) and you will need to work with several if you want to get the best results. The best way to do this is using channel management. Channel management consolidates all your available rooms in one place, and all the selected OTAs have access. The first OTA to get a customer gets the room, without your direct involvement.
6 :: Use Traveller Feedback to Build Your Brand
The number one tool travellers use to select accommodation is feedback – either from friends and family, or from other travellers on sites like TripAdvisor. The single best investment you can make to get travellers coming to you is to be one of the top listed accommodations for your destination on TripAdvisor. Holding a top position could increase your sales considerably.
7 :: Engage with your Guests (Get Social)
Social media is becoming a hugely important way for accommodation providers to build and maintain relations with guests and find new guests through word of mouth feedback and active referrals. Tools are also available now to put booking functionality on your Facebook page, creating a whole new channel to market for you.