Relationship strategy for hotel web sites
Food and Beverage

Relationship strategy for hotel web sites

When asked what hoteliers seek to achieve through their Web sites, they quoted the following answers:

Bullet Point Tickadditional sales
Bullet Point Tickincrease product awareness among customers; and
Bullet Point Tickto provide a “reference tool” for customers.

This suggests that if there is any marketing strategy behind the development of the Web sites, is transaction oriented. If customer and affiliate retention is a priority for the hotel business then
relationship marketing cannot be optional.

Long-term retention of customers requires the following five incremental steps.

(1) Identify more about the customer through database analysis. Use data from, room registration cards, in-house guests, in-house dining programmes, in-house contests and health club registration cards. The role of the hotel Web site could be to compile information on what an individual purchases or may want, using an incentivised online questionnaire. Use web analytics to monitor web visitor reactions to different offers posted on the hotel Web site and develop customer segment profiles to better target specific groups.

(2) Improve and make the product/service more attractive. Again, customised online questionnaires could be targeted to frequent guests to collect their attitudes to services or loyalty programmes. The hotel company could use this information to improve aspects of the service that are not meeting or exceeding the expectation of customers. In addition, lapsed or inactive hotel customers could be cost-efficiently contacted using e-mail.

(3) Inform to build customers’ knowledge of the company. The Web could serve as a strategic information centre. Key information, such as lists and locations of key agents, as well as hotel company updates on new products, services, offers and benefits, could all be posted on the hotel Web site. Electronic newsletters could also be e-mailed to both prospective and loyal customers. In this manner, customers will have increased knowledge of the hotel company, which could enhance customer brand loyalty. I knew one hotel owner who used his dog as a marketing tool. He published a blog diary about his dog’s adventures. He would take a picture of Archie at an obscure local location and post the picture to his blog┬ásaying “Where is Archie.” Winner’s where listed with brief comments of how the winner identified Archie’s location. When Archie past on, for some time afterwards he was asked about Archie. His blog provided an effective reason for visitors to return to his hotel website which was his intention. He got the idea while watching Rick Stein and Chalky on the television and the campaign cost him very little to produce.

(4) Tempt customers to purchase more regularly try different products, etc. The Web could operationalise this objective by direct e-mailing to frequent hotel guests special electronic promotion leaflets. Furthermore, the hotel Web site could be designed to cross-sell other hotel and or affiliates products/services. For example Hilton Hotels has a “Create your own e-Brochure” designed to tempt customers to try other services of Hilton by displaying short messages. If you add affiliates products and services these should be distinctive and local for example local artists, food producers, clothing etc. anything that cannot be easily purchased elsewhere but your customer segment values. Subconsciously you are attempting to insight positive emotions, experiences i.e. reasons to return and or explore new horizons.

(5) Retain the customer by developing different forms of loyalty schemes. Inspired by the success of the airlines’ frequent-flyer programmes, hotels have started their own frequent-stayer programmes or customer loyalty schemes. A Web site could be designed for the exclusive use of hotel loyalty scheme members. Web site entry should be restricted through the use of identification numbers and passwords. Members-only magazines and special offers could be posted on these exclusive Web pages. Various customer services could also be offered, again exclusively to members. For example, the members of Sheraton’s loyalty programme, Sheraton Club International, could keep track of their account activity and redeem rewards online.

Gilbert’s model can also be considered within the context of criteria for a successful Web strategy advocated by the Butler Group, which advises organisations to:

  • exploit the Internet unique properties. such as interaction with customers;
  • start with customers by defining who they are and what they want to know;
  • build relationships with customers by getting to know them, customising content for them and ensuring relevance to them;
  • build a service, not a Web site, by giving customers value for time and money and by providing options not available elsewhere;
  • leverage existing business by building on assets (brand names. operational infrastructure, information, customer relationships); and
  • think radically to achieve the best chance of obtaining the benefits offered by the technology.
  • Extend special features for potential and existing website visitors; such as general information, online enrolment, restricted frequent guest area, online account review, create personalised webpage allow customers to modify their profile, address Web visitor by name, welcome message, special Web “offers, perhaps rewards online.
  • Allow feedback, use online survey questionnaires, and use social networking, blogs, and newsletters to promote questionnaires.
  • Allow encourage customers to book their meeting facilities online use online meeting planning worksheets to guide them through the process.
  • Provide free hotel Wi-Fi, online currency converter service, links to weather reports, information on business and travel, news and current affairs, links to travel partners, and links to other Web sites (local visitor attractions). Develop links based on what your customer segment definition is. Use web analytics’ to monitor whether these links appeal, be prepared to change add links to retain visitor interest.
  • Provide concierge services, theatre tickets, flowers, IT and business support services, chauffeur driven car services, hire car services etc.

Hotels with multiple properties could use the Web as an internal marketing tool for example communications ebullient board, for HR recruitment, discounts for staff and family members to use the hotel and other hotels properties during quite periods of the year.

Conclusion

“If you can keep your customers they themselves will generate new business by word of mouth.” If you run themed event weekends or educational orientated training such as cooking, wine education courses the web can be an effective tool to gain permission to market to customers. One to promote the event, to educate prior to and after the event.

If your region organises book, flower, gardening festivals etc. offer bespoke packages to fit event agenda, organise transport, picnics, perhaps event introductory talks, event guided tour a summarised ‘event end presentation’ (an opportunity to promote future events).

Business success in essence comes down to points of difference customers value and are willing and able to pay for. Therefore all client communications i.e newsletters, blogs etc. must focus on the value the media offers the perspective customer. After all the potential customer can easily withdraw their permission for you to market to them.

References

Journal of Marketing Practice; Applied Marketing Science, Vol.5 No. 1, 1999, pp 21-38 University Press, 1355-2538

Christopher Bird Author

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