Top 5 Reasons for Chain Hotels to have an Independent Website

I don’t think I need to elaborate on the case for independent hotels having their own website. Clearly, they do and we all understand that.

However, every once in a while, I do come across hoteliers that are representing properties that are under a “Flag” or established brands such as Howard Johnson, Ramada, etc. Normally, their online presence is their page on the brand website. And for the most part, they are quite satisfied with that equation. It is one less headache to worry about and the brand takes care of all the marketing, maintenance, and even Pay-per-click marketing.

Given that the incentive is so less for a hotelier to consider their own independent online presence, in some cases the brand strictly disallows hotels from having their own websites (closing the door for any discussion to begin with).  This post isn’t for those hotels.

This post is for those hotels where they DO have the option to have their own website.  And I’m on the side of the argument that if you do have the option, then take it!

I’m not saying that your presence on the brand website isn’t good. Not at all! This is about “supplementing” your online presence with your own hotel website.

Having your website gives you some very distinct advantages. Here are the top 5:

  1. You control the narrative.
    An independent, custom designed website is in a position to showcase your property the way YOU want it showcased. You are no longer dependent on the rigid structure of the brand. If the highlight of your property is the location, then have a ball showing that location shot smack on the homepage – and rave all about it. If you think that your service levels are far superior to similar properties within the same brand or the competition, talk freely about that. The point is that YOU decide what the conversation centerpiece is going to be. Brand websites are not designed to be that flexible.
  2. You control the visual experience
    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… visuals matter! You should try and use the overall colors of the brand (so the guest can relate with the brand at some level), but beyond that, it’s up to you. I’m a big fan of using images and visuals to convey a message rather than pages and pages of text. You can have as many photo-galleries as you’d like. Ditto for videos. If your location is right in the middle of a bustling city centre, go ahead and add a Walk Score Map to your site to show how easily accessible your location is. Your visitors will thank you for it. Don’t expect your brand to display that Walkscore Map anytime soon.
  3. You control the engagement
    So you are a firm believer in social media and you think you have the audience that will respond well if you had an active social media presence. Having your own website lets you do exactly that. A Twitter stream, Facebook updates and embedded YouTube videos are all possible and really easy to implement – right within your website. Sure, you can have an active presence in all these channels without having a website, but now, you have a “Home” where all these efforts coalesce. A visitor might click the “Connect with Us” link and arrive at a page where he/she sees all these social media streams in one place. It certainly gives your visitors a very accurate idea of how engaged you are with your guests. TripAdvisor recently came up with a widget that allows guests to post reviews of their stay with you right from your website. Here’s a video of how that works. How much easier does it get?
  4. You own the visitor
    I’ll need to elaborate a bit here. Most hotel marketing professionals understand the value of OTAs such as Expedia, Travelocity, etc. They have a big role to play in the marketing mix. No denying that. However, the downside is that even if people looking for your hotel on those sites, their loyalties are being challenged every step of the way through better rates, location or service design. You have it relatively better with brand websites. Notice I said “better”, not “best”. A brand will still want the reservation on their system. It doesn’t matter to them which property gets it. So essentially, you don’t really own the visitor while they’re shopping on the brand domain. But if the visitor is on your own website, you control the conversation and the narrative – without any distracting elements to draw him/her away. On the contrary, you get a much better chance of securing that reservation by using various CTAs (Calls to Action) on high-traffic pages. Once you’ve been able to convince the visitors that your property is what they want, send them over to the reservation module on the brand website to complete the reservation.
    To put it simply, lets take Apple products as an example. Which environment is more “immersive” for their customers so they get the sale and can even upsell?  The Apple Store or Best Buy? You get the point, right?
  5. You control the marketing efforts
    Not every brand can have its properties show up as the #1 search result on Google. So while they do their best to boost organic search results, help yourself by adding to the marketing effort. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) on your own website is completely under your control. Use a mix of tags, content, and links to shore up your organic search results. If there’s a big event happening around you, talk/write about it. Post links, videos. Chances are that people searching for the event may land up on your site. Did I mention that this kind of stuff helps your SEO activities a lot?

OK, so much for the advantages. I’d consider it irresponsible if I didn’t mention the downsides/costs/concerns associated with having your own website. So here are the things you need to be aware of:

  • Development and Maintenance Costs
    Yes, if you want your own website, you’re going to have to spend money getting it developed. Depending on the type of solution you’re looking for, there could be maintenance and hosting costs involved too. I’d recommend listening to the episode of Hotel Website Design – Getting it Right. There’s some really useful stuff there.
  • Marketing Costs
    This one is a variable, depending on how aggressive you want to go. I’ve seen clients drop tons of money on Pay-per-Click campaigns (that compete directly with the brand’s PPC campaign). Others take a relatively longer term approach and focus on free traffic from organic search results. Still others get creative and engage in competition profiling to attract traffic. Of course the one thing you DO NOT want to do is to do zero marketing. That’s really defeating the purpose of having a website in the first place. One of my favorite quotes is “Building a website without marketing it is dancing in the dark – You know what you’re doing, but nobody else does”.
  • Legal stuff
    Don’t take this lightly. Always ask your brand what the guidelines are before you shell out big bucks on your website. Most brands will have a set of rules that you’d need to follow. Sometimes, they’ll relate to design and navigation, other times they may lay down what you can and cannot have on the website.
  • ADR, Occupancy and RevPAR
    If you are selling your room via the Chain website reservation system, you are still selling at the published rate. Don’t expect to see a jump in ADR. However, if your website does a good job of product differentiation (clearly explaining the value add of higher priced rooms), then you will see a jump. Obviously, the better you are able to make the case that your property is what your visitors needs, the more favorably you impact your occupancy and ultimately, RevPAR.
  • Don’t screw it up
    The last thing you want is to end up with a site that is a lot WORSE than the one your brand is offering. That would really destroy any credibility that the brand has built up for you. You also run the very real risk of damaging the brand itself. So if you’re going to do it, make sure you have the funds and expertise to get it right.

So there it is folks. Hope this helps you in making up your mind along the way. Of course, I may have missed a few points so feel free to post your comments in the comments section below.

Take care

Rohit Seth
Host – Hotel Marketing Podcast

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