The latest figures suggest that up to 95 per cent of domestic and international holidaymakers research and book their trips online, so if you are going to have any chance of making your bed and breakfast a success, an online marketing strategy needs to be extremely high on your list of priorities.
Of course, the first thing you need to do is build a web site. The key things your site needs to do are communicate your key points of difference, appeal directly to your target market and be extremely easy to use. Including an online booking system is a given.
The devil is in the detail
In the world of web design, sometimes even the smallest details can make the world of difference. Fabienne Wintle of UntangleMyWeb.com has the following advice, “Once visitors land on your website you want to make sure you have all the elements in place to entice them to book online or at least enquire. Have a look at www.whichtestwon.com to understand how a small change in the colour of your book now button could improve your bookings.”
Providing multiple levels of communication is also important. Wintle suggests including a chat tool so that you can engage with potential customers immediately and answer any questions they might have directly. A free live chat tool called Zopim is available at www.zopim.com. Being able to handle enquiries is crucial, so make sure that as a minimum you include an online form that requires visitors to submit their email addresses, enabling you to reach them directly with more targeted campaigns. It’s also worth bearing in mind that most people book holidays on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, so you will need to man the enquiries feed over the weekend.
Seek and ye shall find
According to Cherie Donavan, the owner of the historic Segenhoe Inn in the Upper Hunter Valley in NSW, 90 per cent of her bookings come from the internet, with an estimated 80 per cent of first time guests finding it via a Google search.
Wintle also stresses the importance of achieving a good ranking on the major search engines: “Think about your website as a newly-opened shop. Unless there is signage and advertising your shop will remain the best kept secret. One of the most cost-effective ways is to research the keywords your target market is likely to use and SEO your website for those searches. You can either do this yourself (the ATDW’s tourism ekit is a great place to start www.atdw.com.au/tourism_e_kit.asp) or engage the services of SEO professionals (starting at approximately $300 per month). Only four out of 10 accommodation businesses in Australia use SEO in their business so if you get this right you will start to rank above many of your competitors.”
Spread the word
Just as important as setting up your own site is ensuring that you are listed on all of the major accommodation portals such as www.lastminute.com or www.wotif.com. According to Donavan, “I am constantly uploading new sites. It’s a numbers game – the more sites a venue is on the better the chances of bookings. It takes a lot of time to list with all of these sites, but a couple of years ago I subscribed to a channel manager, www.siteminder.com, which has made things a little easier in terms of keeping track of inventory.”
Similarly the new breed of group buying sites can help increase occupancy rates in slower months. “Group buying/selling sites have come into being with a vengeance and the number of them is growing daily, so if you can’t beat them you have to join them!” explains Donavan. “I registered a deal with www.dealme.com.au and www.spreets.com.au. Since these group booking sites have appeared, I’ve noticed a downturn in the number of bookings from the more traditional sites like www.wotif.com, which can’t compete with the offers featured on these sites or the urgency of purchase they promote. The demographic using these sites is mostly the younger, tech savvy market and my bookings from this sector increased by 191 this year (around 40 per cent of my annual income). But I have to work a lot harder for my money as the profit on these bookings is greatly reduced.”
Keep them coming back for more
Stay in touch with your guests via an e-zine, a newsletter, a twitter feed, or even just a Facebook page (that you update regularly, of course). It’ll keep you front of mind when they’re booking their next holiday or recommending accommodation to their friends. Satisfied customers can also help you leverage review sites such as www.tripadvisor.com.au. Make it easy for them to post positive comments on the site, and encourage them to do so in an email after they leave.
As Wintle says: “Social media is a real asset to accommodation businesses as it gives past customers the opportunity to brag about their stay and show the world what a wonderful experience they had. TripAdvisor in particularl is often compared to the online version of a guest book. The key difference being that those wonderful comments that guests left are now viewable by potential guests and read by search engines instead of remaining locked in the cottages!”