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In Search of the Holy Grail in a Perfect Website
By Larry Mogelonsky
This past month, I had the privilege of judging entries for this year’s HSMAI (Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International) competition. This annual program calls for hotels and their agencies to submit their marketing efforts to be ranked among the best in the world. Competition is fierce, and this year well over 1,000 entries were received. Judges can choose to examine any number of entry types. I chose websites, as more than 150 different entries were posted.
The goal of any judge is to be fair and above board in basing decisions. In doing so, we are provided with a summary of communications, all with the identical format, and a scorecard which ranks five core attributes on a scale from 1 (worst) to 10 (best). The attributes are straightforward, including creativity and results.
After reviewing about 65 different individual hotel sites (I chose not to judge sites from CVBs, hotel chains and other related entities), it was clear that several did rise to the top. Hence, lessons for all.
Establishing a Criteria for Judging
Judges are left to their own devices insofar as what criteria they use to make decisions. The approach I took was an attempt to emulate the potential guest. In other words, I attacked the site from the standpoint of someone reaching it through search or referral, but with no prior knowledge of the property. On this basis, my goal was to see if the site could accomplish the following:
Not surprisingly, most of the sites I reviewed scored well on the first five of six criteria. There were some with programming glitches (404 errors, 500 errors, etc.), and a few sites did not have any social media – rather surprising in today’s Facebook and Twitter-driven landscape. Some had problems on the iPad. Still others had so much content that the site became cluttered with confusing navigation.
But, the separation of the wheat from the chaff came in the area of uniqueness – the X factor. Disappointingly, many of the sites appeared to be cookie-cutters, using an identical template from other sites with minor tweaks to the fonts, colors and names of some of the navigation elements.
With traditional advertising costs prohibitive to all but a few liquid brands and operators, how are you going to set your property apart with this, the kernel of marketing elements? Is this a pennywise and foolhardy approach? Hardly.
Photography is the Cornerstone
The other aspect of this process was photography. To make a great site, you need great photos. Not surprisingly, some of the sites I rated higher also had the best photography. Here is a rule of thumb: 50% of your web budget or more should go into photography. Good photography sells rooms. Great photography sells the vision of a fantastic vacation and gets the buzz started before the trip even begins. A picture really is worth a thousand words.
Of the 65-plus sites I personally reviewed, five clearly stood out as exemplary. Want to find out who has the best site? Guess you’ll have to attend the HSMAI Awards Gala in February 2013 or wait for the results to be published in the journals. Until then, my lips are sealed.
About Larry Mogelonsky
Larry Mogelonsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the president and founder of LMA Communications Inc. (www.lma.ca), an award-winning, full service communications agency focused on the hospitality industry (est. 1991). Larry is also the developer of Inn at a Glance hospitality software. As a recognized expert in marketing services, his experience encompasses Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Preferred Hotels & Resorts, as well as numerous independent properties throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Larry is a registered professional engineer, and received his MBA from McMaster University.
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