It's more about reaching targeted travel shoppers online with the right content in the right format than it is about responsive web design for hotels. And in most cases, the combination of a traditional and mobile website is just as productive as responsive design.
What is responsive design?
Let's leave the technical lingo to IT for now. In fact, even moving forward, you should leave the technical side of design to your digital marketing partner. In layman's terms, responsive design generally means that a website (one URL/website address) responds to the device or screen on which it's being viewed. The site morphs to better accommodate the resolution and size of the screen — from site layout, to size of imagery, even to the amount of copy in some instances. So whichever of the four screens — PC/laptop, tablet, smartphone or Internet TV — a travel shopper is using, the site will look custom built for that screen. To see this in action, visit The Chancellor Hotel's responsive site on various devices. For a more detailed explanation of responsive design, with a little bit of that technical lingo, read the following articles:
No, there is no mandate by search engines or Internet browsers. There is also no requirement that you must have a separate mobile-friendly version of your traditional website. However, you need to utilize one or the other, especially when eMarketer projects that 20% of U.S. travelers will book travel on smartphones in 2013. Furthermore, our own client data has shown an increasing number of travel shoppers mapping, viewing photos, and calling from and booking on mobile devices. Our industry is a complex, increasingly mobile marketplace, and consumers simply have too many options on various types of screens for your hotel not to quickly evolve. Otherwise, you'll look dated and lose revenue.
Which is best, one responsive website, or multiple websites/URLs (traditional site + mobile site)?
Both setups can be equally effective. And what's best for one property isn't necessarily best for another. A resort in a competitive destination area that has a 30 page site may not benefit as much from responsive design. It wouldn't make sense to serve up 30 pages of content to smartphone users, and could be tricky to decide which copy to omit as screens get smaller. In this case, a traditional site that covers PC/laptops AND tablets, along with a separate mobile site, might be the answer. Check out Sugar Bay Resort and Spa's site on a PC and tablet to see an example of a site with best practices that allow it to function equally well on both screens. View the resort's mobile site on a smartphone to see the condensed, focused mobile version.
What is Google's stance?
Google supports both setups that a property could have: a responsive website OR a multiple website/URL setup. The following is taken directly from Google Developers:
Google recommends webmasters follow the industry best practice of using responsive web design, namely serving the same HTML for all devices and using only CSS media queries to decide the rendering on each device.
If responsive design is not the best option to serve your users, Google supports having your content being served using different HTML. The different HTML can be on the same URL or on different URLs, and Googlebot can handle both setups appropriately if you follow our recommendations.
Translation: Google fully supports both options, and can serve up any site without issue. Regardless of which option is utilized, SEO results shouldn't be affected.
The Bottom Line — Reach Your Target with Optimized Content in the Right Format to Drive Reservations
Whether your property uses a fully responsive design that functions across all screens or a combination of a traditional website and mobile website, the user experience should be seamless. You may have a leisure travel shopper on a laptop spend 10 minutes researching your room options, amenities, local area, etc., while a business traveler looks to make a quick last minute booking on an iPhone. These two travelers, and EVERYONE in between, should be provided the information they need in a design and format that makes researching and booking easy. As long as you're delivering on that and adapting to match consumer behavior, you'll get the engagement and conversions you need from your hotel's Internet marketing.