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Hotels Should Not Hide Their Phone Numbers And Email Addresses
By Doug Kennedy
A new trend I’m noticing is that many hotel marketers are making it increasingly difficult to find the hotel 800 and local phone numbers, as well as email addresses. For example, in conducting a random spot-check of five of the major hotel brands, three out of the five “brand.com” websites I visited did not have their 800 reservations number posted on the front page. A fourth brand did have its 800 number posted, but it was a vanity number only and did not show the numerical version. Also, it was posted in a very small font that was hard to read on a laptop, let alone a smartphone display. Only one of the five brands I randomly selected did have their 800 reservations number posted prominently, in a large easy to read font in the upper right hand side of the screen. (Kudos go out to Intercontinental Hotels Group!)
To me it is an obvious attempt to force guests to book online versus calling or emailing. These hotel marketers apparently do not understand the interplay between all distribution channels. Using myself as an example, there are times when I am perfectly happy to book on a hotel website, such as when it is just me traveling for a short period, or when I am returning to a hotel I’ve already experienced. Yet if I’m planning an important meeting, a memory-making vacation, or when I have special needs for a particular visit, I am much more likely to make at least one phone call even if I book online. At other times I prefer to email my reservations-related questions, such as when I am inquiring after hours or just plain tired of talking after a long day of training facilitation.
Smart hotel marketers know it’s the customer’s choice of how they want to book. They understand the interplay of voice, web and email and they make it easy for potential guests to use their preferred channel. Some guests might prefer to call directly, such as those who have read negative online guest reviews, those with special lodging or dietary needs, or those who just do not believe the rate online is the lowest. Some want to look online first and then call; others want to call first and then book online. Still others want to do it all in writing, for whatever reason, such as wanting a paper trail or experiencing a language barrier.
Why make it challenging for potential guests to use their preferred method of communication? After all they are the customer! What’s worse, at the same time hotels are hiding their phone numbers, “cyber-squatters” are out-bidding some hotels on their own key words so that they come up before the hotel on a Google or Bing search. These companies are prominently posting a phone number that is answered with a generic greeting such as “Central Reservations.” Thus, many guests are tricked into booking via a third party channel, costing the hotel commissions and booking fees.
If you have not done so recently, check out your own website and make sure your phone numbers and “contact us” email addresses are prominently displayed, and in a font that is large enough to be easily read. Here are some other tips:
Post both 800 and local numbers. Remember some guests might be calling internationally from regionals where your 800 number does not work. Still other guests prefer to call a local number as they sense they are getting more localized assistance.
Post direct dial numbers for specialized departments such as hotel sales, purchasing, lost and found, and executive offices. Doing this will help syphon-off numerous “service only” calls that may otherwise be going to your hotel reservations department or off-premise call center.
Similarly, post direct contact email addresses for these specialized departments.
If you do not post an email address and instead only use a “contact us” form, provide an option for the inquirer to indicate if they prefer a response by telephone or email-only. For those who indicate that the telephone is okay, your salespeople can reach out by phone to make a personalized connection, instead of just emailing back like most of the other hotels will likely do.
If you have a "contact us" form, chances are you have an open text box labeled "comments." Instead this should be labeled “Tell us more about your lodging needs.” This will encourage those who prefer to make email inquiries to provide your sales and reservations sales staff with more detailed information that they can then use to provide personalized email responses.
Use a unique 800 number for mobile searches. Our industry is already feeling the effects of the explosion in mobile searches from smartphones and tablets. This will help your hotel’s marketing efforts and you will be able to identify the increase in calls we are about to experience from those who search on a mobile device but who do not want to complete the transaction that way.
About the Author
Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network, has been a fixture on the hospitality and tourism industry conference circuit since 1989, having presented over 1,000 conference keynote sessions, educational break-out seminars, or customized, on-premise training workshops for diverse audiences representing every segment of the lodging industry.
His articles have also appeared worldwide in more than 17 prominent international publications including the HSMAI Marketing Review, eHotelier, 4hoteliers, Hotel News Resource, Hotel Online, Human Assets - Dubai and Hong Kong, Hsyndicate worldwide, BAHA Times - U.K., Hospitality - Maldives, and the Hotel Expert Magazine Hong Kong. Since 1996 Doug has been a regular contributor to the lodging industry's number one rated publication, www.hotelmotel.com , where he has been a regular monthly columnist since 2001. Visit www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com for details or e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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