There's no avoiding it; if you want to put your small hotel on the map, you need a hotel Internet marketing plan. If the prospect of developing an online strategy makes you consider running away to join the circus, take heart. It doesn't have to be overwhelming. Just take one small step at a time-and make sure each step is the right one.
Start With A Great Website
What makes a good website? Simplicity. You don't need everything and the kitchen sink, especially not on the home page. Your home page should have a welcoming message and a clean, simple menu for visitors to click. Don't frustrate a potential customer with a cluttered, hard-to-read home page.
Keep vital information never more than one or two clicks away. What's vital?
Amenities and services
How to make a reservation
How to contact you
Anything and everything else can go on tertiary pages. Visitors to your website are there to find out about your hotel, your rooms, room rates, and availability. Not to learn about area restaurants, attractions, and activities that have little to do with your hotel.
Internet users are visual people. A detailed room description is great, but include a representative photo go along with it. You might even think about producing a simple YouTube video to showcase rooms, and provide a link with the description. If you use photos and graphics, though, don't go crazy with them. Keep them few in number and small in size to keep from bogging down the page load time.
Don't skimp on the reservation engine. After spending time, energy, and money spiffing up your website, don't ruin it for the customer by using a clunky, hard-to-use application.
Don't forget to have your web developer design a mobile-friendly version of your hotel website.
Tip: Once you think you have your hotel website perfect, go find a few people who are completely objective, sit them down in front of the screen, and ask them to view and use the site as a new user. Swallow your pride and tweak accordingly.
Go Boldly Into The World of Social Media
Before you start swinging wildly from vine to vine in the social media jungle, stop and focus. There are so many choices out there, it's easy to get caught up in the "more the merrier" mindset. It won't be long before you realize that trying to establish and maintain an active presence on every popular site is ineffective, not to mention exhausting.
Choose two or three sites and stick with them, at least at the outset. Yes, that means Facebook, Twitter, and possibly LinkedIn. Facebook is best for customer interaction; LinkedIn for professional, industry contact; and Twitter for a combination of both.
Don't just "set it and forget it." There are all kinds of ways to maximize your visibility in social media:
Post often, but don't be a spammer.
Be relevant. Ask and answer questions, run contests, offer exclusive specials to followers and fans, announce events. Don't robotically post the same tired content over and over again.
Interacting on Twitter can be a challenge due to its linear nature, but it can be done with smart use of reply (@username) and hash (#) tags. Twitter is also a great exercise in making your message short and snappy.
Link, link, link! There are easy ways to interconnect your website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, so that when you update one site, the fresh content will automatically feed to the others.
Once you've mastered the arts of Facebook and Twitter, only then should you consider venturing further into specialized, offbeat sites like Pinterest or Tumblr.
Jerome Serot is a hotel marketing consultant at SmarteHotels.com, which helps independent and small hotel chains maximize their GDS and sales. He thrives on the challenge of bringing small hotel operations to global visibility through an entrepreneurial approach.
About the author
Jerome Serot is a well-regarded hotel marketing consultant. He brings an entrepreneurial approach to hotel marketing, and thrives in the challenge of taking small, stand-alone or small group hotel operations to global visibility. In 2004, he founded The Marketing Factors (tmf), a full service sales and marketing agency serving the hotel and travel industry.
A French native, Serot crafted his network in the Paris hotel industry. Starting with the Hotel Lutetia, part of the family-owned Concorde Hotels, Serot was a core executive in the opening of the Marriott Champs Elysees. His ability to forecast, market and sell led him to New York, where he co-founded Private Entrance Collection, a luxury travel services company.
More recently, Serot helped open San Antonio's Watermark Hotel & Spa and enhance global marketing for its associate, the highly acclaimed La Mansion del Rio.
In addition to Smart eHotels, Serot is involved with Luxury Dream Hotels, a television series covering 435 of the best luxury hotels in the world, to be viewed in more than 120 countries on the Fox International Network, in addition to millions of online visitors.
Serot holds a European Diploma of Management from the Insitut Vatel in Lyon France from which he received a Honorary Award for Career Achievement in 2007.