Marketing questionsEveryone knows you need a functional website, no matter the business or the locale. For hotels, most of us recognize that often a website may be a customer’s first introduction to your property. As such, it should entice, educate and make them want to stay with you.

Hence, for many GMs, one of the largest items on the 2017 marketing budget is likely the development of a new website, or at the very least a refurbishment of the current one to show newcomers that there’s something new to get excited about. This can come in the form of new interfaces or layout schemes, pages, offers, events, exciting visuals, plugins, iframes – whatever it takes to boost the user experience (UX) and keep customers engaged.

For this, it’s wise to take a step back and view your website as only one part of a much larger picture. And to help you along, I’ve listed five ‘big picture’ questions that you should ask your marketing team before proceeding with any expenditure.

What is the single, underlying purpose of your website?

How does our current site fail to meet the current requirements for your brand identify or for how online consumer behavior has progressed? How will it grow your business? For instance, if your site is not built responsively – that is, automatically configuring to mobile – then by all means make haste and get a new one underway immediately. Mobile isn’t the future; mobile is now and it is everything. Bolting on a mobile-ready format is not easy to do, and you don’t want to create a ‘Frankenstein’ in the process. However, if the site works great on mobile (try it yourself to confirm and note any UX deficiencies), then and only then should you investigate further enhancements.

How much is the new website going to cost, both now and ongoing?

With so many diverse and fully mature layout theme generators available nowadays to help create a reasonably good looking website from scratch and manage via a user-friendly CMS, your first thought might be that getting set up is both relatively easy and cheap. While the functionality aspect has been somewhat commoditized of late given the versatility of plugins and your chosen CMS platform, every hotel’s business needs are slightly different, and so additional programming resources will always be needed above what was outlined in the quote for your shiny new website. Furthermore, things break and third-party software needs to be upgraded. How are you going to account for those additional coding hours? Managing a website and all the social networks connected to it is now a full-time job.

How will the new site improve direct bookings?

Ideally, you want all your bookings to come through your reservation hotline or your website rather than a third party. How specifically will the new website convince people to book at your property instead of one of your competitors? How will it create a seamless booking process so that they prefer your interface over, say, that of an OTA? This requires a thorough understanding of how everything from social media and mobile-specific behavior to your channel mix and how customers are finding your website. In other words, getting people to book direct has a lot more involved with it than just upgrading some graphics and copy on your brand.com’s homepage.

How will the new site improve the UX?

You want your user experience to be frictionless, intuitive, meaningful and captivating. As a broad primary goal, you want future guests to be able to easily find every single bit of information necessary for their stay on there and not accessible in some convoluted way. Given that a typical single property site can cost between $20,000 to $65,000, would you be better off compromising on a few design features and pushing that surplus into content creation instead? If all your upcoming events, blog articles and promotions can’t be readily communicated to your audience, what incentive will they have for being recurrent visitors? Clearly, a balance must be struck between the upfront design costs and those allocated for continual ‘renovations’, and this is something your DoSM must figure out before moving forward.

Taking all this into account will take some time as there are many cases where a new site is fully justified for the ongoing success of a hotel. But remember, the goal is not vanity, but revenue. So, be sure that you first comprehend all the hidden costs so that you don’t dip into the red and that you don’t stray from your key objectives.

By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (www.lma.ca)

Larry MogelonskyAfter a formal engineering undergraduate degree and an MBA, plus a stint as a professional civil engineer, Larry Mogelonsky’s business career started with a brand management position at Procter & Gamble. This was followed by half-dozen years at a top ten ad agency, where he was the team leader for the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts business. Smitten with the hospitality ‘bug’, Larry founded LMA Communications and more recently, Hotel Mogel Consulting, a specialty consultancy dedicated to the hotel industry. Today, Larry works with hotel owners and operators across the globe. His knowledge of hospitality marketing and operations has been demonstrated through the accumulation of 75+ awards from HSMAI (Hotel Sales and Marketing Association International). His firm was also awarded the distinction of Worldwide e-Marketing Agency of the Year by TravelClick. Larry regularly contributions to many of the world’s top industry publications. He was recognized as one of the Top 25 Minds in Hospitality. He is also sought after as a keynote speaker at worldwide industry conferences. The Llama is Inn will be available in Spring 2017 through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A Kindle edition is also available.