In the increasingly dynamic online travel industry, hoteliers are challenged with keeping up with changes while also keeping an eye on the fundamentals. What are hoteliers doing to reach their customers on the web? Why are they spending their budget on some Internet marketing practices over others? In the recent Benchmark Survey on Hotel Internet Marketing Budget Planning and Best Practices in Hospitality, HeBS set out to answer these questions and identify trends in online marketing in hospitality. The purpose of the survey was to assess hoteliers’ 2008 Internet marketing priorities and strategies in order to compare the responses with the results received last year, and to provide the industry with insights into how internet marketing strategies for the hospitality industry are evolving.
For the second year in a row, Hospitality eBusiness Strategies presents the results of the 2008 Benchmark Survey on Hotel Internet Marketing Budget Planning and Best Practices in Hospitality.
Who Participated in this Survey?
The survey experienced global participation, with hospitality executives including general managers, sales and marketing directors, e-commerce managers, revenue managers, and other industry professionals. The full spectrum of hospitality and travel verticals participated, including boutique hotels, upscale hotels, budget, mid-scale and luxury franchised properties, major brands, real estate groups, resorts, hotel management companies, casinos, and more.
Main Findings from the 2nd Benchmark Survey
The survey results clearly show hoteliers understand the hotel Internet marketing strategy and respectively, should take a holistic view of the hotel online environment and adopt a comprehensive, long-term strategic approach to grow the online channel. No longer viewed as a source for only incremental sales, the website is a major revenue driver and requires an online marketing budget to support the activity.
Today’s hotel marketing budget tends to include specific line items addressing direct web marketing. These are treated as “fundamental” and include website re-designs, organic search optimizations, search marketing, email marketing, strategic linking, online advertising and public relations, and new media formats such as Web 2.0 which includes social media, CGM, and blogs.
Here are some main findings from the survey:
- For the first year ever, the industry reported that online business is coming from their own website more than third parties or corporate brand sites (see Table A below).
- Franchise/major brand hoteliers overwhelmingly find there to be major restrictions in online marketing conduct due to brand standards and regulations.
- Similar to last year, the highest percentage of survey respondents (72% this year, 80.7% last year) use search engine optimization and organic search in their search marketing campaigns. This was followed by paid search (50%, 62.7% last year), then local search (38.8%, 37.3% last year). This year we introduced mobile search into the survey, which 6.78% of respondents said they use in their search marketing campaigns.
- When asked what Internet marketing objectives they did not achieve in 2007 and would like to focus on in 2008, the highest percentage of hoteliers (44.23%) said website optimization, followed by search optimization – organic search (39.54%).
- The more hoteliers learn about online direct distribution and Internet marketing, the more they realize their property website does not conform to industry’s best practices. 54.62% of respondents said that no, their property website does not conform.
- This year, almost half of hoteliers surveyed are planning a blog on the hotel’s website. Other Web 2.0 formats planned for ’08 include photo sharing, surveys and comment cards on the website, and creating profiles on social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.
Most Popular Internet Marketing Formats
The benchmark survey shows several trends in how budget allocations and the usage of various Internet marketing formats are changing over the previous years (2008 vs. 2007 vs. 2006), which is indicative of where the future focus is going to be:
- Though still the most popular of all Internet marketing formats, resources dedicated to Website re-design are expected to decrease in 2008 by an average of 6.2 percentage points throughout the industry. Concerns about the economic environment and feasibility of capital investments may play a role.
- Hoteliers plan to increase their investment in website optimization for a third year in a row. The budget increase is slight at 0.8 percentage points. Some hoteliers are planning to use the more inexpensive website optimization in place of the more expensive website re-design.
- Resources devoted to Strategic linking are expected to stay at approximately the same level as in 2007. Hoteliers are beginning to understand the importance of this marketing format and are allocating fairly consistent amounts to this initiative.
- Pay-per-click/ paid inclusion budgets, after a slight dip in 2007, are expected to increase by approximately one percentage point throughout the industry. PPC is the fourth most popular Internet marketing format.
- The Local search budget is expected to increase by an average of 1.6% percentage points throughout the industry. Hoteliers are beginning to understand that over 30% of search is local in character. International properties are less inclined to use this marketing format, likely because they have not been exposed to the advantages of local search tools or the technology itself.
- Meta search, for a third year in a row, is expected to experience an increase in resources by an average of 1.4 percentage points throughout the industry.
- Search engine optimization continues to be the third most popular marketing format, though it is expected to experience a decrease in resources by an average of 1.2 percentage points throughout the industry. Hoteliers are beginning to understand that SEO alone can do more harm than good, if not accompanied by a comprehensive website re-design + optimization and strategic linking strategy.
- Display advertising budgets are expected to stay fairly consistent as hoteliers begin to understand that display ads can be used as a direct response vehicle, and not only as a brand-building marketing format.
- Email marketing, for a third year in a row, is expected to experience an increase in resources by an average of 1.5 percentage points throughout the industry.
- Resources devoted to Consulting fees, after two years of growth, for the first time are expected to be reduced by an average of 2 percentage points throughout the industry. This is due perhaps to the fact that some hoteliers do not realize that certain Internet marketing fees (e.g. agency fees, monthly retainers for Internet marketing, etc.) are de facto consulting fees. In any case, this decrease contradicts the fact that 54.6% of hoteliers are realizing their property does not conform to industry’s best practices.
- For a third year in a row, resources devoted to New Media Formats such as Web 2.0 are expected to increase by an average of 3.4 percentage points throughout the industry. More hoteliers are realizing that Web 2.0 and Social Media initiatives should play an increasingly important role in the overall marketing mix.
The fundamentals of an Internet marketing strategy-a website that follows best practices, search engine marketing-both paid and organic and email marketing, continue to receive the highest budget allocations. In 2008 several marketing formats are expected to receive increases: email marketing, website optimizations, paid search, local search, meta search. Web 2.0 and Social Media initiatives have become a hot topic in the industry and hoteliers are eager to explore these new media formats.