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Hotelier news, tips and advice from industry experts.

Welcome Anywhere Property Managment System > Blog > 2017 > June

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Independent hoteliers failing to take control of their online presence and bookings this summer could be missing a massive opportunity, according to John Jones, MD of Welcome Systems Ltd.

“For many, staying in a hotel is no longer an extravagance,” he explains. “It is much more affordable and frequent, meaning there is huge potential for hoteliers to capitalise on the summer period.”

However, despite the latest stats indicating 16 million more nights were spent in European hotels than the previous year, the UK has seen the biggest fall in bookings with a drop of -15.4%.

While the growth of ‘industry disruptors’ like Airbnb may bear some responsibility for these figures, John believes that it is up to hoteliers to raise their game in an increasingly competitive market.

He continues: “This isn’t about just competing on price, but also on services and experience. Our research shows that booking a hotel room is often viewed as the least enjoyable part of a holiday.

“We’ve found there are hundreds of online booking systems on the market, all with one common problem - confusing web layouts, a mass of options and text-heavy pages.”

As a result Welcome Systems Ltd is launching its new ‘Book Yourself Full 2017’ summer campaign, designed to help hoteliers achieve maximum occupancy with the least amount of work and stress.

“By signing up for our weekly newsletter, hoteliers will gain exclusive access to a wealth of top tips and hacks on achieving the ultimate booking simplicity and efficiency,” adds John.

“We’ll be covering everything from developing social media campaigns, improving in-room experiences and accepting contactless payments, through to mastering hotel websites and dealing with negative reviews, plus webinars and podcasts with key industry players and special guests."

Too busy to plan ahead?

We often hear that hoteliers are simply 'too busy' during the summer to do anything more than oversee the daily running of their business.

Unfortunately, this leaves a whole raft of opportunities untapped and means planning for the quieter months takes a back seat.

That gave us an idea...

“We’re offering the first 100 hotels to register for Welcome Systems’ newsletter before the end of July 2017, a free two-month trial of our Welcome Anywhere PMS and its integration with RateManager by BookingSuite," explains John. "However, we appreciate how busy hoteliers are at this time of year, which is why we're suggesting they focus on their business during the summer and have the system installed in September. We're even providing them with a free stress buster to get them through this period!"

To find out more and sign up for two free months* of Welcome Anywhere and RateManager by BookingSuite, click below:

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It’s a perennial problem for hoteliers - how do you ensure the property isn’t a ghost town during the week?

With Brexit setting a challenging economic backdrop for the hospitality industry, reports suggest that the issue of empty hotel rooms is a growing problem. Last October, for example, the number of empty beds in London increased by more than one third over the previous year.

Clearly, that isn’t sustainable - but the good news it is entirely avoidable. All you need is some time (and, let’s be honest - if you’re quiet during the week, you’ll have that in abundance), and the following strategies:

1. Use email marketing to segment and target the right audience

Email marketing remains a powerful tool in the world of hotels. This is principally because it enables you to finely tune your audience based on its demographics and past behaviour.

Assuming your hotel booking system provides the right data, you should be able to export your customer database, upload it into a tool such as MailChimp and begin creating lists of previous guests based on the following:

  • Their number of previous visits (the more previous stays they have, the more likely you are to tempt them back for a midweek special deal)
  • The days of the week on which they’re most likely to stay (if Mrs Smith is partial to a Wednesday night at your hotel, it should be relatively straightforward to tempt her back for another midweek stay)
  • Their last booking date (those who haven’t stayed with you for more than twelve months could possibly be ‘awoken’ with a great midweek deal)
  • Their previous favoured rates (if you’ve run midweek packages in the past, sniffing out the customers who booked them previously should offer some very low-hanging fruit)

Email is powerful - use it to your advantage to raise midweek bookings.

2. Implement ‘2-for-1’ weekday meals

If this sounds a bit tacky, it’s time to leave your preconceptions of such deals at the door.

Your midweek guests are most likely to be either retired, travelling for business or simply looking for a good deal during a break from work, and ‘2-for-1’ meal deals should grab the attention of a fair portion of that audience.

3. Create ‘sleepy Sunday’ packages with optional extensions

Everyone likes a long weekend, and while traditional ’sleepy Sunday’ packages don’t address the need for increased midweek bookings, if you offer an extension (at a lower rate) to stay for one or two days extra, you’ll have suddenly filled a fair few beds with little effort or changeover.

4. Reach out to the building contractors of new developments

Building contractors, road workers and engineers make up a good portion of midweek hotel bookings, but you shouldn’t expect them to land on your booking chart automatically if there’s a development nearby.

You need to be more proactive to win such bookings, so reach out and speak to the contractors behind local developments and highlight the benefits of staying at your hotel. Introduce a lower rate for such guests and offer additional incentives (earlier breakfasts, and lunch pack-ups, for example); you may just score a customer who will raise your midweek occupancy for the foreseeable future.

5. Target mid-week weddings

Mid-week weddings are becoming increasingly popular, and as a hotelier, you have a great opportunity to capitalise on this desire to save money.

Your hotel could become the go-to venue for mid-week weddings - if you make a big deal about your proficiency at staging them.

Why not hold a few mid-week wedding fairs to illustrate the point, and create packages that are simply too tempting to ignore? Remember - weddings generally equal plenty of bums in beds!

6. Get word out on social media

We talk about this a lot, but we can’t emphasise strongly enough how important social media is for a hotel’s marketing effort.

When it comes to filling the property during midweek, try using Facebook advertising to target specific groups of customers with deals that speak directly to them. You can do this by using Facebook’s excellent tool to select a demographic that is most likely to stay midweek (see point 1), ensuring that your adverts only end up on the news feeds of the most relevant people.

Twitter and Instagram can be used to great effect here, too. Tweet relentlessly about your midweek deals and don’t worry about annoying people; social media posts have a very limited shelf life, which is why repetition is key.

Wrapping up

Don’t fear midweeks if you’re a hotelier - they can be conquered. What’s more, if you work hard on the strategies listed above, you’ll eventually discover a domino effect that enables you to take your foot off the gas a little.

The more popular your hotel is during the week, the more likely people are to talk about it, and as we know, previous guests are some of your best salespeople!

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Spend enough time in the hotel industry, and you’ll almost certainly encounter an aggressive guest or two.

Aggression on behalf of such individuals can manifest itself in a number of ways. They may be verbally aggressive and call you every name under the sun, or they might pick up the signature pen and attempt to insert it in you.

People are strange, unpredictable beasts at times, and in order to avoid any form of harm while carrying out an already tough job, you’d do well to follow our brilliant tips for dealing with aggressive hotel guests.

Stay calm; don’t fight back

This may take every ounce of discipline and mental strength you have, but it’s vital that you remain calm and avoid fighting back with a guest who has overstepped the boundaries of acceptable human behaviour.

If their aggression manifests itself in a verbal outburst, let them speak. Don’t interrupt, turn away or roll your eyes. Instead, maintain eye contact, and relax your shoulders. Remaining calm in such situations is infectious, and you may find that the guest begins to cool off automatically as a result.

Don’t upset the guest further

In situations where we’re confronted by aggressive people, it’s alarmingly easy to inadvertently upset them further. We do this in several ways:

  • Verbally: As noted above, by interrupting a guest, you’ll only rile them further. Let them speak
  • Visually: Your body language and facial expression plays a huge role during tense encounters. If you smirk, frown, cross your arms or visibly sigh, the level of aggression on behalf of the guest is likely to rise
  • Tone of voice: Providing you stay calm, your tone of voice should follow suit, but if you come across as being condescending or patronising, the confrontation will simply escalate

Acknowledge and provide a solution

People get angry for a reason, and regardless of whether or not you agree with their level of frustration in relation to the issue about which they’re complaining, you need to do two things: acknowledge the problem and provide a solution.

Let’s consider a few common hotel guest complaints that may result in aggressive encounters:

1. You’ve overcharged them

If an item on their bill is clearly an oversight on behalf of the hotel, empathise and apologise. You can defuse the situation immediately by telling the guest you’ll get it sorted right away.

2. They dispute a particular bill item

This is a fairly common occurrence, but instances of guests getting overly irate about a bill dispute are thankfully relatively rare. If they do contest it aggressively, however, tell them that you’ll investigate immediately.

If the charge was an oversight - see number 1 above. If it was legitimate, calmly point out when, where and why it happened. If you present a compelling case and some evidence (i.e. a bar receipt), they should swallow their pride and pay up.

3. They’ve been kept waiting at the reception desk

Apologise and reiterate how important they are to you. Then, get on with the task in hand - don’t let the disappointment linger.

Whatever you do, don’t use the ‘busy’ word, either - that won’t go down well at all.

4. They claim a member of staff has been rude to them

This kind of incident will require investigation and it isn’t the sort of thing you can carry out there and then.

With that in mind, explain that you fully understand why they’re upset and that the hotel will investigate the matter thoroughly. Promise a call back from the manager with the lowdown within the next couple of days (and make sure it happens!).

5. You’re overbooked

Ouch. Every hotelier’s worst nightmare, eh?

There’s little you can do in these situations other than offer to re-accommodate them elsewhere or offer a full refund. Do so as empathetically as possible and explain there has simply been an error made which is not indicative of the hotel’s usual level of service.

6. Their reservation doesn’t appear on your hotel booking system

Providing they have proof of their booking, and if you have a room free, calmly explain the system error and that you will upgrade them to a better room as a result. If not, revert to point 5 above.

Then, when the dust has settled - review your choice of hotel booking system!

Wrapping up - what to do if it goes really wrong

Sometimes, situations boil over to the point where the guest’s behaviour becomes completely unacceptable, no matter what you do.

If that happens, and you feel in danger, get yourself away from the situation as soon as possible, call security (if available), another member of staff to assist or - if it gets really bad - the police.

Thankfully, such instances are very few and far between - our tips above should resolve most aggressive guest encounters.

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Is ‘hate’ a strong word? Not in this context - because if you’ve ever had the misfortune of visiting a website only to be frustrated beyond belief by the way it’s constructed, you’ll have no doubt uttered that very word.

Terrible websites are commonplace in the hotel industry. And this is for one very simple reason; the reliance on OTA listings has inadvertently forced many hoteliers to completely ignore the most important online presence of all.

Nothing is more valuable online than a business’s own website, and the same goes for hotels.

If yours is languishing (come on - you know it is!) or if you’re constantly scratching your head, wondering why you’re not getting enough direct bookings, here’s seven things that visitors - and potential guests - probably hate about it:

1. They can’t find the Book Now button

We’ve covered this a lot, yes, but it’s because we continue to witness incredibly poor placement of Book Now buttons on hotel websites.

This button is the ultimate call-to-action for your website - it’s the one thing you want everyone to click before they leave. So - why hide it?

If yours takes mere seconds to find - that’s too long. Position it front-and-centre at the top of the page and make it big, bold and beautiful. Don’t hide your Book Now button pages deep!

2. You’ve spent three minutes on the copy

The first paragraph of your website could be the the first meaningful contact a potential guest has with the hotel.

So why ruin the opportunity with poor copy?

Despite the rise in popularity of online video and the importance of imagery on the web, words still play a pivotal role in converting passers-by into paying customers. If you quickly whipped up the copy for your hotel website during a lunch break, you didn’t give it the time it deserves.

Get a professional in, or ask your marketing agency for advice on how to construct the best, most engaging copy for your hotel website.

3. The navigation is confusing

Website navigation should be intuitive and approachable. Menus that are adorned with countless options and drop-downs are an immediate turn off.

Keep the number of pages listed in your main site navigation to a minimum and use simple language; for example, try and avoid swapping the word ‘Rooms’ for ‘Sleep’ (it’s irritating - trust us).

4. Your web designer has put tech prowess before function

We love web designers, but we know that if you leave some of them to their own devices, they’ll quickly get lost in a sea of new technologies about which they get very excited indeed.

That’s great, until each and every new technical and design language bandwagon onto which they jump ends up on your hotel website.

Trends in web design and coding come and go, so be sure to work with web developers who know the value of sticking with industry standards and practices that are proven.

5. It isn’t mobile friendly

A simple one, this.

Grab your smartphone and access your hotel’s website.

Does it work? Brilliant! Move on to point 6.

Does it fail to load or require endless amounts of pinching and zooming? Speak to your web designer!

6. There aren’t enough images

We extolled the virtues of great copywriting in point 2, and the same goes for the imagery used on your website.

As a hotel business, you benefit from being able to lean on entirely unique photography of your own venue in order to raise occupancy levels.

Don’t pass on this significant opportunity by quickly taking a few snaps of the place with your iPhone - invest instead in the services of a pro photographer who will show off the property in it’s best possible light. Potential guests will appreciate the efforts you go to with this and repay you with far more direct bookings.

7. They had to resort to picking up the phone

Most industries are forging ahead with what has become known as ‘digital transformation’ and in the process, they’re raising the digital expectations of consumers.

Every transaction is now expected to be entirely possible online, and if you’ve included any kind of barrier on your website that prevents a potential guest from completing their booking journey without speaking to you, you’re immediately on the back foot.

If someone really wants to stay at your hotel but can’t find the answer online to the question of whether or not you accept dogs, they’ll reluctantly have to pick up the phone. Do you want a reluctant call from a guest?

Wrapping up

Some of the best hotel businesses in the world have awful websites, so if yours has fallen foul of the points above, don’t despair - it’s fixable, and once fixed will encourage more people to book direct than ever before!

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If there’s one question hoteliers ask themselves every day, it’s: “how can I increase direct bookings?”.

And that’s understandable, because ‘beating’ the online travel agents (OTAs) feels like an impossible task…

…until you realise that it isn’t really a battle.

Seriously - in order to gain more direct bookings as a hotelier, you need to view this industry as a level playing field, because in the digital age, that’s exactly what it is.

In today’s blog, we’re going to look at four things you can do today to increase direct bookings at your hotel (and none of the tips below involve getting into a backstreet brawl with an OTA):

1. Get into digital marketing

Isn’t all marketing in the digital age, er… digital?

Nope!

In fact, the hospitality industry remains one of the few that still relies on old-fashioned methods of brand promotion thanks to the prevalence of printed brochures and direct mail campaigns.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that stuff, but it needs to run alongside a concerted digital marketing effort if you’re to be found online.

Here’s a few ways you can up your digital marketing game, relatively easily:

  • optimise your website for keywords relating to the type of hotel you run, its various services and location (this is known as ‘SEO’ - speak to your web people if you’re unsure how to approach it);
  • start a blog and write regularly about the hotel, its events and topics that relate to the area in which it’s situated;
  • use your social media presence - don’t just let it sit there unloved; a post or two a day advertising your latest rates or showing off photos of your rooms and grounds will work wonders;
  • give Google Adwords a try - it isn’t the money pit some will tell you it is.

The above list is certainly non-exhaustive, but it’s a start, and if you make good on your promise to keep on top of each task, you’ll gradually start to see results in terms of increased visitors to your website and - all being well - an uplift in direct bookings.

2. Respond to - and share - guest reviews

Ah - reviews. Well, we were going to mention this sooner or later, weren’t we?

Guest reviews can make or break hotels - but not in the way you’re perhaps thinking.

Receive a bad review? Respond to it; demonstrate that you’re listening and care deeply about your business and the service you provide guests.

Receive a great review? Share it! Tell the world via social media and a testimonials page on your website.

By proactively dealing with guest reviews, you’ll become the master of them, and the more active you are with such guest correspondence, the more chance you have of diverting people to your own website rather than an OTA.

3. Give guests a reason to part with their money

Getting people to your hotel website is only half the battle. Once they arrive, they need to be given a compelling reason to book direct.

Try creating bespoke packages that are only applicable for people who are willing to book direct. Avoid rate parity issues by retaining the same OTA rate but instead include something on top that is of high value to the guest but relatively low cost to you (a breakfast upgrade, for example).

If you avoid the opportunity to give potential guests a good deal immediately, they’ll quickly head elsewhere.

4. Implement a killer online booking system and payment gateway

Potential guests need two things to convince them that booking direct is the thing to do:

  1. Ease of booking.
  2. Reassurance.

Number 1 simply means you need a great online booking system that enables people to make bookings in just a few short steps. Number 2 requires a recognisable payment gateway (e.g. PayPal) and a crystal-clear booking policy.

Make your deposit, cancellation and no-show policy ultra clear and ensure guests are forced to agree to your terms before booking.

The more transparent your booking process, the more people will use it - it’s that simple.

Wrapping up

Have we missed anything?

If you’re an independent hotelier and have experienced a significant uplift in direct bookings, tell us your experiences below. It doesn’t hurt to share your successes with the world once in a while!

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