Small Town Motels, RV Parks and B&B’s! You Need More Than a Static Website to Compete.

by Joanne Steele on September 22, 2009

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The Palms Motel
Creative Commons License photo credit: Old Sarge

These days, when someone is planning a trip, they go to the Internet to do research, to plan and to make reservations. This is true whether they are going to Paris or Podunk.

If you have a lodging property in a small town, you need to move into the Internet Age to capture business. Now! This season.

Here’s what you need to add to your web site:

1. Pictures.

People are making decisions based on what they see on your site.  You need pictures of your grounds, your reservation desk, breakfast space and your rooms.  Your prospective customers will compare you ONLINE to neighboring properties.  Without pictures, you don’t even get into the competition.

When planning my trip last month, I like many online researchers, chose lodging based on photos. In Washington State, even the state parks showed photos of the individual campsites!

2. Links.

As your customers research lodging online, they are also looking for dining options. How close are you to shopping and recreation? What recreation businesses can they access from your web site?

For small rural communities, potential visitors want to be reassured that all services are available close by. Each tourism business needs to be a portal to all the services information for your area.

3. Online Reservations.

If you do not have online reservations capability, you are losing business to your neighbors who do. By 2010, studies show that over 50% of travel will be booked online.

How do you get this? There are big companies like http://www.webreserv.com that do this for a small fee, giving you total control over your online information, your pricing and  how many rooms you offer through their service.

If you have regular customers who are used to calling directly to make reservations, fine. You can integrate any new technology into your current booking and reservation system.  The reality is that your regular customers are using the Internet too, and part of serving them well might be offering online booking.

You might also consider adding software to your website that will allow you to book online. Check out I Magic Hotel Reservation software for example.

Do plenty of research before deciding which system or software to use, but get online reservations set up soon.

4. Online Reviews

It is probable that you are online at review sites such as Yelp even if you aren’t paying much attention to the Internet. And, people are using review sites to research you, before making lodging decisions.

If you are not monitoring and responding to what is being said, you are turning your online marketing over to the customers who take the time to leave comments about your business on review sites .

Go to Google.com and search by your lodging name. If you’ve been in business for more than a few months, you’ll probably see a number of review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor pop up, often before your actual web site!

For each review site, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Populate your listing with pictures, information and a link. Most sites allow owners to do this.  It is a fanstastic chance to drive traffic to your own web site and get up-to-date info about your property out through multiple sites.
  2. Read any reviews about your business. If they’re negative, check the site to see if there is a feature to allow owners to respond.
  3. Respond, remembering the old adage about the customer always being right. For negative reviews, apologize that they had a disappointing experience. Be reassuring that any problem they had has been investigated and corrected (do this!) and consider asking them to call you directly to discuss how you can make this right. You can offer them a discount or free night during their next visit if they take the time to call. Don’t be defensive or angry. That will work against you with other people visiting the site.

The important thing is that everyone coming to the site sees that you are paying attention to reviews.

If comments are positive, leave a big thanks to the customer.  These are golden! Use them on your own web site and if most comments on a review site are positive, link to it from your website. That link shows that you welcome comments and aren’t afraid of reviews.

Many small town lodging owners have websites they had built for them years ago by a web master. Every time the site needs to be updated, the web master must be paid to do it.

If this is the situation you’re in, it might be time to update your site with a new platform that will allow you to easily change the content yourself. Talk to your web master about setting up part or all of your site with CMS, a content management system.

WordPress is a great example that will handle anything a small locally owned business needs. There are other options that they might suggest.

You can ask your web master to help you integrate the online registration system of your choice and CMS generated pages.

Bringing your web presence into the 21st century may be the best marketing decision you make since you first opened your doors. Do your research, ask for help from your web master, take lots of photos of your property and get it done… now!

1 Becky McCray September 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Joanne, terrific article! It’s timely for me, as I just talked about this to a group of small business owners in Woodward. One extra reminder to all of us: make sure you didn’t leave any of the basic information out. Check that your business name, phone number, location, etc. are listed. Be sure the email on your website is one that you check and reply to regularly. We are so close to our own sites, it’s easy to miss some of the basic information.

Thank you for continuing this string of outstanding articles.

2 Joanne Steele September 27, 2009 at 11:45 am

Thanks Becky,
With all the online possibilities swirling around it’s easy to forget those vital basics. I so appreciate your support and contributions!
Joanne

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