Hospitality and Tourism Websites are Not An Instant Sales Tool On Its Own.

  • Published on December 1, 2019 by ATCNews guest writer Thomas Müller
  • TravelTech | Democratizing technology to keep more tourism spend in destinations for sustainable tourism development. 

Part 1 of 2 | Part two will be published on December 4, 2019

In Part one of “Hospitality and Tourism Websites are not an Instant Sales Tool on its own.” we do a deep dive into how the landscape in the hospitality and tourism sector has changed and what are the main challenges nowadays to gain traffic for a website. In part two we will show and explain solutions to overcome those challenges.

When thinking of getting a new website for a Hotel, Lodge, Guesthouse or an Activity or Tour Operator, especially in itinerary destinations, many think of it as an instant and immediate sales tool. However, this expectation is to be managed as a website is not a sprint but it is rather a marathon – and most importantly – a website on its own in isolation is by no means an instant sales tool either.

But let’s look like 3 to 5 years ago. Most of the hospitality and tourism providers in itinerary destinations have been working with a few numbers of inbound tour operators (DMC) in order to gain bookings. The DMC was linked to wholesale tour operators in the respective source markets, such as Thomas Cook (who unfortunately have just filed for insolvency since their traditional business model is no longer sustainable), TUI (who’s CEO Fritz Joussen has been turned around to a digital enterprise in only 5 years and created an efficient vertical integration strategy), and many others. Most of the Hospitality and Tourism providers were happy with the business provided and the cost of distribution which usually ranged in the 20% to 25% range from the rack rate.

However, the landscape has entirely changed. The business from the wholesale and DMC value chain as declined since not only travelers behavior shifted from Group to FIT (Foreign Individual Traveler aka Self Drive Traveler) who tend to do all by themselves on the internet and no longer make use of a high street travel agent selling packages from the wholesale tour operators, the travel behavior also changed from one annual longer stay vacation to 3-5 short-stay vacations on a theme (i.e. one week Wellness, Golf, Party, Skiing, City Break or such).

In those years it has become ever more important for the hospitality and tourism businesses as well as for the destinations and their tourism authorities and tourism boards (DMO) to create their own digital presence.

Today, Your WebSite is not  more but an Interactive Printed Brochure or Flyer in a Digital Format

But this is where the challenge starts. Wrong or mislead expectations. First of all, a WebSite on its own as a silo is not a digital presence. It is a tiny single piece of the puzzle, embedded and orchestrated in a much larger picture of many other elements, which we explain further down and in part 2 of this article.

To put it simply: Think of your website as you thought of your printed flyer or brochure you did years ago. Now imagine you designed and printed thousands of the nicest and most stunning glossy brochures for your hospitality or tourism business, put it on your reception counter, open the main door and expect that all of a sudden hundreds of thousands of people flocking in to pick up your new brochure. How so? Would you even have thought that would have happened? Probably not. 

But this is what many customers who contract web designers, web developers or specialized hospitality and tourism digital marketing agencies believe today, would happen if they just put a website on the net. You design and develop a website, go live, and you are swamped with visitors, enquiries and direct bookings like the next day.

Unfortunately, this is not how it works. It did not work for your brochure that way, why would it work for a website? It is simply not realistic.

Was there ever FREE Advertizing or PR to gain traffic from Print, Radio, TV?

But let’s find some analogies from the “old days”. In order to get potential travelers enquiring about a brochure, for rates, for availability or doing a booking, you needed to somehow advertize your business. As mentioned above, years ago that was mainly done by the high street travel agents, the wholesale tour operators and to an extent from the DMC who marketed to potential wholesale tour operators in various source markets.

The wholesale tour operator might have advertized on billboards, newspapers, radio or even TV, ran public relations (PR) campaigns and had articles placed in travel magazines. This is how they generated traffic in the “old days” to get people into the high street travel agents’ office pick up the brochure. But all of this was literally “Paid Traffic” as we call it today. There was very little, maybe the editorial article, that has been “Free Traffic” or now called “Organic Traffic”.

Free Organic Traffic will further Decline

However, at the beginning of the internet age, it was very much about organic traffic and how to rank on search engines such as Google in position 1-3 to gain traffic to your website. Then came the social media platforms such as FacebookTwitter, etc. and whatever you posted got distributed for free as well. So, more organic traffic to your website.

However, that has significantly changed in recent years and it changed significantly from organic and free traffic to paid traffic of all sorts and kinds. Did you know that only 5% of your audience gets to see your post on Facebook if you do not pay for the boost or ad of the same?

Google now serves 90% of all searches and user intents on the internet globally. More than 70% of that is coming from mobile devices and more and more are coming through voice search. This as well has changed the landscape dramatically. At the same time Google, for a long time, is not really a free search engine. But instead, the Google Search and Google Maps has some 95 paid for products so seamlessly embedded that the user actually doesn’t see and feels it at all. Just check out Google Travel.

Google Aims to Answer User Questions and Intent already on the Search or Maps Result Page

With this, the goal of Google has also shifted and this is what does have a very significant impact on anyone’s organic or FREE website traffic. Google aims to answer all user intent and questions already on the Google Search, Google Maps or in the Hospitality and Tourism sector on the Google Travel result pages. And Google is very good at doing so. 

That, on one hand, has created many new opportunities for the hospitality and tourism industry, but it also has increased the complexity drastically and the work that needs to be done from experienced specialists to rank for all the new mechanisms significantly. This professional skill, experience, and resources are not for free services.

It also means that the organic traffic for websites over time will more and more decline as the user’s intent and questions could be answered without the user needing even to click through a website at all.

Today where users and their changed behavior is measured in micro-moments, the time of attention might be 10 seconds or  20 seconds or such to get a question answered. Little time to browse and click through a website.

If you look at today’s search engine results pages (SERP) you see four different segments even before organic listed websites of any business are shown

As you can see in the above screen, you see Googe Travel (former Google Destination or Google Trips) providing detailed content to attractions and destinations. Then you see paid advertizing, often from Online Travel Agents.

Next, you see what people also asked since Google knows what is the intent of the question and provides relevant answers to those questions right away. On the right-hand side, you see the Knowledegraph showing you more detailed content related to the user’s questions.

In this case, only two adverts appear, if one looks for Hotels Cape Town, you would see like 4-6 adverts, mainly from online travel agents such as booking.com, expedia.com or tripadvisor.com. Just have in mind that booking.com alone is spending some US$ 10 billion on marketing per year of which about US$ 1 billion goes to Google to gain traffic to their website.

As you know can see and imagine, regardless of what you do in terms of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) it is becoming ever harder to gain organic and free traffic to your hospitality and tourism website.

But what is the way out and what are the alternatives?

Your entire Digital Presence Need fo Follow The Travelers Mental Model

As you now can see, your website as a single entity or silo is not doing anymore what it might have done in the past if you have got a perfectly SEO optimized and content-rich quality website.

Instead, it has and needs to be embedded in a holistic strategy, seamlessly integrated and interdependent to each other in order to create any relevant results.

The Travelers Mental Model consists of Dreaming – Planning – Booking & Paying – Experiencing and Sharing. Let’s look into this in more detail.

To attract a potential traveler in the dreaming phase, very high up in the decision and purchasing funnel, it needs stunning imagery, video and most importantly 360° virtual tours. In this phase, the traveler has endless time looking up hundreds of websites and portals, social media, review sites, articles about the destination, etc. doing this using 2-3 different devices (Desktop at Work, Tablet at Home, Smartphone on the go). This type of Micro-moments is called the “I want to Get Away Moments”.

When the potential traveler has made a decision for a destination, the planning phase begins. Here the mindset shifts and in this “Time To Make a Plan” moment, the traveler wants to spend less time and needs to get all facts and figures on a single click and without searching through many clicks on a website.

When it comes to the next micro-moment, the “Let’s Book It” moments, the traveler wants instant gratification and has no time or doesn’t want to spend time as the decision has been taken and it now simply needs to be executed as seamless and hassle-free as possible. Click, Book, Pay. Done. We call this Instant Gratification.

This is followed by the “Let’s experience it Moment” and the “Let’s Share Moment”. The Let’s experience moment is mainly when the traveler is in the destination and is experiencing the destination, its attractions, and accommodations, followed by the Let’s share moment were reviews on Google or Tripadvisor, content and images are shared on Facebook, Instagram or Videos on Youtube.

This is a closed-loop since the trusted content of travelers that have recently stayed in a destination or at a Hotel is very much trusted content, more so than any sales and marketing-driven content of a Hospitality or Tourism provider.

Now that we have achieved a good understanding of the very much changed landscape and the ever-increasing complexity, the traveler’s behavior and mental model, we are all prepared to look into the respective solutions to benefit from the new landscape and overcome the respective challenges.

This will be outlined and explained in detail in Part 2 of this Article which will be published on December 4, 2019.

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