Over on Highland Business Research blog there’s a good review article on Travel 2.0 and Web 2.0 and what it all basically means. A good intro if you’re not up to speed yet.
See Highland Business Research
Blog category: travel2.0
Over on Highland Business Research blog there’s a good review article on Travel 2.0 and Web 2.0 and what it all basically means. A good intro if you’re not up to speed yet.
The Irish Examiner’s supplement on travel in Ireland wednesday featured an article by John Hearne, including an interview with Bookassist’s Des O’Mahony, on Travel2.0 issues.
This article is copyright Irish Examiner.
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With Travel2.0 and the rise of customer generated media and content, Bookassist has been providing the option of showing genuine reviews as part of the Booking engine services, by genuine I mean reviews from people who have actually booked online and stayed at the hotel. We highlighted the growing need for this sort of “openness” online in the Bookassist Seminar on April 9th in Dublin in particular.
Hotels though are justifiably worried about putting reviews online, especially anything with negativity. This is understandable, but as we have pointed out in many different forums, these reviews are going online anyway whether you like it or not, so it is better to row in behind it and actually put them on your own website also so you can manage them appropriately.
Here’s a brief article from Marketing Pilgrim about managing negativity online that gives some pointers. See Marketing Pilgrim
“With Travel 2.0 it is also possible to highlight the hotel experiences in addition to the price – and some hotels do not capitilase on this opportunity”, writes Roshan McPartland.
For those of you old enough to remember booking a hotel in Ireland in the late 80’s early 90’s - it was relatively straight forward in that you either booked the hotel over the phone or perhaps by fax. In most cases you knew about the hotel, had stayed there before or a friend may have recommended it to you. However booking a hotel abroad during this time was slightly more complex, especially if you knew nothing about it. There was definitely and element of walking into the unknown and the only comfort you had was knowing that the hotel you booked had a 4 star rating from the national tourist board, and if you were lucky enough there was one picture of the hotel in the brochure.
Thanks to Travel 2.0, booking a hotel is now different. Travel 2.0 means that we as consumers have more information about hotels readily available at our fingertips. We can now go directly to travel portal sites or even better, go direct to the hotels own website to look for the information that we require. However, Travel 2.0 is not just about getting this information, but rather about getting impartial information from others. When it comes to booking a holiday or hotel online, we as bookers prefer to hear about other people’s stories and experiences. Consumers are now making decisions about where to stay based on other people’s recommendations. In fact when it comes to the hotel industry, perhaps more so than any other industry - word of mouth online is king.
In a recent Yahoo Travel survey (2007), the results revealed ’that 61% of those questioned now go online for vacation recommendations. Travellers are no longer just searching for a hotel based on price, they are now mainly looking for user reviews, user ratings and photos.’
Price remains a primary and vital factor when choosing a hotel, but with Travel 2.0 it is also possible to highlight the hotel experiences in addition to the price – and some hotels do not capitilase on this opportunity. Consumers are not interested in the corporate blurb that you sometimes find on hotel websites, they simply don’t care if ‘each guest room contains beautiful antique furnishings and exquisite fabrics which will indulge your senses’. Consumers of today want to hear real accounts from real people that have stayed there as well as reading something that was written by a real person.
Travel 2.0 Revolution
In simple terms, this is what the Travel 2.0 revolution is all about. Its about you, your friends, your neighbours, your colleagues and other people who love to travel and their conversations online about the places they have stayed and their personal opinions of them. It’s about these people sharing their photos, videos, stories, memories and reviews online through social networking, video and reviews sites such as Tripadvisor, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.com.
So now that we know what these modern day consumers are doing, shouldn’t we join in with them? For hotels, the answer is yes. If these consumers are spending more time online then hotels must find ways to reach out to them by joining in on their conversations whether its through responding to positive and negative reviews posted on Tripadvisor, creating a corporate facebook site or perhaps adding a video hotel tour on Youtube.com or even adding images of the hotel on Flickr.com.
Before joining in on this online conversation, you must first begin by listening to them and as this is more important than talking. There are a few online tools you can use to monitor what people are saying about your property online, such as google blog search, google alerts and technorati alerts. Once you know what they’re saying about you, then you can start talking to them.
Tips to join in on the online conversation
1) Create a blog page and link it to your website. Invite people to leave reviews and share their stories and experiences with other potential bookers.
2) Post your corporate video on Youtube.com in addition to adding the video to your own website.
3) Add images of your property to Flickr.com (a site for sharing photos online)
4) Respond to both positive and negative reviews on Tripadvisor.
5) Create a corporate Facebook.com site.
6) Add podcasts to your site. With podcasts hotels can then provide information about the hotel, the location or events taking place in the location. They can even be created for different segments or age profiles of your guests. (A Podcast is a digital media file which can be downloaded to your guests’ iPod or MP3 Player)
Role of a Traditonal Sales & Marketing Manager is changing
This online revolution requires adapation from the traditional role of Hotel Sales & Marketing manager as they must be equipped to deal with the challenges and opportunities of travel 2.0 and integrate social media into their marketing efforts not only to reach out to new travellers but also to create stronger relationships with their existing customers. It’s about creating your own corporate personality online and connecting with your guests as well as the your future guests of tomorrow.
Bookassist has been at the forefront of research into modern internet technologies and Web2.0/Travel2.0 developments and now brings these key technologies into a new product offering for client hotel websites.
Hotels can now avail of not just the most advanced direct booking engine technology in the marketplace, with live secure banking transacting, multiple languages and multiple currencies, multiple room booking capability, add-ons and much more, but they can also now
- Show customer generated reviews, automatically requested by the Bookassist system of customers who have actually booked with and stayed in the hotel.
- Display their location on their website using Google maps as a background with citywide information nearby for their customers’ benefit, information which is continually added to by Bookassist.
- Additionally, hotel groups can enable group and individual website with these features to tie the group functionality together and increase business transfer between members of a group.
So once you’ve mastered how you create your own corporate facebook site, hotel blog, or podcast, you can sit back, put your feet up and wait for travel 3.0. We’re already working on it.
Roshan McPartland is Operations Manager for Ireland at Bookassist’s Dublin Office
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Technorati reported that the year 2008 began with more than 120 million active conversations published online in several blogging networks. Online conversations are more and more crucial for your business. As we know, the best way to start participating in this media is first to listen. But there are thousands and thousands of themes out there, how can I find relevant streams of information for my market and company? How can I start participating in these social networks? Before you jump in and partake in online social media, you need to first listen to online conversations that involve you.
Use a feed reader and sign up for regular updates of your favorites sources of information. A feed reader is a web application which aggregates or gathers together syndicated web content as news headlines and blog entries creating a single location for all your relevant updated news sources.
Go and sign up for one now! Here is a short list of well known free and web based feed readers to join: Google Reader, Netvides, Bloglines. Click on the links, review the services and select the one you like the most.
Now that you have downloaded or signed up for a feed reader you have to add subscriptions from your favorite news sources, such as this Bookassist travel industry blog. Just look for the RSS symbol in any blog or webpage and you subscribe to it as a reader.
The second way to listen your market on the net is to set alerts for your hotel keywords. From my point of view every hotel needs to set alerts: in Technorati for blogs, in Google Alerts for general websites and in Tripadvisor for guest reviews that are related to their hotel. These are the most significant online applications for managing your hotel reputation on the net and you need to know what is there so that you can make sure your image is handled correctly and fairly.
The alerts systems mail you every time their search engine spider finds a new file on the internet with your keyword term in it. This is a very powerful tool and is very helpful for hotels finding hidden clients reviews, comments, questions, special offers, etc. You can set any type of terms like your hotel name, your brand, your closest touristic attractions or even your own name. You can add any keyword term for the search and as many as you want.
This “listening” system will work as your basic collection engine for information in social media. Any time someone talks about you in the net you will be able to hear it and answer it faster that anybody else.
Foncho Ramírez is Senior Search Engine Specialist at Bookassist’s Madrid office and is a Google Adwords Professional
Eva Reyero in Bookassist’s Madrid office noted that Bookassist’s Travel 2.0 approach has been endorsed by Forrester Research.
Bookassist’s approach of offering Travel 2.0 technologies such as reviews directly embedded in hotel websites as part of the booking engine suite has been endorsed by recent comments from Forrester Research.
Sarah Rotman Epps writing on forrester.com in an article headed “It’s Time For Hotels To Offer Traveler-Written Reviews On Their Web Sites” comments that “...hotels can offer something that most third-party sites don’t: validation that the reviewer actually stayed in the hotel….Give travelers the content and tools they need to distinguish the right hotel for their needs for a particular trip so that they can complete their booking on your Web site. Reviews are one element that influences a traveler’s booking decision, but they’re not the only — or even the primary — influencer. Hotel Web sites need a robust offering of content and tools that may include, but should not be limited to, traveler-written reviews.”
Bookassist has long advocated the drive towards Web 2.0 technologies in the travel industry and released its Travel 2.0 booking engine upgrade in March 2008, as well as a comprehensive Travel 2.0 offering for hotel groups. The Bookassist approach allows customer reviews to be embedded in the hotel website along with booking facilities, vouchers, Google maps and other technologies.
Eva Reyero is a co-founder of Bookassist and heads marketing and research at Bookassist’s Madrid Office
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Aleks Grzegorzak in Bookassist’s Dublin office asks: “Have you checked reviews of your hotel at Tripadvisor website yet? “
Whether you like it or not, your previous guests like to share their opinion with friends, and the same applies to the Internet where social media websites allow them to share their experiences publicly with others. The only difference is that this time your guest shares his or her opinion with millions of people all over the world. The most popular website with reviews on hotels and vacations is http://www.tripadvisor.com.
The good news, however, is that this website allows hoteliers to respond to reviews.
There are already over 15 million reviews at Tripadvisor. Over 20,000 people visit the website daily for advice on hotels and vacation. Reviews online are a very important part of your web presence and it is up to the hotel’s general/sales/reservations managers to either monitor reviews and take appropriate action to control their image online or ignore them and allow themselves to be condemned for the image being created by somebody else.
Think: If somebody insults you in front of others, don’t you respond appropriately? If somebody compliments you, don’t you say thank you? The same rules apply to online reviews so take responsibility and act today. And remember to respond to both negative and positive reviews. It can be a great way of customer relationship management, too! You can do this in a few very easy steps.
1. Go to http://www.tripadvisor.com and write a name of your hotel in the search box provided:
2. It can yield more than one result, so find your hotel on the list and click on the link ‘Reviews of Your Hotel’ (highlighted in blue):
3. The link brings you to your hotel’s profile with reviews below:
4. Below the reviews there is a green frame for hotel’s owner with a link to the owner’s page (highlighted in blue):
5. The link brings you to the next screen with further links. Click on the ‘Respond to a review’:
6. The next page has a few drop-down lists where you can choose options of your choice:
And remember you can set a Google Alert for your hotel page also so you can be informed when any new review is added.
Aleks Grzegorzak is Internet Support Coordinator in Bookassist’s Dublin office
Bookassist had a major and very successful presence at the EyeForTravel event in London recently, and participated in presentations as well as round table public discussion panels. The ongoing response to Bookassist’s innovation in the marketplace with Travel 2.0 technologies and targetted online marketing strategies for hotels is extremely positive, with a number of presenters in other forums at EyeForTravel mentioning Bookassist as a leader in these areas.
Hotel Blogs presents here a video interview with Yahya Fetchati, Head of Business & Operations at Bookassist where Yahya outlines Bookassist’s philosophy of being a seamless solution provider for hotels, removing the hassle from them of having to worry about what to do online:
Optimised web pages are far from the only way today of cruising to the top of the listings thanks to the increasing trend of blended search results
Google Universal Search, an approach also termed “blended search”, is about mixing sources in search results listings - for example giving you image search results and video search results in with traditional relevant website search results. Yahoo! and MSN do this too. To a large extent, the potential for optimising for such blended search has not been seized upon by the marketplace. Launched in May 2007, the second anniversary of Google’s Universal Search is fast approaching and in that short time some very interesting user patterns have emerged which should prompt online marketers to wake up to the very real opportunities being presented for getting your listings in front of customers.
First, some background. Google and other such search engines are broad-based search engines which are not so good at zoning in on relevant information for more generic searches. Users regularly get a Google results page which states that millions of possible results exist for their query - for example a search today for the term “harmony” yielded the statement “Results 1 - 10 of about 72,200,000 for harmony [definition]”. Often, we have to think hard ourselves about how to narrow down the search to make Google perform more accurately for us.
To counter this problem for users, and to promote its own offerings more, Google continues to launch a number of so-called vertical or specialised searches to allow people confine their searches to certain criteria or avenues of interest. Examples of such vertical searches are Google Image Search, Google Blog Search, Google Local & Maps, Google Patent Search, Scholar etc. You can find these searches in the tabs bar at the top left of the Google home page. There are many other such searches which are proving increasingly useful and gaining in popularity for sophisticated targeted search (Google Accommodation as a vertical may not be that far off, who knows?). But with the exception of Images and Maps, none of these are reaching mainstream searching volumes.
Because many people still don’t use these vertical searches, Google is increasingly promoting results from these verticals in the standard Google results listings by folding in images, videos, books and of course local map results right into the standard search results. Web search is no longer simply “web” search.
An edited example of this is shown in Figure 1. A search for the term “galway” shows the standard results but it is highly mixed - label 1 in the figure shows Google Local & Maps results which might be relevant, placed right at the top. Natural listings of web results start at label 2 but are again interrupted by the insertion of YouTube relevant video results at label 3, before the results revert again to natural listings below the videos. You can do this search a number of times and find that the map or video results may not always appear so the approach from Google is not rigid.
Figure 1: (click image for larger view) Google’s approach to blended search results in its Universal Search interface, which is now the standard. Areas 1, 2 and 3 here show Google Local & Maps, natural listings and YouTube results respectively.
Often, for more specific searches relating to businesses, the Google Local & Maps area will concentrate more solidly on Google Local and show a series of relevant businesses related to your search, such as the Google Local listing shown in Figure 2 for the search term “Berlin Hotels”.
Figure 2: (click image for larger view) Google Local shows relevant businesses related to a search term on an interactive map embedded in the standard search results listings, in this case Berlin Hotels.
How people interact with search results
Probably because images, maps, and videos are more visually striking on a results listing than just plain old natural listings, their influence is far higher in terms of click through rate. Bookassist recognised this early on and has long advocated the use of such media for hotels to promote their business more effectively online and has been at the forefront of Web2.0 implementation in the accommodation sector, not just in Ireland where it is the market leader, but in all its marketplaces abroad.
Research in 2008 by iProspect(1) attempted to quantify what users are doing with these blended search results on Google, Yahoo! and MSN. A diverse user base of just over 2400 was surveyed, which in an ideal world gives an error margin of about 2% and, to be fair to iProspect, their methodology for balancing the backgrounds of the respondents brings them to a conclusion of a slightly wider error margin of about 3%. Some very interesting trends emerged. Summarising the results for users surveyed:
* 68% of users clicked a result on the first page of results, and 92% of users clicked a result within the first three pages of results.
* 36% of users clicked on a “news” result within the blended search results page, and 31% of users clicked on an “image” result within the blended search results page, while only 17% and 26% respectively click a “news” or “image” result after using the news and image vertical searches directly.
* 17% of search engine users surveyed click on a “video” results on a blended search results page, while only 10% click on a “video” result after conducting a video-specific search on the Video tab.
Basically, the research indicated that a user is around twice as likely to click on a specialised search result in a blended listing than on that same results in the vertical search results themselves.
Web 2.0 shines
There are two important lessons here. Firstly, we can get more clicks with good content in the images, news, maps, video, blogs and other “verticals”. But secondly, and more importantly, is that while an enormous amount of blood, sweat and tears is spent by search engine experts in optimising web pages for natural listings - getting keywords right, keyword densities, meta tags, image alt tags, incoming links etc. - the criteria for getting local business listings, videos, images, or other vertical search results into the first page of search results are far more lax at the moment.
Put simply, because there are less videos about “hotels in Berlin” than there are webpages, it is relatively more easy to get your services towards the top of a relevant search by using well-tagged videos, images, blogs etc than by optimising web pages. This is a great opportunity for Web 2.0 content to shine.
A recent Forrester research paper(2) highlighted this current advantage: “On the keywords for which Google offers video results, we found an average of 16,000 videos vying to appear on results pages containing an average of 1.5 video results—giving each video about an 11,000-to-1 chance of making it onto the first page of results. By comparison, there were an average of 4.7 million text pages competing for a place on results pages with an average of just 9.4 text results—giving each text page about a 500,000-to-1 chance of appearing on the first page of results.” This statement indicates that an optimised video could be about 45 times more likely to appear in a search result for a particular keyphrase than an optimised webpage. While these figures are again not strictly scientific and should be treated with caution, any user who has seen blended results would see the clear advantage to be had by having additional media available to reflect your business. This advantage clearly won’t last forever.
What to do
Here are some basics that will help you capitalise on these opportunities. Start by registering as a user with Google, then:
* Go to Google Local (local.google.com), and use “My Maps > Create new map” to get your business listed and positioned on the map so that it appears for search results on Google Local & Maps. Use good keywords and descriptions in the business description as you would with regular search engine optimisation.
* Get good quality videos, preferably entertaining and not just brochure-ware, and host your videos on YouTube (youtube.com). Give them keyword optimised titles, tags and descriptions, then use YouTube’s embed feature to embed the videos in your website as a video gallery.
* Get an image gallery of high quality pictures onto Google’s Picasa photo service (picasa.google.com) and embed the image gallery into your website, again with each image having keyword-driven titles, descriptions and tags.
* Go to blogger (blogger.com) and set up a blog and begin to write content on a daily or weekly basis ensuring you always have something relevant to say about your business. You can use basic blogger templates to link your blog to your website and ensure you also link your website to your blog.
Blogger in particular is so simple and effective to use. It is free and easy to set up and, in a hotel’s case for example, can be used for advertising special events and other events that change on an ongoing basis rather than the traditional approach of just putting a paragraph on the hotel’s events page or special offers page every once and a while. Good URLs are also easier to get with Blogger, for example hotels could set up a URL with prime keywords such as patricksdayindublin.blogspot.com or easteringalway.blogspot.com. Hotels could then create relevant content about such events, but in parallel push their own packages and websites as examples. For annual events, the blogs can remain up all the time, and they should generate more traffic year after year. Good URLs can be worth their weight in gold, figuratively speaking, if used properly.
The key here with all these opportunities is not just to get other vertical searches populated with good information about your business, but to also use these to pull your regular website up through embedding and linking with quality content.
You win on both fronts with your regular website and your new Web 2.0 content.
Dr Des O’Mahony is co-founder & Managing Director of Bookassist, Ciaran Rowe is Senior Search Specialist at Bookassist’s Dublin office.
Bookassist CEO Dr Des O’Mahony in conversation with the Hotel & Restaurant Times, June 2009.
Bookassist is in an unusual situation compared to most firms in the current downturn. Bucking the trend, the Dublin-headquartered online marketing strategy and reservations technology company continues to grow its revenues. It has even embarked on another recruitment drive for its offices in Ireland and abroad, targeting skilled senior managers and employees in business development, search engine marketing and sales.
“We’re not entirely insulated from the economic situation, we do see significant changes across all our markets”, says Dr Des O’Mahony, Bookassist CEO and co-founder. “Ireland has certainly seen pressure on rates and on occupancy, but those issues also make hoteliers more aware of the value of the services being offered, so delivering on your promises is more important than ever, and Bookassist works hard on that.”
Bookassist has expanded its staff not just in Ireland, but has recruited a new team for Central Europe based at its Prague office and has begun to build significant business in Spain, Austria, Italy and France. “What we learn in one market, we can apply in another, so having a broad view of the industry and how it reacts in different ways in different countries is a great advantage that we can bring to our hotel clients”, says O’Mahony.
The optimistic view
Having recently given a presentation on the optimistic side of the fence at the Smile conference on May 21st in Dublin, O’Mahony plays down the doom and gloom that much of the industry is dwelling on at the moment and insists that there are opportunities to be tapped into right now.
“There is a big focus on the trends downwards, the averages in rates and occupancy looking bad compared to previous years etc. There’s a lot of negativity and some is undoubtedly justified. But there are two sides to this. Firstly, averages mean nothing to an individual hotel – the beauty of averages is that for every piece of data that’s below the line there’s one above the line, outperforming the average. This is where you want to be. Secondly, looking at rates only hides the fact that if the cost per acquisition can be reduced, lowering of rates is far less painful.”
The discussion on strategy is one that Bookassist staff increasingly try to have with hotels, insisting that despite the software products on offer, no piece of code is going to increase a hotel’s revenue without the hotel changing how they view the marketplace. Bookassist is about “providing strategic solutions to the hotel industry, not just software”, according to O’Mahony.
“We are pushing the strategic opportunities for hotels right now, and are proving directly to our clients that there are real gains to be made despite the situation most hotels find themselves in. Getting your strategy right in terms of diverting as much business as possible to direct bookings means that your cost of acquisition has dropped considerably compared to other channels. And getting that strategy working means that you are far better positioned to build repeat custom online and take advantage of the inevitable upswing that will come.”
Traditional marketing has been rapidly overtaken
Despite the success of the company’s approach in the Irish marketplace over the past 10 years, where in excess of 35% of Irish hotels now use Bookassist technology, O’Mahony still thinks Irish hoteliers have a way to go when it comes to online strategy: “The Irish marketplace is quite advanced in how it embraces the internet, compared to many markets we operate in. But we still find many situations where hotels expect, or want, say 30% to 40% of their total business to be done online, but wouldn’t for a second consider spending 30% to 40% of their marketing budget on that area. This makes no sense at all – traditional marketing has rapidly been overtaken by new online thinking that hotels are simply nowhere near keeping up with. The work that we are doing with our Web 2.0 enabled booking service, customer reviews, blogs, YouTube, Twitter etc, all of these things are not only paying dividends in terms of increasing a hotel’s exposure in the search results, but they are building a hotel’s brand and increasing their online revenue too.”
O’Mahony recently took a team of Bookassist expert staff on the road to highlight the rapidly changing internet environment to the hotel industry, holding all day seminars in the Czech Republic, France and throughout Ireland for the hotel sector. The roadshow continues in Spain and in Austria shortly. “We still find hotels talking about the importance of hits on their websites without realizing that the key issue is conversion. All the traffic in the world is worth nothing if people aren’t booking. To achieve conversion, to grow conversion, is often about good old-fashioned service levels being transferred to the web environment. This is where we believe Bookassist technology has the edge”.
“The innovative approach in Bookassist’s technology is that it is customer-centric, always has been. The quality of service that a hotel expects to give to a guest at the check-in desk, that’s what we aim to achieve with the online booking experience. Anything less is erosion of the hotel’s service levels and of the hotel’s brand and would not be good enough. If you get that online service level right, then you not only increase your conversion, but you significantly increase your chances of getting that customer’s repeat business online also. Service, attention to detail, these things really matter in an environment like the internet where the competition is pretty much cut-throat.”
The company was the first in the industry to directly integrate their booking engine data with Google’s Analytics tracking tool. This allows participating hotels to see which bookings were generated by which online advertising campaigns and how much was spent to get each booking. This analysis in turn leads to fine-tuning of the online spend budget and a significant increase in the conversion rate for online advertising compared to standard tracking methods. “The beauty of integrating Bookassist with Analytics is that you no longer simply say ‘a hundred euros spent gave me 20 bookings’, which is a standard tracking analysis”, explains O’Mahony. “With our approach, you can say that this advert here, displayed online at this time, cost me this many cents, generated that booking right there, and made me that many euros margin. It’s taken all of the guesswork out of online advertising.”
Bookassist goes far beyond booking and online marketing technology, offering content management system web design, corporate booking facilities, loyalty and rewards systems, GDS management and PMS connectivity. The company is working on a number of new technologies that will reach the market place in the autumn. “We are constantly asking our online customers and our hotels what they want us to do next. Practically everything we develop is driven by feedback, not just by what we ourselves feel we should do”, says O’Mahony, adding: “although sometimes we do surprise them all with something completely new and unexpected, just to keep it more interesting for us and for them!”
Bookassist products and services are described on their corporate website bookassist.org. Bookassist also carries out and publishes market research articles and whitepapers on blogs.bookassist.com/blogs/industry/. To stay up to date, you can follow Bookassist on Twitter at twitter.com/bookassist.
©2009 Hotel & Restaurant Times
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