WHITE PAPER Online marketing strategies: think horizontal

by Richard Chambers, President, TravelCLICKinteractive


Hotel Web sites have traditionally been built in a vertical format.  The
site starts with a Home page, followed by Accommodations, Dining, Meeting
Rooms, Golf, Spa and other individual pages with navigation buttons guiding
the consumer through the myriad of services offered. This approach is much
like the sales brochure design that uses different lengths of paper for each
capability so that when you stack all the sheets together you can read each
headline. These ‘first generation’ sites were built and marketed for the
early consumers who were looking on-line for hotels.
Today’s on-line marketing environment is becoming increasingly more
sophisticated, and consequently, savvy hotel marketers are viewing their Web
marketing a bit differently.

A bricks and mortar hotel is comprised of various business units, such as
Guest rooms, Food & Beverage, Meetings & Banquets, Spa, Golf Course, Casino
and other facilities.  Most of these business units have their own
management, logos, positioning in the local marketplace and departmental P&L
statements.

Why don’t these business units have their own individual presences on the
Internet?

Let’s look at hotel Web sites from the market’s perspective. A potential
bride is looking for ‘weddings’ in a certain destination. If she looked in
the local Yellow Pages under “Weddings” she would probably find a listing
for the hotel’s function space.  Would she find the same listing in a Google
search? Probably not.

ADVERTISEMENT

Second generation on-line hotel marketers are beginning to try to think -
and market - the way their customers approach their searches for the
services hotels supply. These hoteliers establish Web presences for each
functional business unit - a strategy known as “horizontal marketing” -
where the hotel presents its various offerings and creates websites and
search strategies based on the business unit, not on the hotel.

Say, for example, a famous hotel in South Florida has spent millions on
building a new state-of-the-art spa for both its guests and visitors in the
area.  A simple search on Yahoo for “Spa South Florida” or even “Spa XXX
destination” does not reveal this multi-million dollar investment to the
on-line consumer.

Horizontal marketing applied to this example would ensure that the search
engines were optimized to serve up the new Spa to anyone searching for such
a place and location. A customer staying in a hotel in South Florida,
searching for a deluxe spa in the area may change her reservation once she
realizes there is a facility that accommodates all of her needs. The beauty
of such horizontal marketing is not only that it increases exposure for each
business, but more importantly, allows the hotel to build e-mail databases
specific to the business unit by asking for customer opt-in data within each
specific niche.  Databases of on-line customers interested in spas, golf or
restaurants are far more valuable to the hotel e-marketer than the
traditional ‘Contact Us’ e-mail format of vertically constructed first
generation sites.

So, how do we execute the horizontal on-line marketing strategy?

1. Identify the business units within the hotel that can be supported by
additional business from the internet:

 Weddings

 Meetings

 Spa

 Golf

 Restaurants

 Casino

2. Purchase the domain names to support the marketing effort.

For example,
the hotel site may be www.anyhotel.com. So, you’d want to purchase the
following domain names:

www.anyhotelweddings.com
www.anyhotelmeetings.com
www.anyhotelspa.com
www.anyhotelgolf.com
www.anyhotelrestaurants.com
www.anyhotelcasino.com
(Note that these sites include the hotel name, not the name of the business
unit.)

3. Construct “micro-sites” dedicated to the content, pictures and features
of each business unit.

These micro-sites should be:

 One to five pages in length

 Linked to home hotel Web site

 Include an opt-in e-mail acquisition form on their individual home
pages

4. Market the Site:
There are many hotels vying for top placement for searches like “Hotel South
Florida.”  But only a handful of hotel marketers has embraced the horizontal
marketing strategy for their sites.

5. Perform Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for each micro-site.

Each micro-site should be optimized with the meta-tags that reflect the
business unit.  Key word descriptions, home page text, alt-tags and other
SEO programming will be different than the main hotel site. Organic searches
for “Spa South Florida” are easier to obtain than ‘Hotels South Florida.”

6. Purchase key words on search engines to ensure strong placement.
You may not realize that the Web sites “Google” and “Yahoo” serve are
delivered in order of both popularity and sponsorship. The ad banners at the
top and right side of the “Results” page appear because the advertiser has
purchased the keyword(s) the consumer requested in the search. The “pay per
click” cost of the business units key words is a fraction of their hotel
counterparts.

7. Link the site to business unit related sites.

For example, the Spa business unit can be linked to local, special interest
or other sites offering spas in South Florida, which strengthens the organic
search options of the micro-site.  Search engines give a higher ranking to
sites that are linked to similar businesses than ‘stand-alone’ sites.

8. Use traditional media to bring consumers to your site.
 Make sure your wedding brochure has “www.anyhotelwedding.com” as a
call to action.

 The answering machine at the Spa should have the message, “If you
need more information, please see our new website at www.anyhotelspa.com.”

 Any advertisement for the meetings market should bring the consumer
to www.anyhotelmeetings.com to give them the information they need quickly.

9. Use the e-mail addresses gathered from these sites.

 The Spa site has generated 1,000 e-mail addresses in 2 months. 
What should you do?  Convert lookers to bookers!  The cost of delivery to
this database is negligible. Create a Spa e-newsletter to get these
customers to your facility.

 Have a last minute cancellation of a group?  Go to the 1,500 emails
gathered from www.anyhotelsmeeting.com and let them know you have a ‘hot
date’ to be filled.

Speed to market, and e-mail campaigning can be executed in 48 hours.  The
cost of delivery is next to nothing.  Every e-mail is trackable; you can
measure the results of every campaign.

Horizontal marketing also gives you the option of intensifying activity, or
testing a promotional approach in a discrete arena, rather than across your
whole Web site. It also allows you to support each business unit with other
marketing tools on a targeted basis.

Second generation Web sites must be about more about functionality and
intuitive customer functionality than “Flash” technology. Second generation
on-line marketing programs must also morph into tools that better match the
intuitive approach consumers bring to their on-line searches.

Clearly, horizontal on-line marketing provides the multiplier effect that
allows a hotel to bring customers - and revenues - into the business from a
variety of on-line marketing sources, where vertical on-line marketing
provides one channel, horizontal on-line marketing gives you many. What
better way to expand your hotel’s reach into the Internet environment ?   
 
——-