By Devorah Goldman
You’ve done your research, and like many players in the travel and hospitality industries, you realize that marketing to families makes good business sense.
If you haven’t done your research you should - according to the annual survey of outbound travelers conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel and Tourism, 9% of all outbound U.S. leisure travelers last year were adults with children. Sixty percent of these travelers sought a hotel accommodation for an average stay of 8 nights. And the average income of these travelers was $133,600.
So why are so many leading hotels dropping the ball on their Web sites by burying valuable family-travel content, or worse, limiting users’ abilities to search for this content?
Identifying a segment worth pursing is a great first step - but follow through is necessary to bring them on board. On a Web site, follow through means making it easy for the targeted traveler to find the information she needs. This is so obvious that one wonders why it needs to be stated, yet many leading hotel chains who spend countless hours understanding the nuances of their market and then millions of dollars marketing and advertising to them have seemingly invited travelers to their properties without handing them the online equivalent of a “map” to get there.
At the very least, a Web site should contain search features that are easy to locate and use, as well as links that are clearly labeled and will enable the user to get directly to the desired content.
Our journey took us to the Web sites of 8 leading major hotel chains with a presence in the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida - popular destinations for parents traveling with their children on vacation.
Hotels are clearly targeting families: 7 out of the 8 Web sites surveyed have packages, programs and other content that is targeted specifically to families.
But the search capabilities on these sites are not at all consistent.
Only four sites have full search capabilities, allowing a user to enter the word “family” or “kids” into a search field, bringing up valuable and informative content that would allow the parent or travel planner to determine if the hotel, and the destination, would indeed be an appropriate choice for young travelers.
Further, three sites limit searches on their home page to room and rate inquiries. This means that if your hotel has a wonderful kids program, there is no way for the visitor to your site to know that because they are simply unable to search for it. If you are lucky, the site visitor may spend a few minutes clicking around to locate this information - or they may simply walk away. It is akin to having a kids’ swimming pool, children’s clubhouse and dedicated teen media room on your hotel property, but failing to put up signs or otherwise inform your guests of the location or existence of these kid-oriented services. It is unthinkable, of course, that a hotel would fail to identify its offerings to its guests - we don’t foresee rooms without numbers as the next big trend - but if you do have programs and packages that are targeting families and you fail to tell them where they are located on your Web site, then you have left them stranded and clueless - and probably more than a little frustrated.
One site, a five-star luxury hotel with a wonderful kids program, does not have a search field on its home page. The kids’ program is, in effect, a well-kept secret. They only way to discover the secret is to click through to a particular destination and, once there, click away until one serendipitously stumbles upon the words “kids’ program.” This is not helpful if your potential guest has decided to stay at your hotel, but has not decided on a specific destination and wants to know all of your hotel’s locations that contain kids’ programs to help them winnow down the possibilities.
Of the 7 hotels that offer programming and packages for families, only one hotel put its family promotion on the home page in the form of a graphic and included all of the participating hotel destinations. Hard to miss, on the home page - for parents trying to plan a vacation, it’s the equivalent of information bliss.
Three hotels had wonderful family travel content, but the content in all three cases was accessed by a quasi-related link. For example, on one site, a user would need to click on “Package Finder” which would bring up a list of packages, and then click again on “Family Packages.”
Another site requires the user to make an educated guess and click on “Leisure” which spawned a pull down menu containing the sought after “Family Travel” link.
Still another site requires visitors to know that a link titled “Discover Resorts” on the home page will take them to another link entitled “Family.”
Finally, three hotels have absolutely, positively buried their family content in unthinkable ways, accessed by only the most intrepid of online explorers. What were they thinking?
So, we give the leading hotel chains an “A” for identifying family travel as being an important and growing market segment.
In terms of the quality of hotels’ online efforts to make it simple, clear and intuitive for family travelers to find the information they need, let’s just say we wouldn’t want to be stranded on a desert island with them with a rowboat and no map.