The Independent Hotel Corporation, IndeCorp, is predicting up to 30 per cent growth in its online bookings for 2004 as the Internet continues to rapidly develop as a sales tool in the luxury hotel sector. IndeCorp, which is headquartered in Chicago, provides business systems and sales and marketing support to more than 300 luxury independent hotels in over 50 countries through its three brands - Preferred Hotels & Resorts, Summit Hotels & Resorts and Sterling Hotels & Resorts.
It operates three sites (www.preferredhotels.com, www.summithotels.com and www.sterlinghotels.com) that attract a combined figure of 170,000 unique visitors each month.
In 2003, nine per cent of IndeCorp’s bookings were from its own websites and another 20 per cent from third-party sites, such as Travelocity and Expedia. Last year’s online bookings through IndeCorp sites produced an average room rate of US$210 (GBP £107).
The first three months of 2004 have already been fruitful. Revenue from online sales rose 36 per cent from the same period in 2003 as business through IndeCorp’s booking engine increased by 34 per cent. More than 200,000 combined visitors logged on to IndeCorp sites during each month of the first quarter.
IndeCorp attributes the growth to rising consumer confidence in Web transactions, demand for city breaks and more user-friendly websites.
“The Internet is maturing very quickly as a booking tool for the independent luxury hotel sector,” said Michelle Woodley, IndeCorp’s vice president of distribution and marketing services. “We have high hopes that the double-digit growth experienced from 2002 to 2003 will continue throughout this year. It could be as high as 30 per cent for 2004. Bookings received from third party travel websites are also a big factor with some increasing by up to 100 per cent in the past 12 months. As a result of this growth, we are expanding our relationships with these travel portals and becoming part of their corporate travel initiatives.
“The majority of our online bookings are made by leisure users, who are looking for up-market but uncomplicated city breaks, and independent business people, who are highly Web-literate. The American market is around 18 months more advanced than the European one - North Americans seem to have greater trust in the Internet.”
In April, IndeCorp launched a search engine optimization campaign to ensure the likes of Google and Yahoo! direct users to its websites when they list destinations and resorts where IndeCorp has a presence.
The company also intends to drive as much business as possible through its websites thanks to a sustained direct email marketing campaign that features booking and registration incentives. It is also exploiting wider marketing initiatives with business partners to increase website awareness.
IndeCorp has made many recent upgrades to the websites and technology that support bookings across more than 300 independent hotels. Sites have been made easier to use in order to encourage visitors to stay online longer and make a purchase - rather than just researching hotels and rates.
“Users often get confused when faced by a multitude of rates and deals,” said Woodley. “We use a technique called ‘rate filtering’ which means the users see the correct rate immediately after entering arrival and departure dates.”
IndeCorp - which recently received a significant investment from its new largest shareholder and CEO John Ueberroth - will be adding increased foreign language capability to its sites in the next 12 months. French, German, Italian and Japanese versions are expected to encourage bookings originating from these countries.
Woodley identifies city breaks as the most popular online purchase because users simply want a strictly defined price for accommodation.
“The Internet already provides a very good average room rate,” said Woodley. “We’re working hard with member hotels to ensure they take advantage of the Web by having an on-going selection of rates and packages, especially for weekend breaks.”