Helping Future Guests Find You

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In our previous post we introduced the four step process (identified by WIHP a hotel marketing firm) of a guest finding, and staying at, a lodging property, then feeding the beginning of the cycle again by telling others. In this, and the next few posts, we will break down the components and see how you can more effectively help future guests find you.

As a refresher, the four steps are

  1. Discovery or stimulus (where the guest learns of a hotel and gets interested)
  2. Zero moment of truth (the guest begins to research the hotel)
  3. First moment of truth (guest finds the hotel website and begins to determine if this is what they want), and
  4. Second moment of truth (guest arrives at the property and is either happy or disappointed – which will sometimes result in that reaction being shared)

We’re going to focus on the first topic in this article: How does a prospective guest discover your lodging property?

SharingThe semi-automatic reaction in today’s world would be that, of course, a prospective guest learns about your property through a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo, or others). That is not what the data indicates. The results of WIHP’s inquiries indicate that the guests are most likely to learn about a lodging property from friends or family, an online travel site, or TripAdvisor. Specifically, their statistics indicate that nearly one-third of people who learn about a property discover it from friends or family (32.7%), followed by roughly a quarter who discover it from Online Travel Agents (OTA’s – 27.9%) and TripAdvisor (23.1%). Other sources have far smaller influence (see the infographic on WIHP’s site).

If you think about how you would find lodging for your getaway, this makes a good deal of sense. Most of us, I suspect, would decide first on the destination (“I want to go to Maine” or “I want to go to France”), not on the lodging property. Only after the destination has been selected (at least tentatively selected), and we’ve checked to see that there are things we want to do or see there, do we move on to the details of making the travel arrangements.

This indicates that, whether based on recommendations of friends and family, or other sources, the destination is selected first, then the accommodations. Why is that important? It greatly affects two things: (1) they type of search people make to find your property (more on that topic in our next article), and (2) the specific information your website should contain (for example, if you have relevant information on activities in your area, your site may come up during the search for information about the area).

With this in mind, how can we increase the likelihood that prospective guests will find us? Let’s look at the three ways they tend to locate a property, and see where we can make it easier for them to find us.

1. Friends and Family

Family is, well, family. But the definition of who is a friend, and the way we make/find friends today, has changed significantly with social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google+ and many other platforms. A few years ago friends were people we knew in our neighborhood, or met at work or within other social settings. Today we add to that our online friends, whether or not we have ever met in person or spoken by phone. Our network of friends is many times larger, and far more widespread, than ever before.

So the question becomes, how do those family and far-flung friends learn of our property, so they can recommend it to our prospective guests? Perhaps they have stayed at our property in the past, and have shared their impressions with friends and family. To the extent they haven’t stayed with us, in most cases they have heard about our property from someone who has stayed with us, or is otherwise interested in our property.

How can we improve our reach to these people? We can think of at least a couple of ways.

First, encourage every guest to share their story of how they enjoyed their stay (hopefully this will be positive comments). If they will share with their network of friends and family, offline or online, it has the potential for a huge reach, and will help to reach those prospective guests.

Second, encourage them to submit reviews on one or more review sites. Be a little careful, as some sites (Yelp comes to mind) forbid you to ask for reviews, while others, like TripAdvisor, encourage you to do so. In addition to these well-known review sites, most bed and breakfast directories allow reviews, and reviews can be placed directly on Google and on several of the OTA’s. Even a “Like” on Facebook or a “+1” on Google will help pass on a favorable impression of your property (and may help with search presence).

2. OTAs and Directories

As mentioned in our earlier article, we think that, for the bed & breakfast or small lodging property, online directories should be included with OTAs as a source of discovery. How can you use these tools to help your prospective guests find you? In this case it should be somewhat evident, but here are our thoughts:

  • Be sure you are listed on the directories which place well in search results for your area. Most directories show up well in most areas, but some are better than others in specific areas. Go to Google, Bing and Yahoo and search for lodging in your area. Try “bed and breakfast your area”, “your area bed and breakfast”, the same substituting “b&b” for bed and breakfast, do it with and without the “&”, and substitute “lodging” and “hotel”. See what directories appear on the first page of the results (even if it is their listing for a competitor). Be sure you’re on those directories.
  • If you’re not already, consider getting on the OTA’s. Bookings through them come at a high price (commission), but the exposure you get may be worth it. You can negotiate a specific arrangement with a Global Distribution System (GDS) provider, or work through some booking system providers, like ResNexus or RezOvation. Tnooz publishes daily reports on which travel sites have the highest market share in different markets. Choose OTA’s with strong penetration in your target markets.

3. TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor has its own way of doing things, and many innkeepers are not happy working with them. Regardless of your views of their system, TripAdvisor is a fact of the innkeeping life today. The best thing to do is to try to work with their system, to help your prospective guests find your property.

First of all, be sure to set up your property information in the TripAdvisor Management Center. You don’t have to like the way it works (we aren’t particularly fond of it) to use it. Make sure your information is current and correct – especially your contact information. As an aside, be sure your business name, address and telephone number are set out exactly as they are in your Google Place Page.

By default, TripAdvisor includes basic information on your property, but no link to your website, and no phone number. To help prospective guests find you, our second suggestion is to consider getting a Business Listing (paid), which will result in TripAdvisor displaying your telephone number and a link to your website. This is especially valuable to the mobile user, who can just click the phone number to call you.

While innkeepers of smaller properties are sometimes reluctant to spend the money it would require for a TripAdvisor business listing, and for the commissions on OTA sites, or even for some of the directories, if the objective is to increase visibility and therefore help your prospective guests find you (and through that process increase your occupancy), these are the areas where the prospective guest is looking, so they are also the areas most likely to produce results.

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