Thursday, August 7, 2008

Grab demand by the horns

Although demand is slipping in the U.S. (down 2.5 percent since Q2 2007, according to Smith Travel Research), there are still plenty of people booking hotel rooms. The trick is learning how to make sure those travelers stay at your place and not with someone else, according to Scott Farrell, VP of revenue strategy for TravelClick.

Farrell, along with other members of the TravelClick team including John Hach, VP of eMarketing solutions, presented a webinar yesterday titled "First Half of 2008 Global Hotel Performance: Finding the Way Forward."

Farrell and Hach said there isn't going to be a spectacular turnaround between now and the end of the year. Expect more of the same, they said. But, Hach pointed out, this downturn is extremely different than the last industry downturn, after Sept. 11, 2001. This time, he said, hotels understand rate parody and realize that if they drop rates now, it will be very hard to recover. Instead, ADR continues to grow and, in turn, as does RevPAR, albeit incrementally.

Both Farrell and Hach stressed the importance of a hotel's online presence. They advised hoteliers to market their property on several different channels instead of relying on one.

"It's not spending more money, it's reallocating money and spending it smarter," Hach said.

Ferrell said today's consumers aren't looking at just one site and booking a room from there. Instead, they are shopping around at many different sites trying to find a better deal. For this reason, the opaque sites (sites that don't display the price right away, such as Priceline and Hotwire) are increasing in popularity because they can offer rooms at a reduced rate, even if its just by $1 or $2. The TravelClick team also said GDS bookings rose from $55 million in 2007 to $56 million in 2008, noting "the value of the travel agent continues to have a significant impact."

Here are four takeaways from yesterday's TravelClick webinar:
  • Expand your distribution presence: Consumers are learning where to shop online, so make rooms available through many different channels.
  • Pool the local market: With airline capacity shrinking, a good place to make up for those missing travelers is locally. Offer marketing promotions to nearby travelers, such as gas cards and restaurant gift cards.
  • Expand your virtual presence: Make continual improvements to your website and let it be known what you have to offer. Invest in a content management system so employees can add things to the website without toying with HTML code.
  • Measure and benchmark conversions: Drive clicks to your website, monitor where consumers came from and how they booked.
An archived version of the "First Half of 2008 Global Hotel Performance: Finding the Way Forward" webinar will be available here after August 15.

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