Nickelodeon Family Suites in Orlando, Fla., often saw numerous people come by its Web site and transition from site visitors to hotel visitors.
However, the owners soon realized they may be going after the
wrong audience, says Jim Struna, director of marketing revenue
management at Nickelodeon Family Suites.
“One thing we did wrong was that even though we’re a
kid-friendly hotel, our site was very much geared to children and a
little too cartoony,” Struna says. “It was not
conducive to the adult who was actually making the
Besides cleaning up the site to address adult concerns while
conveying its kid-friendly image, Struna’s team also hit upon
key elements to Web 2.0 — focusing on search engine
optimization, adding social networking tools, and creating a site
that was easy to search and lead visitors to the booking engine. In
addition, his marketing budget — like many other resorts
— continues to allocate more toward online efforts.
While online marketing has become as essential to a waterpark
resort as traditional marketing, it must be maintained constantly
to convert Web-site visitors into resort visitors.
In today’s market, simply putting up a Web site is not
enough anymore. Convincing people to spend their limited dollars at
your resort means maximizing search engine optimization, committing
to and managing social networking tools, and updating the Web site
Strategizing the opportunities
Putting more attention on Web-based marketing is crucial, if not
obvious, because more visitors rely on the Internet to research
trips and make purchasing decisions.
According to a study by Hotels.com, trip planners are spending more time
online conducting research to base a booking decision. Adults spent
at least eight hours online in 2008 preparing to book trips, 48
minutes longer than in 2007.
For that reason, a well-planned and well-monitored Web site can
draw the attention of potential and return visitors. But rather
than just implementing various tools and randomly experimenting
with what’s popular, online marketing must be managed
Rost, the firm that worked to boost Kalahari
Resorts’ Web presence, spent a good amount of time
researching the resort’s online users. The Sheboygan,
Wis.-based firm found that Kalahari’s core audience is
mothers 25 to 54 years old, who surf the Web to research trips for
their families while comparing rates.
“They were spending more and more time online visiting
sites that had content specific to them,” says Jim Jelak,
account supervisor at Jacobson Rost.
He added that these consumers “want stuff quicker,”
and that convenience and the ability to get and share information
is important to them.
Spending must be carefully planned as well. “If you have
only one dollar to spend, it should be spent on search engine
marketing,” says Anil Aggarwal, CEO of MileStone
Internet Marketing in Santa Clara, Calif., which specializes in
hotel marketing. “If you have two, it should be on paid
advertising. The third is e-mail marketing. The fourth is social
But don’t forget about your traditional media either,
experts warn. Online is a huge part of reaching your audience in an
interactive, personal way, but traditional channels are still
effective. Many big resorts still have TV, radio and billboard
advertising, which can lead to more Web-site searches.
Web site basics
Marketing online provides the guest and the resort with instant
gratification: The guest can book immediately, and the resort can
measure its Web success.
“Unlike traditional media, you may get ratings months
after a program ran or daily estimates of how many cars drive by
the billboard,” Jelak says. “We can measure how many
people went to our site, [how long they spent] there and where they
went, and we can make adjustments.”
It’s easy to set up a Web site, but it’s quite
another thing to set up a good Web site. “There are many Web
sites out there for hotels that are not functional,” says
Neil Salerno, president of Hotel
Marketing Coach in Sarasota, Fla. He says many sites can be
very aesthetically pleasing, but “lose the function of
finding that Web site.”
First and foremost, experts emphasize, keep it simple.
It’s easy to become wound up in all the fancy features of a
site, but all those bells and whistles can confuse a visitor.
“You need to quickly get your message in front of these
folks,” Jelak says. “Consumers turn to online and want
information organized in a way that’s easy for them to find
and to act on.”
Aggarwal suggests listing the top five reasons people come to
the destination resort and “clearly enunciate that.”
For example, if your resort has a convention center, there should
be a section that leads convention-seekers directly to information
about that. If it is a family vacation, then family-types should be
able to click on a link that leads them to information pertinent to
Also make sure your site contains information that visitors
want. Look at your current traffic to see which pages are visited
the most. Rates, room sizes, packages, amenities, traveling with
families, and information about the area likely are some key items,
according to experts.
Struna says it was a surprise to find out that the FAQ section
was Nickelodeon family suites’ most- visited page, indicating
that people were looking for basic, important information, even
more than photos.
“The main push of our Web site is giving the customer what
they need,” Struna says. “A lot of them want to service
themselves and just want the information, and don’t want to
talk to us.”
But don’t overlook photos as an important extra to dress
up your site. According to Hotels.com’s study, 67 percent of
people feel better about a booking online after seeing a photo of
the property. Photos can be presented in its own gallery or next to
different text on a page.
Aggarwal suggests using high-quality photography or even a
virtual tour to guide visitors through the property.
Avoid using Flash, however. Salerno says this animation software
sometimes can be a detriment to a site, especially if the
user’s computer is not equipped to present it well.
Finally, Salerno stresses the importance of having a booking
engine on your site. The site should always lead people to the
booking engine, where they can make their purchases. “The
mentality of people on the Internet is that they just want to
complete their transaction on the Internet,” he says.
Shop around for a booking engine that fits your needs and
budget, and note that a third-party engine can still be designed to
match the look and feel of the resort. While some believe phone
interaction provides personalized customer service, it may actually
hinder the completion of a transaction.
“A well-designed booking engine is just as important as
the actual Web site,” Salerno says. Look for one that is easy
to maintain because you will have to update your own inventory and
pricing, and be sure that whatever you choose does not charge
Having a great Web site is only as effective as its ability to
actually be found online, experts say. The most important part of
your site is making sure it comes up in organic searches on Google,
Yahoo, AOL and other search engines.
Before developing a Web site, Aggarwal strongly advises thorough
keyword research. This, he says, can be accomplished by following
Google.com guidelines, which provide a list of related keywords and
its click-success rate.
When choosing words, think about what drives your resort’s
business. Perhaps it’s a connected convention center, local
attractions or a banquet area for weddings and parties.
Remember to label multimedia properly, as well with keyword
captions and descriptions. “People are searching by images
and videos now,” Struna says.
To help the organic search, experts advise spending money on
paid search as well. Purchasing keywords helps guarantee more
visitors to the site for a fee per click, which can help build the
initial traffic. Paid search can either bump your Web site to the
top of search engines, or offer advertising that people click on to
get to your site.
Paid keywords can be adjusted according to your site’s
needs. Struna likes to tweak the time of day and other factors that
allow better traction on certain keywords. For example, some of his
stronger keywords might have better search results in mid-morning
after the kids have gone off to school and mom has a little
downtime to do some research for an upcoming vacation.
However, hotels should not rely on paid search alone, says
Salerno, mostly because it can be very expensive. He recommends
using it as a launch tool, but not for long-term solutions. Focus
should be placed on the organic search instead.
A great way to build organic search is through social networking.
Social networking has become the hot new buzzword around the
watering hole, and everyone’s trying to hop online to make
friends, post updates and tweet their customers. But it’s not
just about casual connections. Delving into the social marketing
realm requires full-scale attention, experts say.
“Social networking is only as good as the person behind
it,” says Jeff Siebert, director of communications at
Schlitterbahn Waterparks, based in New Braunfels,
Texas. While services such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs are free
of charge, he says it can be a time commitment to keep the designs
fresh and to constantly update each one.
Siebert likes to send Twitter messages, or
“Schlittertweets,” as he walks about the park, offering
updates about the going-ons of the day.
Struna says Nickelodeon Family Suites launched a big initiative
and hired its first social media intern who set up Twitter and
Facebook accounts, and keeps them updated. Struna finds Twitter
very useful and adds that it provides a personalized customer
service touch by answering questions sent directly from the
Nickelodeon began by sending Twitter messages once a week, and
increasing up to a daily message as demand rose. Within two months,
it rose to 800 followers, with another 500 two weeks after
Similarly, on Facebook and other social networking sites, hotels
can create a “fan page,” which allows people to join as
“fans” and post comments and photos. In addition, the
hotel can add resort specials and packages exclusive to Facebook
fans and provide updates around the property. Within three months,
Kalahari saw its Facebook followers jump to 7,000 people, many of
whom like to converse amongst each other.
“Kalahari doesn’t even have to respond [to
questions],” he says. “Other fans will
Aggarwal says blogs are a very effective way to market a hotel
property as well. Similar to Facebook and Twitter, blogs can offer
a more sophisticated approach to advertising updates and promoting
specials. This tool provides more room for description and should
touch on attractions surrounding the resort, as well as the
happenings at the hotel itself.
Siebert is the main driver of “Schlitterblog,” a
combined blog for all the Schlitterbahn parks in the country. To
spread his workload, he sends out requests for photos and news from
the other parks to add into the Schlitterblog. Some of his recent
posts include a behind-the-scenes look at a recent Travel Channel
visit and a glimpse at the installation of a new ride.
Videos are another popular driver of social interaction on a
site that also promotes the resort. The easiest, and best, part
about videos, experts agree, is the amount of user-generated
content posted online already.
“We found our customers are out there talking about us
quite a bit,” Struna says. So much, that of the 900 videos on
its YouTube channel page, only three were created by Nickelodeon
The others were created by its visitors. Struna’s team
also encourages user videos by hosting video awards and giving
prizes to the best videos.
Similarly, Kalahari has seen strong numbers with its YouTube
video channel as well. Jelak’s team uploaded some content and
encouraged guests to do the same. So far, they’ve had 50,000
channel views and subscribers to the videos.
Jelak likes using videos because of its fun interactivity and
ability to add newsy content to the site for free. At a recent
grand opening of Safari adventure the newest attraction at
Kalahari, Sandusky, Ohio, they took videos of kids feeding giraffes
and later found that fans had done the same thing and posted it on
Lastly, there’s always “traditional” online
marketing: e-mail. Aggarwal advises sending out e-newsletters to
subscribers and hotel guests with similar updates of upcoming
events, specials, deals, discounts and other news.
This not only reaches people who prefer a quieter version of
online marketing, but helps maintain a good mailing list.
E-newsletter templates should be designed by a professional who can
optimize them to fit every Web browser and email type. Subject
headers should be written with catchy phrases that won’t be
caught in a SPAM filter.
Of course, the e-mail also should link readers to the booking
engine because after all, it’s the revenue that really
determines the online marketing’s success.
“The marketing dollars — we’re watching every
one of them, and that’s one of the things that makes online
attractive to us,” Jalek says.