http://www.symbolicinteractive.com/hotelstrategy/web-development.php?content=strategy_03.08.06.txt Hoteliers - What Can You Learn From Ford? By Michael T. Hibdon, CEO, Symbolic Interactive, Inc. What can independent and branded Hotels learn from major automakers when it comes to building an online Web presence? A lot. Not too long ago, major automakers like Ford, Chevrolet and others did not allow their individual dealerships to have their own Websites. Their rationale? The automakers felt the best way to maintain online brand consistency and consistent customer experience was to not allow their dealerships to build independent Websites. Many auto dealerships did as their automaker requested but others ventured out and built their own Websites to promote their dealership, generate leads and drive customer traffic. What the automakers did not anticipate was the many 'auto wholesaler' Websites that began populating the Internet, such as Cars.com, AutoBuyer.com and CarsDirect.com, and the impact they would have on the auto-buying process. The auto dealerships began losing a large number of sales to the auto wholesaler Websites for a number of reasons: The auto wholesaler Websites did not have the overhead of the auto dealerships so they could sell the same car for thousands less than the auto dealerships, while the commissions paid to the auto wholesaler by the automaker were similar to those paid to the dealerships. The auto wholesaler Websites also offered add-ons and other incentives, some of which could not be offered by the auto dealerships. Understandably, the auto dealerships were not happy. Starting to sound familiar? Many more auto dealerships began building their own Websites and started competing. While the automakers do not openly welcome stand-alone Websites, they certainly realize the benefits they generate. A well-planned auto dealership Website benefits the brand overall, generates more revenue and gives the customer a better, more personalized online experience. So how do Hotels fit in to all this? For the past several years, Hotel brands have been tightening the reins on Hotels who have stand-alone Websites. Understandably, the Hotel brands want to maintain their online brand standards and control the reservation process. They also want to control the Email Marketing process to limit risk of litigation from consumers who may receive unwanted Email solicitations. So the question is, "Does a Hotel need a stand-alone Website?" The answer is, "Yes." In fact, a Hotel cannot afford to be without a stand-alone Website. Consider this: Much like the automotive industry, Hotels obviously have wholesalers like Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Travelocity.com, etc. Leisure and corporate travelers, meeting planners and travel agents have three basic options to locate Hotels and make reservations online. Yes, there are many ancillary options, but for this example, we will explore the three major ones: Option #1: The Brand.com Website. Option #2: The Hotels.com type travel-related Websites (referred to here as 'Wholesalers'). Option #3: A stand-alone Website. If the Hotel brands remove Option #3 by taking down all the stand-alone Websites, they leave the leisure and corporate travelers, planners and agents with Option #1, the Brand.com Website and #2, the Wholesaler Websites. What is the impact? First, we know a traveler is generally a 'Brand' buyer or a 'Destination' buyer. Let's assume you operate a Hotel in New York City. A traveler planning a trip to New York City is seeking a Hotel in Manhattan. If the consumer is a Brand buyer, he will go to the Brand.com Website, search for the brand Hotels in New York City and then select a Hotel. The traveler will either make the reservation, or according to some reports, up to 75% of these the Brand buyer travelers will still go to the Wholesaler Websites to investigate a better rate. A Destination buyer will go to a Search Engine and search for "New York City Hotels," or they will go directly to a Wholesaler Website. The top results of their "New York City Hotels" search, of course, will be the Wholesaler Websites. The consumer or planner will go to one of the Wholesaler Websites to find a Hotel and book their stay. Assuming your Hotel does not have a stand-alone Website, the only other opportunity your Hotel or brand has to capture the guest reservation is if the consumer goes to the Brand.com Website and makes a reservation. Do not read this wrong. THIS is exactly what the Brand.com Website is supposed to do and most brands do it well. Now, let's consider the most effective option. If your New York City Hotel had a well-executed stand-alone Website, not only could the Hotel Website appear high in the search results, but a Hotel can proactively market their stand-alone Website to consumers, planners and agents and reach them earlier in the decision-making process. If a Hotel brand is successful in taking down the stand-alone Websites, they will remove 1 of the 3 options the guest, planner or agent has to choose from, leaving only 2 options: The Brand.com Website and the Wholesaler Websites. This does little more than the one thing Hotel brands don't want to do - strengthen the Wholesalers. Consider these other powerful advantages of having your own stand-alone Website: Customized presentation: A Hotel's stand-alone Website will always do a better job of 'selling the destination' and 'selling the Hotel's amenities' than the Brand.com Website ever will. How? The Brand.com Website presents a standard look and feel for all their Hotels. This gives you little chance to stand out and 'sell what makes your Hotel different from your competitors.' A well-produced stand-alone Hotel Website is much more flexible visually by featuring custom graphics, stylized images, strategic Flash enhancements and more. These features do a much better job selling the Hotel, meeting space, accommodations and dining options than the Brand.com Websites. Easy to update: Your specials, packages and ongoing text and image updates are made fast and affordably with a stand-alone Website. The investment: What does a successful stand-alone Hotel Website cost? This refers ONLY to a well-produced, great performing Hotel Website. The average investment for a stand-alone Hotel Website is approximately $15,000 - $25,000, or the equivalent of a couple of print ads or a direct mail campaign. Other options exist at $3,000 - $7,000 for high performance template Websites. A well-planned Hotel Website will always pay for itself many times over with trackable leads, reservation revenue and meeting business - all of which is driven directly to your Brand.com Website. In many cases, the revenue generated by your stand-alone Website is revenue your Hotel and your brand would not generate otherwise. Consider this: A resort Client generated $1.4 million in trackable revenue from their stand-alone Website last year. The brand asked to have the Website taken down. If the Website was taken down, the $1.4 million in revenue would not automatically pass through to the Brand.com Website by default. On the contrary, the reservations and meeting business generated by the Hotel's stand-alone Website would likely be split up: Some going to the Wholesaler Websites, some going to the Brand.com Website and some going to other Hotels in the area that do have stand-alone Websites. One guarantee is that without the stand-alone Website, the Hotel could not generate a dime of this revenue on their own. Another Hotel used the Email Campaign Manager to generate a valuable database of 77,000 opt- in Email leads from visitors to their stand-alone Website. The Hotel sent an Email offer to the database and generated a staggering 26% read rate, a 17% 'Go To Website' rate and a 4% reservation rate! These are OUTSTANDING results. Most importantly, without their stand-alone Website, the Hotel would not have the 77,000 opt-in Email leads to market to, nor would they have generated over $100,000 in trackable reservation revenue in 48 hours. Your competition: Need another reason why you should have a stand-alone Website? Simple. Because your competition has one. Your New York City Hotel relies exclusively on your Brand.com Website to market your Hotel. The brand and independent Hotels you compete with benefit from their Brand.com Websites and from marketing their stand-alone Websites. Their stand-alone Websites feature lead-, revenue- and reservation-generating tools; Online Tours; Photo Galleries; a custom look and feel; etc. Now back to the traveler planning a trip to New York City mentioned above. Considering the Hotel options available to the traveler, who do you feel has the better chance of capturing the traveler's business? Based on the sheer number of online presentation opportunities alone, Hotels with a Brand.com Website and stand-alone Website have a much better chance of capturing more FIT and planner business than a Hotel that relies only on the Brand.com Website. So what are the downsides to having your own stand-alone Website? None. The 'cost' to produce your Website is actually an 'investment' because the cost of development, maintenance and advertising of the stand-alone Website is recouped with trackable reservation and meeting business. Again, this is business you likely will not generate otherwise. Trackable, repeatable business. What is the downside to the Brand.com for you having a stand-alone Website? None, provided the stand-alone Website is produced with a consistent look and feel, is kept current with appealing images and content and presents a great online experience. The benefits to you of having a well-managed stand-alone Website: Optimum Presentation: A stand-alone Hotel Website can present a look and feel that 'sells' your Hotel and destination far better than the Brand.com Website, by offering superior graphics, layout, images, Flash enhancements, etc. Powerful Branding Tool: You can promote your own URL, www.Hotelname.com, that becomes its own branding and marketing tool and produces many more marketing opportunities than the Brand.com Website. Most Accessible Tool: Your stand-alone Website has a much wider reach, is more flexible and can generate more leads and revenue than print ads or direct mail campaigns. Level the Playing Field: If your competition has a stand-alone Website, you can level the playing field with your own. If planned properly, you can even tilt the field to your favor with optimum lead- and reservation-generating strategies. More Leads - More Revenue: Consider this: your Brand.com Website (or even your stand-alone Website) has thousands of visitors each month, but only with a stand-alone Website can you benefit from a tool like the Email Campaign Manager that builds your own manageable Email database by converting visitors to your Website into opt-in Email leads. More Effective Marketing: Your stand-alone Website is more efficient in promoting special offers, packages and promotions. It's easy to update, and in some cases, your Website can feature administrative capabilities allowing your team to make their own updates. Marketing Opportunities - Multiplied: Your stand-alone Website gives the Hotel many more sales, marketing and lead-generating opportunities that are not possible with a Brand.com Website, including Reciprocal Button Ads between your Hotel Website and other like-branded Hotel Websites, Co-op I-Mail campaigns, Affiliate Marketing campaigns, and more. Online Presentation Tools: Your stand-alone Website provides the consumer, planner or agent with many more utilities and tools to 'sell' the Hotel, including Interactive Maps, Online Tours, Photo Galleries, Things To Do tables, I-Brochures, I-Messages, Printable Fact Sheets, etc. Optimum Meeting Sales Tools: A stand-alone Hotel Website provides your Hotel's meeting sales team with more flexible, 'destination'-focused marketing tools to close more business and shorten the sales cycle. Translation - MORE BUSINESS! No Reservation Fees: All reservations and meeting business generated from your stand-alone Website always goes to the Brand.com Website, so there is no loss of revenue as opposed to the business that goes to the Wholesaler Websites. The tug of war between the Hotel brands moving to take down the stand-alone Websites and the Hotels producing them is not likely to end anytime soon. We believe, however, that a well- produced, well-managed stand-alone Website is an asset to them both. About Symbolic: Symbolic is a unique multidisciplinary Interactive Agency. Since 1990 we’ve specialized in developing marketing tools that generate outstanding results for Clients from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. From our start we knew the best results for any marketing effort are achieved only when all the critical elements come together: Creative, Direct Marketing, Design, Production, Sales Strategy and Analysis. We’ve applied this formula to every project we’ve created from our early days of producing half- hour television programming in Los Angeles, to producing Documentaries, Multi-Media projects, Websites, Online Presentations, Email Marketing Campaigns, Online Commercials & Tours and much more. Our commitment to push for better results from our Clients’ projects has resulted in an industry high ‘Client Retention Rate’ as well as having our Clients’ projects recognized with over 125 'Awards for Excellence in Production' - including 54 Telly Awards, 11 Addy Awards and numerous Web Development Awards. We are nothing if not innovators. Even though we have been at this for more than 17 years, we approach each project with the enthusiasm of a rookie, balanced by the experience and guidance of a seasoned veteran. We don’t take on a Client unless we are convinced that our proven solutions will produce results beyond what they are experiencing now. Period. We’ve only been wrong 4 times in 17 years. Symbolic is the trusted partner for many companies including: Orlando World Center Marriott, Intel, Mercedes-Benz, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, The Phoenician, Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Amkor Technologies, JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina, Marriott Hawaii, Starwood Hawaii, Sheraton World Resort, JC Resorts, Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, Team Fuerza Motorsports, Triton Realty Partners, Motorola and many more.