Better merchandised hotels get more bookings…

That’s why visual merchandising needs to be added to every hotelier’s online strategy.

A successful online strategy should be focused on both driving traffic to websites, but also converting it when they arrive. SEO, PPC and many Social Media activities are primarily focused on driving traffic and creating awareness online, while visual merchandising is what helps convert traffic and close the sale.

According to Forrester Research, 38% of US online hotel guests — 47.5 million people — avoid staying at hotels that they can afford because they don’t see photos, video, or written content that would make them feel comfortable.

These guests are considered ‘content-sensitive’ travelers. They are “young, quality-focused travelers who take more trips and spend more on leisure travel annually than other travelers.” You could be losing out on bookings from this segment of premium guests because your online merchandising efforts aren’t up to snuff.

What do these content-sensitive travelers want?

Well, the days of getting bookings by displaying a few still photos and standardized text are gone. Travel shoppers need to feel like they are getting to experience your hotel when researching online.

High-quality, large high-definition images, zoom, virtual tours with 360 degree spin and videos emulate the experience of actually being in the hotel. “According to Sapient, adding video to a travel client’s site more than doubled the number of people who went on to book the product.”

By delivering the optimal visual experience, hotels can differentiate themselves and increase conversions.

Merchandising needs to extend beyond your own website.

These days, travel shoppers use multiple websites while planning their trips including online travel agencies, social media and review sites, destination sites and more. In fact, a study by Google found that when planning a vacation, the average person spends 29 days doing 12 searches and visits 22 different travel sites. Third-party sites act as gateways to your own sales channels so your content needs to be there, period.

No matter where shoppers view your hotel online, they should get the same visually rich experience that inspires them to book.

Source: Henry H. Harteveldt and Elizabeth Stark, Poor Content Could Cost Travel eBusiness Money, September 8, 2009.

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