Guide to online marketing: Using external websites

Ensure your restaurant, hotel or pub is seen online with help from our online marketing guide

As the online world grows in size, how can you ensure your restaurant, hotel or pub doesn't get lost in that increasing community?

Over the next four days BigHospitality will be looking at the different ways you can market your hospitality business online to help you reach more customers, build your brand and hopefully increase bookings.

From the use of external websites, to social networking, e-newsletters and mobile phone applications, each day we'll be looking at the best route for your particular business as well as providing our top tips for using each one.

Today, we look at how putting your business on external sites can help boost your presence on the web and how best to manage that relationship if you do commit.

What does an external site do?

Chances are you have a website that represents your restaurant, hotel or pub already, but unless a customer already knows the name of your business or you have paid a marketing expert for your site to appear at the top of search engine rankings, then it could remain invisible to the wider world.

There are dozens of websites out there that will list details of your business, allow users to book rooms or tables or post reviews about them. If you haven't noticed any so far, check out Opentable, Toptable, TripAdvisor and Laterooms to name a few.

Some websites you pay to have a presence on, others are free, but what they’ll all be able to provide is more exposure and the potential for extra bookings.

Why use external sites?

According to hotel marketer Magnuson, 63 per cent of independent UK hotels are not bookable online, yet 75 per cent of guests use travel websites to book hotels (source: P&G Professional and The British Hospitality Association), so it makes sense to use them if you want to increase potential for future bookings via the web.

What are the benefits of external sites?

Not only can being listed on another site give you the chance to increase the number of bookings to your business, it has the benefit of building your brand and can even help you improve the level of service you offer.

Opentable's managing director for Europe David Pritchard, said: "The good restaurants understand the power of diner feedback and use that information to increase the quality of what they are doing."

Anna Adamovics, online marketing executive at K West Hotel & Spa in West London, adds: "We always respond to our reviews and it helps that you can do that openly on TripAdvisor. I don’t know if it is making any difference to our bookings, but it certainly helps build your presence and reputation among guests."

The other benefit is they market your business to the world, not just your local community or country. And that doesn't just apply to hotels: Pritchard says a growing number of bookings at London restaurants via his website are coming from American tourists who want to know where they'll be dining before arriving in the UK.

"Because restaurants on Opentable are also connected to the US site we can see that an increasing percentage of registered users are making reservations from North America for London," he said.

How to manage the relationship

While it is a good idea to align your business with an external site, it is not a good idea to let that relationship stagnate.

Those who have seen positive results from using this form of marketing so far have also spent time updating information about their business on external sites and by making the most of the benefits they offer. Speaking at the Hotel Marketing Association's forum on online marketing last week, TripAdvisor’s hotel trade relations advisor Guillaume Thevenot, urged hoteliers to make their presence felt on its site to build a relationship with guests: “Thank the best and explain the worst,” he adds.

Thevenot's counterpart at hotel bookings and review site Laterooms.com, Lee Rainford agreed that pro-active management is the key to success. "One of the mid-market hotel groups measures the performance of its general managers on ratings on sites like Laterooms and TripAdvisor and this hotel chain has the best review scores on Laterooms," he says.

Pritchard of Opentable adds: "We provide restaurants with the tools to do all the things they want through our site. Once we've put them on the network they can participate in all the marketing activity they like. There is a place for restaurants to put offers up, they can post a profile, put up their menus, photos and more.

"The ones that get the biggest return are those that actively use the system."

Top tips for marketing through other sites:

Ensure details are correct: It’s no use having presence on a website if information about your hotel, restaurant or pub is incorrect or out-of-date. Customers are unlikely to return if the offer you’ve promised is no longer available or will swiftly move onto another hotel if the link offered them to book through doesn’t work.

Respond to postings: If a customer posts a bad review you must respond quickly to limit damage. TripAdvisor allows each hotel access to their account so they can respond to individual reviews and so users can see both sides of the story. Opentable will supply restaurants with a registered user’s email if they want to respond to a bad review offline, but the restaurant’s response cannot be posted online.

Be honest: Don’t be tempted to post up photos that enhance the look of your business. According to Laterooms.com, hotels using images that represent their business honestly are more likely to get repeat bookings than those who use images that show rooms in a more complimentary, yet inaccurate, light.

You can find all our articles on online marketing here

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