The first-ever, comprehensive study of “Best Practices on Internet Marketing and Distribution for Resorts,” initiated by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International’s (HSMAI) Resort Marketing Special Interest Group, just went on sale to the industry-at-large. Available through HSMAI’s online store, the comprehensive report, published by the HSMAI Foundation, is available for $500.

“This is a tremendous resource for sales and marketing professionals in the resort industry, as they now can have access to an in-depth and comprehensive best practices study on Internet marketing and distribution,” explains Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHA, president and CEO of HSMAI.

The report benchmarked participating resorts in key Internet marketing metrics such as: total marketing spent as a percentage of total revenue; marketing efficiency; percentage of electronic channel revenue as a percentage of total revenue; percentage of e-marketing spent to total revenue; and direct web revenue per web marketing dollar spent. Using these metrics, participants were categorized based upon their efficiency in marketing dollars spent and Internet revenue volume. The resulting categories were: experimenters, champions, novices, and “gotta get out of this box.”

“The move to online marketing has been more gradual in the resort sector than in other travel sectors, as many independent resorts don’t have the resources to research all of the options available to them to fully implement an online marketing program,” states Cindy Estis Green, director of the study and managing partner of The Estis Group. “Resorts pay particular attention to consistent customer service and understand that a resort purchase is a complex one. Their unique needs require them to spend a lot of time blending their online and offline reservation procedures. The Best Practices report helped illustrate each step in this process.”

According to Frank Fredericks, vice president, sales and marketing, Wild Dunes Resort: “With the support from the Destination Hotels & Resorts corporate office, we were progressive in our Internet marketing efforts, but this report gave us some ideas that we could not have come up with internally. It was so useful to see what other resorts were doing and figure out how we could make those ideas work for us at Wild Dunes...we have had tremendous success with the initiatives we undertook after the report was released.”

John Washko, director of sales & marketing for The Broadmoor, states: “This report was a wake-up call for a complete examination of our approach to Internet marketing. We knew it was important, but this report spelled it out for us with real examples and case studies. We used this information as a catalyst to implement a comprehensive e-commerce strategy.”

Emerging from the study is a series of eight building blocks that establish a sound strategy. The full report details each of the following topics.

1. Website Planning: setting goals, planning, and designing a website.

2. Establishing Infrastructure: building the systems to support a website’s goals.

3. Building Traffic: search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, link strategies, email campaigns and stimulating group opportunities.

4. Dovetailing with Offline: websites (internal and external) and how they function without the interaction of sales and rooms operational teams such as reservation call centers, customer service, revenue management, and offline marketing.

5. Third Party Influence: considering third party intermediaries including wholesalers, search engines, meta-search engines, GDS vendors and affiliate marketers.

6. Closing the Loop with Customers: incorporating customer feedback regarding service, travel patterns and product preferences in an Internet marketing plan.

7. Keeping Score: a series of metrics to measure success and failure, tracking cost/benefit analyses, post-campaign analyses, etc.

8. Keeping Up with the Joneses: knowing what may be applicable in the 2-5 year time horizon in the areas of new technology, new communication methods and new distribution channels.

A further sampling of the findings include:

- The Internet is a high intensity medium, unlike traditional advertising undertaken by many resorts. The consumer receives a resort’s message because they choose to, so they have the potential to be 100% engaged when they are exposed to an online message. There is a fundamental shift in the online space from “push” techniques where messages are pushed to consumers to a “pull” technique in which messages are selected by the consumers. This change is crucial to understand as a marketer in order to take advantage of the new opportunities in a marketplace that is consumer-driven, not-supplier driven. As mobile devices such as MP3 players, PDAs, and cell phones proliferate, this message is even clearer.

- Upon launching a website, each resort effectively enters the global arena. Some of the global implications include addressing international issues such as language, relationships with international carriers, the role of third party intermediaries to penetrate emerging markets, and sourcing cost-effective means to raise resort awareness in markets with a high level of online travel research and booking. Portfolio diversity applies to the customer base for opportunities to smooth seasonal patterns, to fill group holes and to compensate for markets during periods of economic fluctuation.

- Leveling the playing field between chains and independents. There is a resort’s customer base and then there is the universe of potential customers who have not yet been exposed to a resort’s name, no matter how well known the resort may be in its region or even in the United States. Prior to the Internet’s usage by the consumer market, it was not practical to consider marketing to the wide audience of those unaware of a single brand name resort. It is now, not only practical, but would be irresponsible for a marketing team to miss the opportunity to address this wider market.

- This game is not won by getting more bookings through your website, but by getting more bookings. Online distribution creates tremendously exciting opportunities to facilitate more revenue. How this new revenue comes will vary by resort. Each resort can use online utilities to support its business plan in different ways. Some will gain more through retention, some will gain more through improved dispersal of information, some will create a machine that channels bookings through existing call centers, and some will rely on third parties for incremental business during need periods. Some will win by higher yields through reductions in sales and advertising costs. The possibilities and the combinations for success are extensive.

The report also generated a number of issues and misconceptions, and goes into greater detail on the following:

- How often to optimize a website and update keywords, and understanding the difference between designing a site and implementing effective search marketing.

- Relying on “name recognition” to be found online versus utilizing search engines to build traffic.

- On Distribution Channel Management, many resorts have not realized they can control every channel that delivers business to them. Dismissing online travel agencies and online wholesalers because of perceived rate is not really what it may seem.

The Resort Best Practices studies are conducted by The Estis Group under the direction of Cindy Estis Green and under the auspices of the HSMAI Resort Marketing Special Interest Group.

Related Link: HSMAI