By Neil Salerno

Once upon a time, the hotel industry was much different than it is today. Gone are the days of random cold sales calls, bulging paper sales files, trips to the library for lead research, and front desks deluged with information calls with phones busy or ringing endlessly. It took forty years to see these changes.

Major innovations such as the personal computer, facsimiles, mobile phones, and of course, the Internet, have influenced us to make many changes in the way we operate hotels. The greatest of these changes came in the ways in which we market our products to the public.

If ?where we are today? provides any insight into ?where we?re going?, the hotel industry is in for some exhilarating changes to come. Few people could have imagined how much new technology and the Internet would expand the travel market and level the playing field for all hotels to compete in the new world marketplace.

Personal computers enabled us to create and build data bases to maintain valuable information for customer service management (CSM), sales lead follow-up, and front office/accounting/sales management, simplify the budgeting process, and to reduce our dependence upon paper file records.

The Internet gave us the ability to communicate, computer to computer, around the world, in real-time. It has become the greatest communication tool ever devised; a tool, which revolutionized world travel and hotel marketing. Yet, there are still many hoteliers who are not taking advantage of the Internet?s vast reach and power to create reservations.

Once upon a time before the Internet, hotel franchises dominated the marketplace; they had sophisticated voice and electronic reservations systems and the financial where-with-all to market their member properties using all forms of broadcast and print advertising. Independent hotels couldn?t compete with this power.

Franchising flourished during that time while independent hotels had to work harder just to stay in the reservations race, at all. Many independent hotels were relegated to being satisfied with overflow from larger franchised hotels. Marketing, even in simple terms, was an impossible dream.

That?s all gone now; hotels, of all sizes, have the ability to attract travelers from all reaches of the world market, effectively and affordably. Perhaps the most amazing fact is that there are still many hoteliers who have not embraced the Internet as a viable and affordable marketing tool.

Unfortunately, many of these hoteliers became disenchanted with the Internet because of poor results from web sites which were created by people with little knowledge of effective hotel web site design. Most of these site designers just don?t understand the design elements which make a hotel site functional and effective; to both attract visitors through generic search and then, convert those visitors into reservations with a properly conceived web site.

Many hotel web sites are still being designed like brochures; many designers ignore the need to conform to search engine requirements and the fact that the Internet is a text-driven medium. First, an effective hotel web site needs to be designed to work within search engine specifications; this is the primary failure of many hotel sites. Second, the design must incorporate text which emphasizes the hotel?s location, facilities, and nearby attractions; sales text which clearly and distinctly emphasizes the basic necessities of consumer hotel selection.

The biggest problem, that I see, is that there are many web site designers who don?t understand how search engines function and how consumers select hotels on the Internet. Their quest to be unique leads them to design sites which have more images than text; they ignore the hotel?s location, perhaps the most important site element; they create strange and difficult to follow navigation schemes; and they write thoughtless, poorly written, text.

The Internet is changing the way consumers select hotels. The Internet has become the most important hotel search and find tool in the hotel selection process. Gone are the days of the dominance of offline hotel directories and the need to call hotel 800 reservation numbers to gather information. Fading, also, is the effectiveness of stars and diamonds to evaluate hotels.

Once upon a time, star and diamond rankings meant a lot to both hotels and travelers alike. Short of calling or writing every hotel or franchise, it was the only tool travelers had to evaluate the facilities and services of hotels of interest. The Internet is eroding the importance of stars and diamonds, since visitors now have a simple means to visit hotels online.

On-line travel agents, in their attempt to build consumer loyalty, have created their own form of star and diamond rankings to build repeat-traveler confidence in their service. In my opinion, they still don?t get it. Ranking hotels by facilities and services alone still misses the most important element of ?value?. Consumers select hotels by overall perceived value; believe it.

Value is the relationship between rates and the location/facilities/service which is offered by the hotel. ?Value? is still the most prominent factor in hotel selection. If someone can develop rankings based upon overall value, that would be very effective; but it?s not an easy task. Few travelers select hotels based solely upon rates nor, most certainly, upon facilities/services alone. It is the relationship between the two that matters.

Once upon a time, individual hotels had no way to either establish or display their overall value; that is before the Internet. A hotel?s web site should and must do that in the most effective way possible. Carefully written text is a critical key.

New technology is wonderful, but the tools, it creates, need to be used properly in order to be effective. The Internet can be the most cost-effective tool in your marketing arsenal. Was your site developed to conform to search engine guidelines? Does it emphasize your hotel?s location; the most important element in web search? Is the text properly written to sell your property? Is your site equipped to accept real-time online reservations?

I believe that our best times are yet to come. There are many young brilliant minds out there creating new technology to further change and improve the way we work. Who would have ever dreamed, just a few years ago, consumers would have the ability to find a hotel and make a reservation on their handheld computer/phone, in real-time online? Amazing!

You can contact Neil Salerno at Hotel Marketing Coach