Article: Adam Beck bridging the opinion gap of small hotel owners and the general public on what makes a successful hotel website.
In the current dynamic and fast paced global economy, hospitality businesses are facing increasingly higher levels of competition. With over 22,000 hotels and 16,000 are bed and breakfasts in the UK domestic competition is extremely high (British Hospitality Association, 2009). Small hotels in particular are forced to seek methods of competitive advantage which provide the foundations of survival and long run profitability in such a competitive market.
One strategy which is still relatively new in the industry is the use of the World Wide Web (WWW) as a form of marketing communication tool (Morrison et al., 2004). Currently over 24% of the world population have access to the internet (IWS, 2009) and small hotels owners have only recently realised the advantages which the WWW can provide to both short and long-term competitive advantage in the market.
The majority of consumers use the internet to evaluate hotels and attempt to picture the experience which the hotel is likely to provide (Musante et al, 2009). Although there are numerous third-parties which sell rooms on behalf of hotels, recently hoteliers have began to appreciate that the actual hotel website is the best method to increasing internet sales (Law & Hsu, 2009). Large hotels have reacted to this by dramatically improving the quality and usability of their websites in attracting and maintaining guest (Musate et al, 2009).
Many large hotels and destinations now have virtual walk through applications (Cho et al., 2002), which allow potential guests to experience the ambiance and style of the hotel before making a commitment to reserve a room. However, historically small hotel owners tend to be reluctant to adopt and full utilise technology (Buhalis & Main, 1998; Law & Huang, 2003). This is potentially damaging to the success of these hotels as guests increasingly rely on the internet to make an informed choices about hotels. This article offers some recommendations for small hotel owners on successful web site design.
The research for this article was conducted in three stages. Firstly, literature of small hotels and web design was reviewed to provide a basis from which to take the study forward. Secondly, primary data was collected through a postal questionnaire to small hotels and an internet based public survey for the general public. Finally, the results were analysed and evaluated to identify a number of opinion gaps from which a number of recommendations have been made.
Key Gaps in Opinion
The gaps identified from analysing the date provide a number of key insights for small hotel owners on the differing opinions on the general public. The gaps fall into four areas which small hotel owners may wish to take into consideration:
- Many small hotel owners were found to be aged 41 and over, although this does not necessarily explain the reluctance in the use of technology it does seem to suggest a lack of knowledge and training in these areas. This is perhaps due to the idea of those who are in the industry as a ‘lifestyle’ (Peters et al., 2009). Although these type of owners have differing business objectives it is important to understand the benefits of the internet in meeting these.
- Although online booking was considered to be less important than other factors on a website many small hotel owners rely on the internet for over 61% of total sales. This would suggest that online booking may provide increased opportunity to generate sales and this is likely to become important in the future.
- Almost half of hotel owners thought that an improvement to the hotel website would not generate more sales. Although those who did feel that an improvement would be beneficial were those owners who had the least sales come directly from their website. The majority of the general public said that an improvement would perhaps change their opinion of the hotel and therefore this is an important factor to consider.
- Perceptions on content differed quite considerably between small hotel owners and the general public. The general public rated price as being most important which differed from small hotel owners opinions. Also small hotel owners considered that local area information was not important ranking it 9th out of 10, however, the general public considered this to be 4th most important. See the table below for full results:
|Rank||Website Content||Rank||Website Content|
|1st||Hotel Information||6th||Overall Usability|
|4th||Availability Information||9th||Local Area Information|
|5th||The Hotel Name||10th||Online Booking|
|Rank||Website Content||Rank||Website Content|
|2nd||Hotel Information||7th||Overall Style|
|3rd||Hotel Pictures||8th||Availability information|
|4th||Local Area Information||9th||Online Booking|
|5th||Overall Usability||10th||The Hotel Name|
Recommendations for Small Hotel Owners
The gaps which were identified allow for a number of recommendations to be made for small hotel owners which may help with the overall success of their website design. Although these recommendations have been made it is important to understand that these are only from results of this study and secondary research. Each small hotel is uniquely different and therefore some or all of the recommendations may not suit each hotel. The aim of the recommendations is to provide some useful suggests as to possible ways in which small hotel website can be improved in attracting potential guests:
- Training in information technology (IT) is important for those small hotel owners who perhaps do not have these skills (Main, 2001). This study has continually highlighted the importance of technology in the modern hotel industry. Small hotel owners that discount technology as a form of competitive advantage are likely to lose competitive advantage in the long run.
- General awareness of the internet and it importance is also key. Small hotel owners must read literature and understand the importance of the internet as a source of competitive advantage.
- Small hotel owners should be actively involved in the design of their individual website. Research suggested that 66% of hotel owners in the study had a professional design the website. Although this is perhaps obvious due to the complex nature of web design and demographics of hotel owners this perhaps restricts the any changes which wish to be made to the website. Therefore, a more involved approach to website design would provide owners with more information and confidence to make regular updates to the website.
- Staying up to date with industry trends is extremely important to the success of a small hotel website. Many articles are published on a continuing basis and it is important for small hotel owners to stay up to date with these articles and implement some of the advice offered by academics and industry practitioners. Previous studies have found that small hotel owners have not been on a training course (Main, 2001; Glancey & Pettigrew, 1997). Therefore, formal training may help small hotel owners to gain a better understanding of technology.
- Website design should not only be considered as a general need and expense. Time should be taken to maintain the website and add value were necessary (Gilbert & Perry, 2002).
- Continuing improvements and information updates are important to the success of a website. Research has proven that now many potential guests look to find all the information they are looking for from one single website (Hsu et al., 2004). Therefore, it is important for small hotel owners to go the extra way in providing potential guests with up to date information on both the property and the local area in order to create the impression of improving experiences for guests (Pine & Gilmore, 1998).
- The results in the this study found that local area information was considered to be important for potential guests but small hotel owners thought that this was one of the least important. Also in the observation of small hotel websites local area was often lacking in-depth and quality. Previous studies have stated the importance of local area information and pictures to add value to a website (Perdue, 2001; Musante et al., 2009). Small hotel owners should make every effort to have as much local area information on the website as possible. However, it should user-friendly for the potential guests (Kline et al., 2004; Morrison et al., 2004), for example putting attraction under categories.
- Small hotel owners must consider the key content factors which make up a successful website. Although owners and the general public had a similar perception on content there were a number of key differences. The observation also identified a number of key weaknesses in the top three factors chosen by owners and the general public. These key areas must be developed by small hotel owners in order to make the website appealing to the varying needs of guests (Sigala, 2004).
- Changing needs of potential guests mean that although they did not consider online booking to be very important it is likely that this will change over time. Providing online booking or at the very least real-time information is likely to be important for small hotel owners (Hsu et al., 2004).
These recommendations provide small hotel owners with a number of possible solutions to successful website design. Many of the recommendations are relatively easy to implement into website design with little or no cost. However, it is important for small hotel owners to carry out a costs/benefit analysis to identify if the benefits outweigh the costs of these changes. In most cases it is likely that the benefits outweigh the costs, however, these will be occasions where this is reversed. Perhaps a useful method to do this is through the modified balanced score card approach which allows small hotel owners to evaluate their website from a number of a successful marketing strategy (Morrison et al., 1999). It is also important to understand that a website should only be one element of an organisations online activity. Review websites and social media are also becoming increasingly important as marketing tools and should not be discounted by small hotel owners. Managing these with the hotel website being the central tool is perhaps a strategy for success.
Please note: This article is published for information only and any recommendations given are the opinion of the author and therefore, should only be used if the reader feels they are applicable. The article has been produced using research and analysis from an MSc Tourism and Hospitality Dissertation by Adam Beck (2009). A full reference list is available for all cited research in this article on request via email.