#AskDJV Episode 52: Live Chat

#AskDJV Episode 52 talks about Live Chat and how it can help the customer service efforts of your hotels.  Learn how managed live chat can be attained for your hotel at affordable prices while bringing an old technology to the forefront.  Get Live Chat for hotels today.

Video Transcript:

Live Chat for Hotels

 

Hello Everybody and Welcome to the #AskDJV Show, I’m DJ Vallauri and thank you so much for joining me this week.

 

This is Episode 52 so I’m super pumped because we’ve been putting out these videos for over a year.

On this week’s show, I’d like to talk about how Customer Service is really becoming a marketing advantage and marketing differentiator for hotels who do it right.  Think about the Ritz Carlton hotel company.  You think about Ritz Carlton and you know you’re going to get great service, right? You just know it.

If you stay at a Ritz Carlton, and you stay at a JW Marriott or Mandarin Oriental or St. Regis or Four Seasons, they are all great facilities, they have great rooms, great accommodations, they are all lavishly appointed, but where the Ritz Carlton hotel company does it right is when they provide their level of service.  If a customer has an issue, each employee has the ability to spend up to $2,000 on the spot to solve that customer’s issue.  They can spend that money without having to get his or her management approval.  That’s key.  That’s what makes Ritz Carlton above and beyond when it comes to customer service in our industry.

As consumers, we have high speed internet access on our phones.  Our phones are with us nearly 24/7, right.  When we have a question of the hotel, we are always forced to call.  As you know, sometimes the hotels don’t answer the telephone promptly, which causes us to call the hotel numerous times.

Why put your guests through that, when you can solve and provide great customer service, solve the issues they might have right on the spot in real time.  I’m going to tell you how to do that.

Customer Service begins the first time that consumer engages with your hotel brand online and on your website.  Every hotel should have installed on their website a push to chat, also known as a live chat function.

Whenever we have a question online, we see that “let me help you” “chat with me now”, we click on that and ask a question.

The same thing needs to apply to the hotel industry.  The technology is there, consumers have been using it for ten years, we all know how to use live chat, there’s no learning curve whatsoever.

That’s where the marketing advantage comes in.  Now our firm, Lodging Interactive actually has a live chat fully managed service and we provide live chat to many, many hotels.  With our own people in the United States, we put the technology on your website and we provide live chat service support for the hotel industry seven days a week.

So, we can provide that service for you if you can’t do it yourself and we can do so in a cost-effective manner. Live Chat provides your hotel with a huge competitive advantage in the marketplace.

So, if you have any questions, I welcome them.  Please email me at dj@lodginginteractive.com.  And as always please make sure you follow us by clicking on the subscribe button down below on YouTube to make sure you get weekly announcements of these videos.

Thanks again for joining us this week and we hope to see you next week.

Google Mobile First Indexing: What it means for Your Hotel Website

Google’s ranking system has been looking at content on the desktop version to evaluate user relevance. Then in May 2016, Google’s algorithms were updated to include mobile friendliness as a ranking factor. Today, Google Mobile First Indexing is going to affect how well you rank in the Search Engines.  Most searches are carried out using mobile devices. In fact, according to eMarketer research, 69.8% of travelers will book flights and hotels via mobile by 2019.

Responsive websites were created to adapt to both the desktop and mobile viewer.  With the onset of Google mobile first indexing experimentation, hotel marketers need to look at how their mobile audience views their website.

How Mobile Differs from Desktop VersionsMobile, Desktop, Tablet versions of a hotel website

In some cases, the mobile version is a scaled back version of the desktop website so there might be less content than the desktop page. If mobile pages have less content than desktop, it can cause issues with Google’s algorithms because they aren’t evaluating the page used by the mobile user. Google recently announced they would begin to assess ranking content based on mobile versions of websites.

Google mobile first indexing doesn’t change much for responsive websites. It will view the content on desktop and mobile in the same way and then format by device. It also doesn’t mean that desktop only websites will not be visible. Google will still crawl content of both desktop and mobile.

Only if your hotel has separate desktop and mobile versions will this new indexing become an issue. Google has suggestions for steps you can take to optimize for this algorithm change.

Growing Importance of Local SEO

Then with searches via mobile increasing, the search terms have become more local in nature. This puts local SEO in the spotlight.  The hotel’s marketing team will need to tailor metadata to include location and reap the benefits of localized search.  Creating optimized content means less frustrations on the part of the mobile user. Relevancy, engagement and timeliness of content continue to be important as ranking factors, but getting the information through speedy search results has become just as, if not, more important.

Google mobile first indexing, though in it’s early stages, is paving the way for reconsideration in hotel website design to accommodate increasing mobile usage.  Hotel marketers will need to be ready to ride the wave of the future.

Lodging Interactive’s Kristine Gilbert Wins President’s Award

Lodging Interactive 2016b Award

Kristine Gilbert wins Lodging Interactive’s 2016 Presidents Award 2016.

Parsippany, New Jersey – DJ Vallauri, President & CEO of Lodging Interactive, an award winning digital marketing and social media engagement agency exclusively serving the hospitality industry, announces that Kristine Gilbert, Creative Coordinator for CoMMingle, is the recipient of the 2016 President’s Award of Excellence. The annual award, which was created in 2013 by DJ Vallauri, recognizes an employee who has exhibited exceptional contributions and service throughout the previous year.  Ms. Gilbert was presented with the prestigious award at the company’s yearly meeting held at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in West Orange, New Jersey on December 9th. She was nominated for the President’s Award by Rosella Virdo’, Managing Director of CoMMIngle, the division of Lodging Interactive that spearheads social media services.

 

During her years with Lodging Interactive, Kristine has progressed professionally through positions leading to her current role and her determination and enthusiasm transcend all areas of her life. While supporting and caring for her husband and two children, she has made time to give back to her community. Kristine is an avid runner and recently ran for The Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon that, since 1954, has provided vital services for people and families in Lehigh Valley, from early childhood developmental programs to support services for people in retirement. She has also championed numerous fundraisers for children through health and fitness.

 

“Kristine is a dedicated individual who has a deep passion for her work that is equaled by her passion for serving her community,” said Mr. Vallauri.  “Whether as a beta tester for new services we have launched or as an SME (Subject Matter Expert) for the many social networks and blogging platforms, Kristine has taken on every challenge as the Creative Coordinator for CoMMingle with limitless enthusiasm and admirable determination. She is a quintessential example of Lodging Interactive’s ideals and values. I congratulate her on this well-deserved President’s Award of Excellence.“

5 Top Hospitality Trends for 2017

There were many changes for the hotel industry in 2016, from technological advances to millennials growing influence.  So what hospitality trends can hoteliers expect in 2017?

Choice Hotels’ online survey shows some interesting travel trends for 2017.  In terms of domestic destinations, it showed people are willing to spend more to explore new places.  Also, regardless of destination, most would splurge on food and beverages while 30% of budgets would be spent on accommodations. With these results in hand, hoteliers have a lot of considerations to get a piece of the action.  Below are the top 5 hospitality trends we think you should look for in 2017.

Texting and Chat a Mainstay in Customer Service

Guests seek out real time customer service and crave the human touch. Whether it’s planning a wedding, business function or an ideal hotel stay, they want prompt service and clear information to make choices. Working with a person, not a machine with robotic responses makes the guest feel welcome and cared for. Also, people want on-the-spot service when they need those towels or want to know what eateries are in the area. Texting hotel staff helps them get what they need during their stay and live chat gets them what they need to make the ideal stay or party arrangement. Both present opportunities for hoteliers to efficiently and effectively reach out to their guests.

Live Chat for Hotels

Live Chat for Hotels

Technology and Need for Information Security

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer just something seen in a sci-fi thriller. From maid service to concierge duties, hotels have expanded their use of AI for efficiency and service not to mention lowering labor costs. But with new technology comes the need for increased security. Hoteliers will have to factor in account security to protect data and guard against identity fraud.

Mobile Usage Continued Increase

Most searches are conducted on mobile and, according to eMarketer travel research, 51.8% will use mobile devices for their travel bookings and it’s expected to rise to 86.4% by 2019.  Using a smart phone for bookings, check-ins and room service have begun to take over the traditional methods but hoteliers can expect it to become the norm.

Mobile Friendly Websites a Necessity

With the onset of Google’s mobile-first indexing, mobile friendly sites will become a necessity. With more searches happening via mobile, search terms will become more local so meta data will need to be tailored to include location. Speedy search results will also need to become a priority for hotel marketers in order to reap the benefits.

Millennials Leading Way to Future

Millennials are looking for unique guest experiences and are not driven by the same travel needs in days of yore. No packaged deals for this crowd! It’s all about living the entire experience from the time they begin their destination search to foodie experiences and throughout their hotel stay. So hoteliers will need to find ways to create shareable and unique experiences to appease the millennial appetite.

Cultural shifts, changing market trends and guest behavior will demand new strategies so as not lose out on any opportunities for optimizing revenues. Are you ready for 2017?

Is your Hotel Website Losing Traffic?

If you have a hotel website the hope is that with each passing year you continue to see an increase in traffic to your site.  Unfortunately, this may not always be the case.  You may experience a decline in your website traffic year to year and if this is the case, there are a number of things that should be checked that can help determine why the decrease occurred.

Website Traffic Drop Checklist

We’ve put together a list for you of common causes for your hotel website traffic to drop.  See if any of these affected your YOY traffic.

Google Knowledge Graph

  • Perhaps one of the greatest traffic drivers for a hotel website is the Google Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph provides pertinent information about a hotel, as well as a direct link to its website.  If your website is not properly linked to the Google Knowledge Graph you can guarantee your traffic will decline.  The Google Knowledge Graph is highly visited, so you’ll want to make sure it’s taking users to the right place.
    Google Knowledge Graph

    Google Knowledge Graph

     

    Historical Events

  • How have events in your market differed from year to year? Historical events, like the Pope’s visit to the United States, will increase hotel searches and drive more traffic. However, if your market is not experiencing the same high profile events the following year, then you could potentially see the volume of hotel searches and website visits go down.
    Pope Visit

    Pope Visit to US in 2016 affects overall YOY traffic

     

    Referral Traffic

  • Are you still linked to the same quality referring websites? Referral traffic may not be the same year to year if you’ve stopped advertising on certain sites or if 3rd party sites sites have dropped you from their listings.  In addition, sometimes 3rd party websites go through changes that may affect how traffic to your site is recorded.  For example, if they change their page formatting to accordion style, Google will most likely not record the traffic being sent to your site because the search engines have difficulty reading the content on accordion style pages.  Be cognizant of the referrers sending traffic to your site.  Periodically, check their websites for any changes that could be affecting your traffic.
    Example of Losing Quality Backlinks

    Losing Quality Backlinks

     

    Hotel Website Design

  • Along the same lines, how is your hotel website design affecting traffic? If your website has accordion pages or pages with tabs you might be getting traffic to the site, but it may not be recorded, so you will see a change in your traffic numbers year to year.  In an instance such as this, it’s important to keep up with Google’s ever-changing algorithms or you may be sabotaging yourself.
    Accordion Page

    Accordion Page Example

     

    New Hotel Competitors

  • New competition in the market may also affect traffic numbers. With more hotels in the area there are more options for consumers, so traffic may be diverted to the market newcomers.  Always be aware of your new “neighbors” and what’s on the horizon, as well.  According to NYC & Company, the official Travel & Tourism company for NY, New York City has the nation’s most active hotel development pipeline, with 107,000 hotel rooms in 2016, and a total inventory of 133,000+ rooms expected by the end of 2019.
    New Hotel Competitors NYC

    New Hotel Competitors in NYC

     

    PPC Advertising

  • Lastly, are you spending money on PPC advertising and if so, are you spending enough? Now that Google has removed the PPC ads from the right side of the search page there is 66% less page real estate available, making the competition for the top ads even greater.  With increased competition comes higher keyword costs.  If you’re not spending enough for your market or if you are not increasing your budget year to year, your PPC dollars will not be effective.  With rising costs each year, as well as new competitors, you have to have the right budget to stay in the game.

In a perfect world you would see a consistent increase in website traffic year after year.  However, you can’t count on that happening, but if you are aware of market conditions, have good strategies in place and take the right course of actions, you could greatly increase your chances of avoiding a traffic decline.

Data Proves Branded Hotel Vanity Sites Are Effective

PARSIPPANY, NJ – January 4, 2017  It’s been an ongoing mission of the major hotel brands to convince hotel management companies and hotel owners to “retire” their vanity websites. In fact, this has been going on for the last 15 years and the efforts have had marginal success for the brands.  However, the brands have recently stepped up their efforts with more “forceful persuasions” this time around and have decided to pull out all stops in their efforts.

Much has been written in the past on the revenue benefits vanity sites have for properties and the value they provide to potential guests.  But we thought it would be worthwhile for us to provide substantive and data driven facts as to show the real value vanity websites have for hotel operators and the brands.  For this article we reviewed data sets from a sampling of 25 branded vanity websites we have managed for over 5 years.  Our findings conclusively support that branded hotel vanity websites remain relevant in 2017 and must be maintained to maximize direct booking revenue opportunities.

 

Top Reasons Why Vanity Websites Remain Relevant in 2017:

  • Vanity websites have higher booking conversion rates than brand.com.
  • Vanity websites capture qualified wedding and group event leads.
  • Vanity websites outrank brand.com on Search Engines for localized search terms.
  • Vanity websites provide differentiation against local independent hotel websites.
  • Vanity websites offer differentiation against other same brand properties on brand.com.
  • Google deems vanity websites as authoritative and provides them with “site links”.

Vanity websites have higher booking conversion rates than brand.com.

The data continues to show that in many cases, vanity websites achieve higher online booking conversion rates than the brand.com sites.  As reported by brand referral reports, we’ve consistently seen vanity website conversion rates north of 8%.  This is a substantially higher booking conversion rate when compared to the brand.com conversion rates of 3%-4% overall.  The vanity website higher conversion rates can be attributed to the marketing and messaging value vanity websites offer to potential guests.  When vanity websites provide deep, localized content to visitors it increases the conversion rates dramatically when compared to the boring, cookie cutter, brand centric content found on brand.com.

Vanity websites capture qualified wedding and group event leads.

For nearly 15 years we have seen substantial year over year growth in event RFP submissions through the hotel vanity websites we manage.  This growth can be attributed to vanity websites effectively communicating property venue advantages when compared with the lack luster meeting and wedding content found on most brand.com websites.  The vanity website supports and effectively “sells” the event venue through comprehensive, deep visual and contextual content.

Vanity websites outrank brand.com on Search Engines for localized search terms.

With a properly deployed organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) program vanity websites will outrank brand.com for localized, longer-tail, non-branded keyword phrases.  We have experienced much success in placing higher in Google SERP’s as a result of comprehensive and well thought out organic SEO programs.  Higher organic ranking on Google will, again, drive a more qualified prospect to the vanity website, which is a key reason why vanity websites enjoy higher look to book conversion rates.

Vanity websites provide differentiation against local independent hotel websites.

Independent properties are increasingly deploying aggressive direct booking strategies to stand out within their competitive sets.  Most will not only highlight why consumers should book directly with them versus an OTA, but offer creative localized content and special offers.  Independent properties also market their unique advantages over big box branded properties that provide generic guest experiences.  Vanity websites provide branded properties with the ability to stand out with their marketing messaging and to highlight their unique property attributes, while maintaining the power of the brand.com booking engine which is never bypassed.

Vanity websites offer differentiation against other same brand properties on brand.com.

While the brands continue to improve their brand.com user experience, by their own admission they still have a  long way to go and in fact, in our opinion, may never be able to adequately convey the unique attributes for each of their franchised properties.  Vanity websites provide a unique advantage by being able to differentiate themselves against other brand.com sister properties.  Simply visit any brand.com property and conduct a city search, i.e. “New York City”, and you’ll be presented with a long list of brand member properties, each of which will be presented by the brand in a uniform, bland and unattractive manner.

Google deems vanity websites as authoritative and provides them with “sitelinks”.

In many cases Google has designated vanity websites as “authoritative” websites and issues extended sitelinks as a result.  When Google designates a vanity website as being “authoritative” they’re confirming the value of a vanity website’s content and determines it to be the be the most useful to Google users.  Here is Google’s definition of an authoritative website:

Known sites—A known site is the official website for an entity as shown in Knowledge Graph cards. If you add markup to a known site, that data is treated as authoritative and used for Knowledge Graph cards where it is not already determined by data you put into Google My Business. This includes your official logo and social profile links. However, if you enter contact information through Google My Business, that data source is treated as authoritative.  Source: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/search-features 

We have observed many occasions where the brands have utilized Google My Business to manually change the Google authoritative website links from pointing to the vanity websites and redirecting them to the brand.com websites.  This premeditated tactic is essentially siphoning away the vanity websites’ established Google organic traffic, in essence “killing” the vanity websites.

Why do the brands care about vanity websites since all the bookings are passed through to the brand.com booking engines?  

This is a valid question, when you consider that the hotel owner and/or management company is paying separately for the expense of maintaining and marketing a vanity website.  Furthermore, the brand.com website ultimately gains all bookings as a result, with no additional expense to the brand.  Why wouldn’t the brands endorse any effort that generates additional direct booking opportunities for a property and the brand, and doing so at no additional expense to the brand?

In our opinion, it’s a matter of the brands wanting to control 100% of a hotel’s direct revenue channels and in doing so ensuring substantial losses to a property should it ever decide to switch to another brand or, heaven forbid, become an independent property.  Many industry experts have written about the diminishing value of a hotel brand in a technologically connected mobile world full of choices.

Our recommendations.

Clearly, brands will continue to “strong-arm” hotel owners and management companies into being compliant and will use various tactics such as negatively influencing a property’s brand quality scores to force adherence.  The brands will continue sharing misinformation with their hotel members by claiming their research shows vanity websites “create confusion and an inconsistent guest experience” and thus “increasing the odds that consumers will book with a competitor”.

It appears to us that the brands are fiercely trying to protect, and rightfully so, against properties that may be weighing the costs associated with their brand versus switching to another brand or converting to an independent property. While we take no issue with this strategy, we do have issues when this done by communicating misinformation at the expense of the owner and/or management company.

Two Simple Recommendations:

  1. Insist on maintaining your hotel’s vanity website, at least for another 12-18 months, as the industry determines how well the brand.com websites can communicate the uniqueness of your property.
  2. Demand that your Google Knowledge Graph link sends users to your Google determined authoritative website.

In conclusion, our data and experiences support vanity websites and their relevancy and ability to drive direct business to the brand.com websites and “retiring” them should be carefully considered by hotel operators.

About Lodging Interactive:

Headquartered in Parsippany, NJ, Lodging Interactive is a full-service digital marketing and social media engagement agency exclusively servicing the hospitality industry. Through its web design and search optimization division as well as its CoMMingle Social Media Division, Lodging Interactive provides effective Internet marketing services to hundreds of branded and independent properties as well as management companies, restaurants and spas. The company also offers fully managed Live Chat agents for hotel websites through its LiveChatForHotels.com division.

Lodging Interactive is an HSMAI Adrian Award winner, and has won awards from the International Academy of Visual Arts, Interactive Media Awards, Horizon Interactive Awards, Web Marketing Association, Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts, and Travel Weekly’s Magellan Awards have recognized Lodging Interactive as an industry leader.

Lodging Interactive is a proud supporter of the Hotel Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and the company’s president, DJ Vallauri, currently serves on the Board of Directors of HSMAI’s New York Chapter. For more information, please contact sales@lodginginteractive.com, 877-291-4411 or visit the company’s website.