Will 2015 Be Remembered as the Year Online Marketing was Democratized?

If we look back to the very early 1900s, when Henry Ford set out to democratize the car, what he said was that he wanted to build a car for the multitudes so that every person who wanted one could afford one.

And so he did – and slowly, other industries followed suit. When the iPod was first released, it was priced at over $1,000 – now you can buy one (albeit a smaller version) for less than $100 (and in nicer colors, too).

I’ve watched as industries like tech have become democratized and I wonder: why hasn’t this happened yet in hospitality? Why do so many of the digital marketers I speak to still pay upwards of $20,000 for a custom built website plus monthly maintenance fees and little control to add content at a moment’s notice without additional fees?  I think 2015 is the year that this scenario changes and we’ll continue to see the democratization of online marketing as the major hospitality trend of 2016.

What is the democratization of online marketing?

As the accommodation space (e.g. hotels, vacation rentals, inns, B&Bs, etc.) levels itself, the marketplace of independent hotels and hotel alternatives will increase dramatically. Already, travel retailers like and Expedia boast of 500,000+ “hotels” on their site. This is dramatically higher than the 100,000+ traditional hotels found on GDS channels. It makes sense that the next step in this evolution is the appearance of technology that can lower the cost and improve the results of websites for those wanting to sell travel accommodations through their own direct online channels.

Rio Villa Beach Resort Homepage

The Rio Villa Beach Resort’s visually driven website shows travel shoppers everything they have to offer.

In my view, the days of using a large chunk of our precious marketing budget on building bespoke websites that seemingly have all the same component parts are behind us.  Digital marketing has moved to a place where hoteliers can create stories about their rooms, special offers and features and then publish these narratives to their independent website, mobile & social sites and across hundreds of travel channels and really impact purchase intent in a meaningful way. The ability to simply build an online “hospitality” store through cloud based SaaS offerings is now a reality.

Consumers care about three primary things; what makes your hotel different than others on my list (what is it about your hotel that will make my trip more fun, comfortable or efficient), what the rooms look like (the whole story – bed, desk, sitting area, washroom, amenities, etc.) and what kind of deal can I get. You don’t need a custom website to tell these stories and you don’t have to spend a ton of money creating and publishing these stories online.

DoubleTree Lancaster tripled direct booking requests with a visually compelling website

DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Lancaster tripled their direct booking requests with a visually compelling website.

Brick and mortar retailers learned a while back that it’s not about constructing a very expensive store but rather how you merchandise the product within. Pop up retailers with a very low cost of “build” can generate the same type of sales per square foot as a highly custom built retail store.

Creating an environment that moves people forward in their shopping journey and providing them with a clear path to the cash register (i.e. your booking engine) can be done as easily (and I argue easier) with a templated website as a bespoke one. Fundamentally, you want a website that is easily found by search engine bots and has the content that consumers are looking for, providing the triple benefit of improving conversion, allowing for high ranking relevant SERPs and reducing bounce rates.

I was thrilled to be a part of this year’s BLLA Leadership symposium which took place last week in Santa Monica. One of the favorite parts of my job is speaking to hospitality professionals all over the world, listening to their challenges and discussing innovative ways to address them. My presentation focused on today’s travel shoppers’ newfound love affair with content and storytelling which drove lively discussion with my fellow BLLA board members as well as the audience at large.

Upon returning from the conference, I’m better equipped to develop educational materials that provide insights into modern digital marketing tools and techniques that will help hospitality thought leaders accomplish their goals at a price point that would make Henry Ford proud.

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