Monday, June 2, 2014

Panda Updates reinforce need for relevant content

As a partner to hundreds of hospitality related businesses over the years it has always been part of our business to advise clients on what we think works best for them. It's quite reassuring when we look back on our posts over the years that a consistent approach to "SEO" has given our clients little need to fear Google changes.

We have consistently maintained that developing good content is not only of benefit to searches but also for the bottom line of our business. It may not always be the easiest pitch to sell but telling our clients - in the words of one of our favourite Aussie rock bands - that "There's Now Way but the Hard Way (So Get Used To It)" but it is honest and provides them with a better understanding that much of the advice they were being given by SEO experts was simply smoke and mirrors and damaging.

Google's SEO message has in our mind always been pretty clear and Tina Courtney Brown in a Site Pro News Article reinforced it quite succinctly in this paragraph

How to Avoid the Wrath of Panda

Looking to avoid significant dings in your rankings? Here are the key points that Panda targets; make sure you are not guilty of any of the following, and you can steer clear of any penalties.
  • Never copy, steal, or scrape content from another site and claim it as your own.
  • Resist the urge to predominantly keyword-stuff your site’s content. Keyword stuffing is no longer a boon for a site’s rankings, thanks to Panda’s prowl, so cease and desist this archaic and damaging practice.
  • Ensure all your content is readable to humans, not search engine bots.
  • Create the highest quality, original content possible.
  • Every time you publish a new piece of content, ask yourself the following: “Would I publish this in a major news outlet and feel proud to put my name as the author?” If your answer is ever a no, don’t publish it to your site.
  • Publish content on a regular basis; sites with nothing but outdated and irrelevant posts are potential penalty targets.
  • Make sure all backlinks are high-quality; never accept links from questionable sources. If you have offending sites as link partners, your site is also implicated.
  • Double check that your site is technically sound, built with SEO in mind. Sites with security risks and obvious viruses are also affected.
All of our own online marketing strategies are built on all of these guiding principles and our a la carte Relationship Builder programme is giving not only clear guidance but is helping independent businesses develop better practice by reducing friction and converting more low cost DIRECT business.

Find out more about how you can develop your online presence.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Make Your Social Media Graphics Work

Okay by the time we've shared this graphic Facebook will once again have changed their layout and their image locations and sizes but in spite of that it is worth publishing!

Always great to find something particularly useful - it's a bit like watching the Gadget Show and seeing something just so cool that you have to pay £2 to enter their competition to win £30, 000 worth of kit you would never use.

This graphic below however was useful enough for us and we've got a vague idea what we are doing! Hopefully you'll find it of some interest when pulling together your own social media strategy. Remember you need to keep your social media working for you, it has to be dynamic and that includes using the header graphics to promote when appropriate.

Have a read at the site too - click on the logo to the right. Some really good stuff on there and a host of practical tips and opinions on how to make use of the media available to you.

Great graphic.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Queensborough Q-Book to Close Down

Blow to Commission Free Booking Models

A former client of ours got in touch last night to advise that the commission free Q-Book booking engine was closing down. It's interesting timing as when sitting with a couple of clients last week the discussion moved to when we were going to change our own booking engine packages to a commission free model.

Our reply was honest and open; we could never afford to turn to a commission free model and we didn't see the long term financial basis that we could offer something for free. We couldn't understand how we could make the commission free business model work so it wasn't an option for us.

So maybe it wasn't a surprise that the commission free market would see a casualty at some point as it is incredibly and increasingly competitive. We have looked at how we could get more of the market share and decided that it was indeed too risky and that it would jeopardise all of the work we have done over the years in providing professional and very personal account management to all of our clients when they needed it. It clearly works for other booking engine providers but we can't get it to stack up at our end. Clearly neither could Queensborough.

Here's the statement to their clients from last night
We recently sent an email out about a £50.00 extra charge for Q-Book, this was to put extra staff in a position where they could help in our support team for Q-Book, as well as helping us develop Q-Book further.We had too many of our clients stating they would move if the charge was put in place, this leaves us in an impossible position to carry on with Q-Book.
With having thousands of clients using Q-Book and the free channel manager, this recently has stretched our resources to the limit, thus not offering the great service we are renowned for.
Due to this Queensborough Group has decided Q-Book will be closed down at the end of this month (30th April 2014) for good.
This means we can add the extra resources and concentrate on our core business for over 16 years which is website solutions and distribution networks.
[Your business} will continue to have large exposure on the distribution networks (80) see list here, new logins will be passed on in due course for these distribution networks.
Any xml connections through Q-Book will cease, please contact your booking service provider for more details, please make sure that you have taken all your booking information out of Q-Book before (30th April 2014).
The correspondence goes on to explain that all XML feeds will cease to work from the end of this month but websites will remain unaffected although we'd guess that these websites were bought because of the integrated booking engine therein. That should be interesting too. They then recommend a list of other commission free web based booking engines that offer similar products. Perhaps they have more robust commission free booking models who knows.

Whatever is behind this and whatever the future may hold it is a major disruption for Q-Book users at the beginning of the main season and will cause palpitations for many who thought they were using a sound long term platform.

My old mammy used to say "Son if it sounds too good to be true, then it usually is".

The danger now is that this may push more small operators to the OTA aggregators and lead to further commoditisation of the product and further increases in third party commissions. A commission free button on an accommodation website needs to generate revenues for the service provider somewhere and that is usually through third party commission sales on OTA sites.

If nothing else maybe the provision of "free" services will be at least open to a little more questioning by those using them. They are certainly not bad but neither are they a panacea.

If you or your organisation have been affected by the closure of Q-Book please drop us a note and we will get back in touch with you over the next couple of days with what we offer through our partnership with award winning Bookassist booking engine. It will not be for everyone and it certainly wont be a straightforward replication of a free service but it offers a realistic solution aimed at driving more business through your own website and NOT thorugh high commission third party sites.

We would be delighted to discuss further who we can work with your business to improve DIRECT sales through our integrated online marketing programmes and packages built to convert.

You can find out about Bookassist Booking engine at the More Info link below.

Please email us in the first instance as the phones have been rather busy!

 Enquiry about Bookassist Booking Engine

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Hotel Administration Cycle Just Keeps Turning

Another day, another set of "Akkeron" hotels go into administration. 

We just sit here and shake our heads saying "That's appalling" and then watch it happen all over again. Swallow Hotels, London and Edinburgh Inns, Akkeron Hotels - same hotels different contracts. A decade of wheeling and dealing? Who owns what? Who manages what? Who has freehold? Who has leasehold? Multiple limited company names. Into administration; out of administration. Who really cares?

And we all know it's not just Akkeron. There are hotels being shifted around on paper on a daily basis but what is the consequence for our industry. Is Scottish tourism going to be driven by property speculation and clever management contracts?

You know it may make great financial and economic sense for the property speculators and management companies but it does diddly squat for team building and personal development or for indeed quality of experience or the investment in the fabric of the buildings for the future good of the destination.

Where is the incentive in the management contract to invest?

I remember way back in the day when Grant Sword and Laurence Young were respectively in charge of their family chains; you knew that standards and reinvestment were absolutely key to their longevity and indeed their repeat business.

Hitting fifty must have made much more nostalgic but I'm sure we had a better tourism product when more hotels were in safe hands.

Let's hope that the future is in the nads of the independent Scottish hotelier. Pun partially intended.
Read about Akkeron's latest administration

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A 360° Approach to Maximising Conversion

Great article again, republished below, from Des O'Mahony at Bookassist on the need to look at all aspects of distribution for hotels. It's something we have been pushing with all of our clients with our SiteBuilder, ConversionBuilder and RelationshipBuilder Cogs each driving one another.

Online Travel Agents (OTAs) do a really good job at shifting hotel rooms, albeit at a high commission. Hotels need OTAs for exposure and additional sales, but a balance must be struck between brand-direct bookings and those on OTAs.

Is it ultimately worth the effort to keep pushing for direct business, once all the real costs associated with direct bookings are taken into account? Our answer is a resounding yes. But you need to spend wisely.

Take for example a hotel group that Bookassist operates with in Europe. When Bookassist partnered with them in 2009, just 4% of their online business was coming directly through their website. Their website was a secondary concern, their booking engine was just a PMS web module, they had no digital marketing presence. Today, at the beginning of 2014, that group does almost 38% of its entire online business direct, a factor of ten improvement, and rising. Direct booking revenue has gone from a few hundred thousand Euro per year to almost €6M.

This is not new business - this is redistributed business moved from OTAs to direct. On that redistributed business, they would have paid well in excess of €1M in OTA commission annually, but they now pocket the majority of that margin and can afford to reinvest significantly to continue direct growth.

Same occupancy, same general ADR, but a whopping margin difference in their favour.

The reason for their success is that they put direct booking strategy at the front and centre of their entire business strategy and stopped treating it as a peripheral issue. It's the focus.


Bookassist Account Managers are also trained Revenue Managers and they are well versed in issues of ADR and RevPAR that hotels obsess about. However, as they point out, these metrics viewed in isolation tend to focus hotels on the revenue issue alone, while the real issue today is arguably margin. With the capability of OTAs today, achieving high occupancy is no longer so difficult if you’re prepared to pay. Achieving it with a good margin Per Available Room is another matter.

Successful hotels employ a very unified and integrated approach across the spectrum of online visibility, conversion and growth. Let’s look briefly at some key points in these areas. (I’ll discuss this in the context of websites only, but mobile is increasingly relevant to the discussion.)


The primary route to your hotel is still Search, and the path to purchase here has grown extremely complex. People are moving seamlessly from desktop to laptop to tablet to mobile while considering purchase. Additionally Google continually redefines its algorithms, so playing games is pointless. To get good organic search results positioning, you need real and dynamic content, lots of relevant connecting referrers, and you need to understand how web crawling works. In short, you have todeserve your position through relevance. This is a continually moving target. It takes work.
Brand is an important aspect that you can cultivate to drive recognition online, and PPC campaigns for your hotel name are critically important. But by contrast OTAs have significant brand recognition. Even if your search result or advert successfully appeals, a click through gives your website just one chance to impress. By contrast, OTAs get multiple chances per click - they may use your name in advertising or organic positioning to deliver the click, but then the other hotels in the list with yours may look more appealing to the customer.

This is why disallowing the use of your name in OTA advertising is so critical - its not that failing to do so might cost you more commission, it might actually hand the entire booking to your competitor hotel.

It’s estimated that the top OTAs spend in excess of €100,000 each per day PPC advertising. How can you compete with that? Well, since they carry hundreds of thousands of accommodation providers, their average spend per hotel is quite low. So you can actually compete if you know how, without breaking the bank. This takes expertise and industry knowledge. The key to PPC success is to analyse, iterate, optimise - for all segments and all languages. It takes work.

With the rise of Metasearch, hotels now have an additional opportunity to pitch for brand-direct bookings. It’s wise to take advantage of this avenue, particularly since it is being merged with online reputation and social media via TripAdvisor’s TripConnect metasearch and Google’s Hotel Finder, which is heavily influenced by the hotel’s Google+ page.

Social Media and Reputation in the form of ratings continue to be critical in the formation of a positive brand. Both relate to a measure of engagement with your guest in one way or another. Good old fashioned customer service is the key to a successful online reputation, and all staff in your establishment need to be aware of and buy into the level of influence they exert on guest's feelings about their stay.


All the work put into getting a customer to your website can unfortunately be quickly nullified. Your website must visually appeal instantly, with high quality photography, and the offer presented has to directly relate to the ad or link that generated the click-through. Apart from high quality responsivewebsites and mobile design to cater for the multi-device path to purchase, at Bookassist we employdeep linking in advertising and search results so that the exact attraction that tickled the customer in the advert or search is what is presented to the customer immediately on landing on the site. This coordinated approach requires dynamic website design and seamless data flow from booking engine, to website to online advertising. But operated correctly, it works effectively to eliminate barriers to booking. This is especially important on mobile where each additional tap is tedious and a real barrier.

The days of just sending people from an ad to your website’s front page are long gone. The days of the booking engine just being an isolated page on your website is last century. Integration of all the elements is the key so that live booking engine data is available throughout your site creating dynamic information feeds and dynamic landing pages, and is actively feeding your advertising with live information.

Conscious of credit card fraud, the pontential online customer must also be given a strong sense ofsecurity if they are to convert. Systems must not just be secure, but must advertise their security to engender confidence. Payment Card Industry Digital Security Standards (PCI-DSS) are an absolute must for your hotel's booking engine provider, and, like Bookassist, a provider should be able to provide certification documentation on request.

Differentiation of product is also a conversion winner. Being able to offer better and more attractive deals than the OTAs is critical, notwithstanding price parity. For example, with Bookassist’s Booking Engine you can set up dynamic pricing that gives structured discounts based on length of stay, or day of arrival etc., resulting in overall pricing that beats the OTAs. The engine can also advertise the potential best available deal to a viewer, for example “stay one more night and get 30% off”, all of which not only encourage conversion but also improve the average booking value achieved.

Also, using Bookassist’s meal plans feature allows the base rate for the room to be highlighted, while achieving up-selling for individual breakfast or meal plans once a room is actually chosen. Again, customer uptake on this is very successful, showing that while the low price generates the initial appeal, the relatively low additional price of the upgrade or add-on is also regularly achieved.


Success with direct booking is great. But now you must grow it. One of the primary advantages is that the guest details are now yours, not the OTA’s. And they have already stayed with you so you should now know their profile behaviour. Maybe they book cheap but splurge on F&B. Maybe they always love midweek special offers. Follow up with them, personalise the relationship - is there anything you could have done better? Segment them, categorise, and market to them appropriately and with relevance. Not just blanket email shots that annoy everyone, but infrequent targeted offers with content that builds your brand appeal with them, triggers good memories and encourages future business. It takes work, and many hotels are not doing this well.

As direct booking success grows, you can use tools like Bookassist's Distribution Manager to actively redistribute more availability back towards your own website, where margin is best. Preferentially shutting down high cost channels as your availability drops is a good strategy to maximise your margin. The idea that you would have 100% of your inventory available on all distribution channels at all times is not a good strategy, since it encourages take-up from high-cost OTAs and limits your capability to yield for margin optimisation.

And again, the use of a good CRM strategy in-house to ensure you market to those guests who previously arrived via OTAs is critical. To use OTAs to get the guest once is fine, but if they go the OTA route again to book you then only you can take the blame for throwing away potential margin by not engaging appropriately with them.


There is no doubt that there is a lot for hotels to do in order to succeed in building direct revenue and enjoy improved booking margin. The thoughts above only scratch the surface. And it’s daunting, because the goalposts keep shifting. While there is for sure a cost associated with all the elements discussed above, the overall cost per direct booking should still comfortably undercut OTA charges, with the added benefit of improved customer ownership for the hotel.

The key to real success is a highly integrated approach across all fronts, not just a series of individual uncoordinated attacks in each area from different individuals or companies. Partners like Bookassist and others can bring unity of approach and economy of scale to bear, while individual hotels are rarely in a position to handle all the required elements themselves in a cost-effective way.

Hoteliers, you should seek external expertise if you can’t cover everything in-house. After all, your focus should be elsewhere - you still have a hotel to run.

Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and founder at Bookassist (, the award-winning technology and online strategy partner for hotels worldwide.