Independent Hotels’ Online Presence Lagging

Independent Hotels’ Online Presence Lagging

The gap in online presence is widening between smaller, independent hotels in the US and larger hotel chains that have embraced the web, according to recently released research from GuestCentric.

Independent hotels with fewer than 80 rooms are facing more challenges online, including struggling with basic website costs and functionality, trust and operational issues, accepting reservations, maintaining personal contact with guests, increasing traveler awareness, and lifting low occupancy rates.

The recent survey of 300 hotels, conducted in February 2008, shows dramatic differences in how independents and more well-known branded hotel chains are leveraging their websites to attract travelers and book consumer and business travel online.

The differences between small and large hotels are apparent in each aspect of online presence analyzed in the survey: website satisfaction, ability to receive online reservations, presence on internet distribution systems, and average occupancy rates.

Biggest Concerns

While more than 85% of all independents and chains say they are happy with their websites, significant differences emerge between them when they are asked about their biggest website concerns:

  • 33% of independent hotels are concerned that their site does not generate business for their hotel. This was their top concern.
  • Independents are also concerned about the cost of their sites (19%), updating pictures (19%) and content (14%).
  • Chain hotels, in contrast, worry about providing up-to-date information, and keeping their sites fresh to capture online travelers. The number-one concern for chain hotels is updating content on their site (41%).

Accepting Online Reservations

The research also shows that independents have not completely embraced online reservations, do not employ booking engines to streamline reservation processes to the same extent as chains, and are more distrustful of the online booking process in general:

  • Only 44% of independent hotels are able to receive online reservations, as opposed to 93% of chains.
  • Among the independents that receive online reservations, 50% receive email inquiries compared with only 7% of chains.
  • 28% of independent hotels see no point in receiving online reservations.
  • The majority of chains (81%) rely on booking engines to automate their booking process, while only 18% of independents use a booking engine.
  • While chains are mostly concerned about booking engine issues (23%) and managing their online offer (19%), a wide set of concerns troubles independents. This includes booking engine issues (16%), booking validation (12%), credit-card validation (12%), lack of human contact in an online booking (12%) and security (12%).

Presence on Internet Distribution Systems

When it comes to presence on internet distribution systems – sites that are the main source of hotel visibility and research by online traveler:

  • 77% of chain hotels are present in at least one of these sites, while only 26% of the independents use them.
  • 43% of the independents see no point on being present on internet distribution systems.
  • 19% of independents are not even familiar with these sites.

GuestCentric suggests these results indicate that independent hotels have not recognized the importance of being present in internet distribution systems for visibility and are concerned with the high commissions that these sites demand. However, this strategy is potentially limiting access of their properties to online travelers. Because almost 50% of the users prefer to book directly on the hotel website being present in distribution sites will not only create reservations, but also increase direct bookings on the hotel’s website.

This lack of presence, among other factors, could also be affecting occupancy rates. More than a third (35%) of independent hotels have occupancy rates below 50%, while only 6% of the chain hotels have them. Conversely, 55% of chains have occupancy rates above 75%, while only 34% of independents have them.

“The differences between the chain hotels and small independents shows the opportunities and challenges that face the independent hoteliers,” said Pedro Colaco, GuestCentric’s CEO. “This gap indicates a real need for the independent hoteliers to find available technologies to allow them to cost effectively close this gap and gain advantages over the chains, supplying the market with what they do best: customer intimacy.”