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Thesis - A Direct Booking Strategy for Independent Hotels


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A complete paper to increase Independent Hotels' Direct Bookings and improve their online visibility

A complete paper to increase Independent Hotels' Direct Bookings and improve their online visibility

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  • 1. Academic Year 2011/2012 International Hospitality Management - MBA IEMI-CMH - Paris THESIS                          INDEPENDENT  HOTELS  &  ONLINE  DISTRIBUTION   How Independent Hoteliers can Increase Direct Bookings and therefore Revenue, through a Strategic Use of Google, while Limiting Dependence on Online Travel Agencies?  S u b m i s s i o n   d a t e :   N o v e m b e r   1 5 ,   2 0 1 2                     E m i l i e   A L B A   N I C O L A S  S u p e r v i s o r :   E l i z a b e t h   C r a i g                   M B A   2   A                             +   3 3   1   8 4   1 6   7 2   6 3                             a l b a . e m i l i e @ g m a i l . c o m    
  • 2.   2  
  • 3. HOSPITALITY MANAGEMENT CENTER - PARIS - Submitted on November, 15 2012 - How Independent Hoteliers can Increase Direct Bookings and therefore Revenue, through a Strategic Use of Google, while Limiting Dependence on Online Travel Agencies? Compiled and Written by Emilie ALBA NICOLAS Supervised by Elizabeth Craig Academic Year 2011/2012 MBA - Hospitality and Luxury Brands Management   3  
  • 4. - ACKNOWLEDGMENT – This thesis has been realized within the framework of my MBA in Hospitalityand Luxury Brands Management, at the Hospitality Management Center of Paris. Itwould not have been conceivable without the support and encouragement of myfamily and professional surrounding. I would like to thank Elizabeth Craig, CEO and Founder of the web-marketingagency Oneglobe Network, for the projects related to the thesis that she delegated tome. I also really appreciated her regular support, her wise advice, and all the practicaldocuments and pieces of information she shared with me. Special thanks should be given to my husband Samuel Alba, EngineeringManager at DotCloud, who reviewed the technical part about the web pagesoptimization, which requires some basics in computer programming.   4  
  • 8. - TABLE OF ILLUSTRATIONS -- Page 24: Room Key’s Search System (July 2012)- Page 24: Expedia’s Search System (July 2012)- Page 25: MyBestHotelRate’s Search System and Home Page (July 2012)- Page 26: Global Hotel Exchange’s Search System and Home Page (July 2012)- Page 32: Genre Hotels’ New Booking Engine on their Website- Page 32: Genre Hotels’ New Booking Engine Announcement on Facebook- Page 39: Home Page of Trivago’s Website (July 2012)- Page 39: Home Page of Hotels Combined’s Website (July 2012)- Page 39: Home Page of Room77’s Website (July 2012)- Page 41: Optimized Home Page of Mr. & Mrs. Smiths Website (July 2012)- Page 42: Booking Platforms Comparison between Hotels Combined and Wanderfly (July2012)- Page 43: Price Comparison on Hotels Combined and Wanderflys Booking Platforms- Page 44: Groupon Getaways’ Optimized Offer- Page 45: Voyages Privé’s Registration System through Mailing- Page 47: Pricelines Tonight Booking Mobile Application- Page 47: Expedias Booking Mobile Application- Page 48: The Strength of Design on "Hotel Tonight" and "Very Last Room" MobileApplications- Page 50: The Five Hotel’s Last Minutes Offer on Facebook- Page 58: Google’s Enhancement of User Experience on its Search Engine- Page 59: Google+s Contribution to the User Experience Improvement on Google SearchEngine- Page 60: Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Search- Page 61: Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google+ Local- Page 62: OTAs and Hotels Direct Competitors Exposure at the Bottom of Hotels Google+Local Pages- Page 63: Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Maps- Page 64: Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Hotel Finder- Page 66: The Top of “The Landmark London Suites” Google+ Business Page- Page 67: The Bottom of “The Landmark London Suites” Google+ Business Page- Page 69: Google “+1” Button - A Recommendation Tool- Page 70: Facebook “Like” Button – A Self-Expression Tool- Page 71: Facebook’s New Sharing Feature to Compete with Google- Page 72: Google Officializes The Recommendation Function of its “+1” Button- Page 73: Google “+1” Button Optimization to Increase the Number of Shares through theMention of Users’ Contacts- Page 74: Google “+1” Button Optimization to Increase the Number of Shares byMentioning the Number of Recommendations- Page 75: Google “+1” Button Optimization to Increase the Number of Shares by SuggestingAdditional Articles to Read- Page 76: CitizenM’s Permanent Google+ Local Page- Page 77: “The Landmark London Suites” Google+ Business Page- Page 78: Google+ Local is Adapted to Hotel Search- Page 79: Zagat Rating has been Extended to Hotels- Page 80: Google+ Local Integration into Google Search- Page 81: Google+ Local Integration into Google Maps- Page 82: Google+ Local Integration into Mobile Phones- Page 83: Google Knowledge Graph’s “See results about” box Improves Search byKeywords- Page 84: Google Knowledge Graph Appearance on Google Search- Page 86: Keywords Analysis on Google Search for C* House   8  
  • 9. - Page 87: Keywords Analysis on C* House’s Google+ Business Page- Page 88: Keywords Analysis of C* House on Picasa- Page 95: The Enhancement of Third Party Sites’ Visibility on Google Search Engine- Page 104: Google Places’ Listing Management Page- Page 105: Google+ Page Verification Request Form- Page 108: Google Support for Listing Marked as “Needs Actions”- Page 109: The "Right Way" to Delete a Google Places Listing- Page 110: Google Support for Creating a Google+ Local Page- Page 122: Airbnb’s Wish Lists – A Discovery Oriented Social Platform- Page 123: Facebook’s “Want” Button – A Discovery Oriented Social Feature- Page 138: Hotel Sofitel So Bangkok & Bellagio Hotel Source Code- Page 139: Visual Tags Location on “Hotel Sofitel So Bangkok” Website- Page 140: Visual Tags Location on Bellagio Hotel Website- Page 142: Design and Content of a Hotel’s Website Home Page Enhancing Social Media- Page 143: Design and Content of Palms Casino Resort’s Internal Social Page- Page 144: Design and Content of Fairmont Hotel’s External Social Page- Page 149: Hotel Ares Eiffel – Example of an Optimized Facebook Page- Page 150:Hotel Ares Eiffel - Example of Communication Management on a Facebook Page- Page 151:Hotel Ares Eiffel - Ranked Among the Top Results on Google Search Engine- Page 152: Example of a Hotel’s Visual Facebook Offer Involving Cross Promotion- Page 153: The Sharing of Palms Casino Resort’s Offer on Twitter- Page 153: The Visual Result of Authorship Verified Google+ Profiles on Google Search   9  
  • 10. - LIST OF CHARTS -- Page 21: 2011 – Percentage of Reservation on OTAs and Hotels’ Websites for Branded andNon-Branded Hotels- Page 22: 2012 - Percentage of Reservation on OTAs and Hotels’ websites for Chain Hotelsand Independent Hotels- Page 27: Global OTAs & their Main Acquired Booking Site Brands- Page 29: Internet Users Trends Surveys- Page 29: Online Consumer Trends Survey- Page 33: 2007 – 2011: Percentage of bookings in Top 46 Hotel Brands via ComputerizedReservation Systems- Page 35: Percentage of Travelers Using Mobile Phones to Access Internet for Travel Info- Page 35:Percentage of Travelers Using Mobile Devices for Travel-Related Activities- Page 36: Percentage of Travelers Using Social Media during their Travel Experience- Page 49: OTAs’ Presence on Distribution Channels- Page 52: Hotel Revenue Managers’ Main Challenges in 2012- Page 54: The Percentage of Hoteliers’ Digital Marketing Practices in 2010-2012- Page 56: Googles Major Changes Since 2011- Page 68: Google’s Sharing Principle: Vote, Comment, And Share- Page 91: Pyramid Model - The Independent Relationship of Social Media, Website andGoogle- Page 92: Pyramid Model – Visibility Insights Wheel- Page 93: Pyramid Model – The Main Obstacles Encountered on Each Touch Point- Page 96: The Representation of Independent Hotels’ Online Visibility Strategy (Early 2012)- Page 97: Google’s Positioning Strategy to Target Businesses’ Online Consumers (Early2012)- Page 98: Google’s Social Extension through the Launch of Google+ Local to TargetBusinesses’ Online Consumers- Page 100: The Update of a Hotel’s Online Presence According to Google’s NewRequirements- Page 102: Instructions Before Getting Your Google+ Page Verified- Page 104: How to Request a Google+ Verification to Get Your Pages Merged- Page 107: Process in Case of Merging Failure or Data Issues- Page 112: Search Engine Ranking Factors in 2012- Page 114: The Negative Influence of Advertisements in Search Engine Ranking in 2012- Page 115: The Impact of Keywords in Search Engine Ranking in 2012- Page 116: The Influence of Images and Text in Search Engine Ranking in 2012- Page 118: OTAs’ Position in the Online Distribution System- Page 120: The Decline of Broad Search Terms According to Google Trends- Page 120: The Increase of Standard Search Terms According to Google Trends- Page 125: Direct Booking Strategy Visual Plan for Independent Hoteliers- Page 130: Top 10 Review Sites by Number of Reviews- Page 131: OTAs’ Main Revenue Streams and Costs Drivers- Page 136/135: The Strategic Use of Social Media keywords to Optimize the Description ofa Hotel on Web Pages- Page 137: URLs Optimization through the Use of Social Media Keywords- Page 137: Links/Backlinks Distribution on Each Web Page- Page 141: Example of Tag Optimization through the Use of Social Media Keywords- Page 148: The Influence of Pinterest on U.S. Women Purchase Decision Process   10  
  • 11. - TITLES - - Thesis Title - How Independent Hoteliers can Increase Direct Bookings and therefore Revenue, through a Strategic Use of Google, while Limiting Dependence on Online Travel Agencies? - Main Subsections Titles – Chapter 1 – The Latest Trends in Online Distribution I- Partnership between hotels and OTAs: the repercussions for hoteliers II- Overview on the development of Online Travel Agencies CHAPTER 2 –Interpreting Google’s Mechanisms for Online Success I- Approaching Google’s Tools for Successful Online Distribution Strategies II- Google turns towards a more social approach CHAPTER 3 –Leveraging Strategies to Help Independent Hoteliers Meet their Goals I- Factors to consider in the optimization of online visibility II- Online Performance Recommendations for Hoteliers III- A reposition strategy to generate direct bookings DISCUSSION CHAPTER – Direct Booking Strategy: a 3-pronged action plan I- Better working with OTAs II- Optimizing the hotel’s web pages with social media III- Cultivating and promoting brand value via social media   11  
  • 12. - THEORETICAL AND CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK -1- Definition of Terms“G”: on some graphs means “Google” “#-pack”: means “the number of Google algorithms updates”“rel=nofollow” is an indication that should be placed in the website or blog coderight before the link of an untrusted website or blog. Thus, it prevents Google fromassociating your website with other untrusted sites.AH&LA: American Hotel & Lodging AssociationAirbnb is a community marketplace for people to book accommodations around theworld, in local homes or in atypical places run by professionals.“” refers to a hotel’s website.Backlink: a “link coming from another website to your own website”.Google Adlinks is part of Google Adsense but it may be assumed that it is lessnegatively valued than Adsense, in that Adlinks displays a list of topics that arerelevant to the website. As a result each link points towards an advertisement inrelation to the content of the website.Google Adsense is Google’s advertising tool that enables web publishers to earnmoney by displaying Google ads on their website.Google+: Google’s social platform that recently merged with Google Places to createGoogle+ Local.Google Places: Businesses’ “ID card” that displays all the information in relation to acompany. Google Places was recently replaced by Google+ Local.Google+ Local: the merger between Google+ and Google Places. Google+ Local hasbeen integrated on Google Search, Google Maps and mobiles, which gives morevisibility to businesses.HeBS: Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Digital is a famous hotel Internet marketingfirm.Mashable is a famous online news platform about digital innovation.OTA: Online Travel AgenciesPersonal travelers: according to Google Think Travel, are people having taken atleast one trip for leisure in the past 6 months.“Permanent” Google+ Local page is the result of the successful merger between theGoogle Places Listing of a business and its Google+ Business Page.SEO: Search Engine Optimization“Stopwords” are all the articles and conjunctions belonging to a language (such as:a/an/the/ and/in/to/ etc.). They should not appear in a link because they weaken itsvalue.STR: Smith Travel Research   12  
  • 13. TravelZoo is known as the largest publisher of travel deals on the Internet, and isappreciated by hotels because it works according to a Pay per Click principle (eachclick costs around $0,15 to the hotel). It is similar to Google Adwords but with a bitless exposure.TripAdvisor is not an OTA. It is a local recommendation sites that works inpartnership with OTAs.VCS Principle: is Google optimized sharing process, which consists in “Voting,Commenting and Sharing”.2- Theory Integration and Application Web marketing is a new job in the hospitality industry that implies specificskills and knowledge in both digital technologies and lodging sectors. This is why hotel managers encounter difficulty in figuring out and monitoringthe web marketing strategies suggested by marketing strategists. They end upvalidating or not strategies they don’t understand, with no idea of the repercussionstheir decisions might have on hotels’ revenue. Board members and stakeholders are in the same situation as hotel managers,they recognize that online visibility is essential, but they don’t realize what it consistsof, and the time and money it involves. This is why many hotels don’t invest revenuein website redesign and optimization. Today, independent hotels are struggling to compete with World Hotel Groups,and are becoming ruined by OTAs. The need of a direct booking strategy is more thanpresent. The direct booking strategy is aimed at leading hoteliers to rethink the waythey used to generate revenue. Independent hoteliers will have to convince hotelmanagers and stakeholders, that the strategy is the solution to increase direct bookingsand therefore revenue. This is why this thesis reviews the basics of web marketingbefore developing the strategy. Independent hoteliers will be very likely to adopt this strategy because they feelwithout arms, and keep working with OTAs even if the latter play a very little part ingenerating hotel revenue. Hoteliers will be interested in the way the direct bookingstrategy recommends to work with OTAs, namely by optimizing the hotels’ presenceon their websites, and making the most of their billboard effect. Regarding social media, even if independent hoteliers are not very active onthem, they start valuing the hotels’ presence on this touch point. The direct bookingstrategy will therefore convince hoteliers about the importance of being activethrough the regular publication of social offers. Concerning Google+, the direct booking strategy is in part aimed at showing thevalue of this new social platform for online visibility. The strategy makes hoteliersaware of the importance of having a coherent online presence, especially on Google,because the latter influences ranking on its search engine. As a result this direct booking strategy will enable hoteliers to generate revenueaccording to two ways. First, through the increase of direct bookings, and secondly   13  
  • 14. through the update and optimization of hotels’ online presence, which will influencetheir visibility on search engines. To finish, OTAs, social media and Google have to be considered altogetherbecause they all generate online visibility, and therefore have an influence on hotels’revenue. OTAs are indeed favored by Google, which explains their high visibility onGoogle search engine, and Social media are also crawled by Google to determinewebsites’ ranking on its search engine. The direct booking strategy therefore consists in using and combining the forcesof these 3 touch points to attract online consumers.   14  
  • 15. - METHODOLOGY- The thesis was conducted in parallel of web marketing missions realized forindependent hotels and apartment companies, in the framework of my internship atOneglobe Network.This paper consists of 105 illustrations and graphs, that have been directly includedwithin the document, because they give visual explanations of the theoretical andtechnical points developed.I created most charts related to hotels’ online presence and Google’s socialdevelopment on my own, in order to help independent hoteliers figure out the newchallenges of today, and to further communicate about Oneglobe Network and attractpotential clients. These charts are therefore the results of Oneglobe Network’s view of thelodging market on the Internet, according to the measurements and analytics realizedfor our clients’ online presence.The other quantitative technics that influenced the carrying out of these charts werestudies realized by research companies specialized in the marketing industry and inthe hospitality industry, namely SearchMetrics, L2 Think-tank, Google Think Travel,HeBS Digital, eMarketer, Search Engine Land, Search engine Watch, Hotel NewsNow, SEOmoz and Tnooz.As for the qualitative technics, Google’s online customer service was also a maininformation source for the creation of the 3 Google maps made to ensure onlinevisibility to independent hotels.The other charts were entirely made from the information found in the studies andanalyses, made by the research companies previously mentioned. Regarding the illustrations, most of them consist of screenshots taken from:- Our clients’ social media accounts and website- World Hotel Groups and Independent Hotels’ social media accounts and websites- OTAs’ websites- Google’s tools and features (Google Search Engine, Google+, Google Maps, GoogleHotel Finder)Screenshots are qualitative technics in that they are the visual proofs of the currenttrends in marketing and hospitality on the Internet. However, as web marketing anddigital technologies evolves very rapidly, some screenshots will become out of date astime passes, and will no longer represent the platforms (websites, social media sites)they currently refer to. This is the reason why, some parts of this thesis have alreadybeen published online, so that hoteliers can use the content to solve the problems theycurrently encounter.   15  
  • 16. Still about the qualitative technics, the thesis was made through a regular followup of the new tools and platforms launched by digital technologies companies, andthrough the trial of these new tools and platforms for Oneglobe Network’s clients.Online consumer behavior is also frequently the subject of research, because it is thebasis of web marketing strategies developed for independent hotels, and because itenables to anticipate the launch of future tools and platforms created by digitaltechnologies companies. To finish, I chose to integrate the action plan of the direct booking strategy intothe discussion chapter, because the hypotheses, whether validated or not, justify thechoice of each action developed. As the actions are based on the researches andanalyses conducted throughout the paper, I could explain why some hypotheses canbe validated, why some other cannot, and why some others can still be questioned.   16  
  • 17. -­‐  ABSTRACT  -­‐   This thesis consists of real researches and analyses, made for the independenthotels and apartment companies that the web-marketing agency Oneglobe Networkworks with. The entire paper is therefore based on current troubles hoteliersencounter, and the solutions suggested are based on famous web marketingspecialists’ analyses and opinion, and on my own experience in web marketing.The paper is therefore aimed mainly at marketing specialists working for a lodgingcompany, and students in the hospitality industry, in that it consists in:- Developing a direct booking strategy, based on the actual online consumer behavior,that involves the use of social media and the partnership with OTAs.- Making hoteliers aware of the importance of a coherent and optimized onlinepresence.- Sharing the necessary information to anticipate the future development of OTAs,understand their way of functioning and their evolving business model.- Tackling Google’s latest tools and features that influences businesses’ ranking onsearch engine, and sharing tips to enhance Google’s validation of hotels’ accounts. Throughout the thesis, I acquired many technical skills related to website andsocial media optimization for online visibility, but I also integrated many trendsrelated to online distribution.I indeed realized that OTAs have a length ahead of hoteliers in terms of servicesprovided to online consumers, and that hoteliers should therefore follow up theirdevelopment and draw inspiration from them. However, unlike OTAs, I also noticedthat independent hotels have the necessary resources to provide an online consumerexperience, which is therefore a strength for hoteliers in their competition with OTAs.In addition, I noticed that Google evolves according to online consumer behavior, andthat the ranking on Google Search Engine is therefore mainly based on the consumerexperience that websites offer. With this finding, hoteliers can review their ownwebsite and make it more online consumer friendly, which will improve their onlinevisibility.To finish, I realized that both online consumers and Internet companies (searchengines, social media) are turning towards social environment, which forces hoteliersto reconsider their web marketing strategies to increase their number of onlinereservations. Online consumers indeed more and more discover products and services(hotels included) on social media, instead of making general search on search engines.This explains why Google developed its own social platform “Google+” and whysocial media are developing e-commerce features.   17  
  • 18. - GENERAL INTRODUCTION – Generating revenue has become a real challenge for independent hoteliers, sinceOTAs’ online visibility has increased, and since they have raised the commissionsrequested to hotels.The solution for hotels would be to limit dependence on OTAs, and increase directbookings. However, independent hoteliers have limited marketing andcommunication budgets, and have trouble remaining visible on the Internet. Googleindeed seems to favor 3rd parties’ presence, and recently changed its criteria to rankwebsites in its search engine. Independent hoteliers feel helpless, in a compromising situation for theirbusiness, which raises the following question: “How Independent Hoteliers canincrease direct bookings and therefore revenue, through a strategic use ofGoogle, while limiting dependence on Online Travel Agencies?” After more than one year of internship at Oneglobe Network, a web-marketingagency for independent hotels, I discovered Google’s potential for businesses’ onlinevisibility, and Independent hoteliers’ lack of skills in terms of online optimization.The more I learnt about Search Engine Optimization, the more the gap betweenIndependent Hotels and Google became obvious. One year ago, Elizabeth Craig, CEO of Oneglobe Network, came up with theidea of working on a direct booking strategy for her clients. The strategy would bebased on travellers’ online discovery journey, and would therefore involve skills inthe use of Google, Social Media and website optimization.As a result, this strategy, whose main objectives are to increase direct bookings andlead independent hoteliers to rethink the way they generate online bookings, wouldalso be the opportunity for hoteliers to update and improve their entire onlinepresence, and therefore get the basics of web marketing. In order to answer theseadditional objectives, the paper therefore deals with hotel website and social mediaoptimization, introduces hotel-friendly OTAs, tackles OTAs’ business model andinsists on Google’s ranking factors on search engine. Regarding the hypotheses based on the research problem, I expect that thepotential of Google’s social platform “Google+” will make independent hotels asvisible as world hotel groups and OTAs on Google search engine, so that onlineconsumers are more likely to visit their websites. Concerning online consumers, I expect that they will more and more refer tosocial media websites before, during and after their trips or vacations. They will alsomore and more trust booking systems embedded on social media to make hotelreservations. I also expect that Google keeps developing its search engine, and keeplaunching new tools and platforms likely to encourage businesses (hotels included) tobe active on Google+. To finish, I expect that hotel-friendly OTAs become as visible as global OTAson search engines, due to their efforts in providing an attractive consumer experience,and in requesting low commissions or no commission to hotels.   18  
  • 19. This thesis would not have been conceivable without Oneglobe Networks’clients that trusted us for solving their problems related to Google, and to their declinein direct bookings revenue. It could not have been carried out without ElizabethCraig, who came up with the idea of setting up a direct booking strategy involvingboth OTAs’ presence and social media. My expertize being centered on Google and Search Engine Optimization, thisthesis does not cover in details the business related to OTAs, nor provides technicalaspects in relation to website and social media optimization. The study is limited to an overview of OTAs’ history, their main businessmodel and the latest trends in online distribution channels. It does not provideinformation about the most efficient global OTAs to work with, and the strategies todevelop so that hotels can reduce their commissions, because the needs andexpectations of hotels are different in this area. As for social media and website optimization, the study tackles the elements toenhance that will improve the online consumers’ experience, and convince the latterto make reservations on the hotels’ web pages. No technical details are sharedbecause: • concerning social media - many guides on the Internet already explain the step-by-step processes to optimize hotels’ accounts. • regarding website optimization - hotels should contact web developers because it requires a specific expertize that most web marketing strategists don’t have. Throughout the study, more importance is given to Google+ Local because it isGoogle’s new social platform that is likely to increase hotels’ online visibility. Inaddition, Google+ Local was automatically generated on hotels’ Google accounts, andmany hotels (Oneglobe Networks’ clients included) encountered problems thatimpacted their online visibility, it was therefore essential to cover this topic in details. Furthermore, in addition to the technical details that don’t belong to webmarketing expertize, some elements the thesis involving digital technologies will berapidly out of date, because of the constant evolution of the latter in order to respondto online consumers needs and expectations. To finish, the direct booking strategy is currently being developed for OneglobeNetwork’s clients and no results in terms of direct bookings can be measured to date. As hoteliers closely work with OTAs but are short of time to follow theirdevelopments, the first chapter introduces the latest trends in online distribution,focusing essentially on OTAs’ segmentation and the impacts on independent hotels. One objective of the thesis being that Independent hoteliers become assuccessful as OTAs in terms of online visibility, the second chapter tackles Google’slatest tools and features, including its new social approach, that directly influencesbusinesses’ ranking on search engines. The third chapter demonstrates the interdependence of online search, socialmedia and websites for businesses’ online performance, which makes up the base ofthe direct booking strategy. The latter is finally developed in chapter four to helphoteliers optimize their online presence and generate revenue.   19  
  • 20. - CHAPTER 1 –                   The Latest Trends in Online Distribution   20  
  • 21. I- Partnership between hotels and OTAs: the repercussions for hoteliersNote - OTAs: “Online Travel Agencies”A- The decline in hotel revenue despite the increase in rooms sold Over the past few years, OTAs’ strategies to increase turnover and sell hotelrooms turned out efficient. However, independent hotels can hardly be delightedabout the situation. OTAs indeed enable independent to sell more rooms but theydon’t play a part in increasing their revenue.In January 2012, the author of the article “Report says Hotels Lose Out with MerchantSales on the Web” (made from data collected by Smith Travel Research and theAmerican Hotel & Lodging Association) mentioned, talking about US hotels, that“when they distribute rooms through OTAs in merchant sales, they give up twice asmuch in lost revenue as they pay out in commissions on standard agency sales”1. Thestudy based it results on more than 25000 hotels between January 2009 and June2011. The main reason for the revenue decline of independent hotels is thecommissions OTAs applies to each hotel room sold. According to Max Starkov2,President & CEO at HeBS the commissions applied by OTAs to hotels today standfor 20% to 30% over the room price, which represents twice or three times as much asthe traditional travel agency commission (10%)3.Note – HeBS: Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Digital is a famous hotel Internetmarketing firm.4As a result, hotel groups and independent hotels’ sales have been impacted in recentyears. Mark Starkov also shared the following figures that he got from PhoCusWrightSTR HSMAI Foundation, corresponding to the distribution of hotels’ total bookingsin 20115.                                                                                                                1­‐News/Hotel-­‐News/Report-­‐says-­‐hotels-­‐lose-­‐out-­‐with-­‐merchant-­‐sales-­‐on-­‐the-­‐Web/)  2  3­‐end-­‐of-­‐the-­‐ota-­‐merchant-­‐model-­‐%E2%80%93-­‐this-­‐time-­‐for-­‐real/  4  5­‐2012-­‐dos-­‐a-­‐donts-­‐of-­‐hotel-­‐distribution-­‐part-­‐1&catid=7%3Ae-­‐commerce-­‐gds&Itemid=14       21  
  • 22. 2011 – Percentage of Reservation on OTAs and Hotels’ Websites for Branded and Non-Branded Hotels OTAs Hotels’ websites Top Hotel Brands 8% (1) 18% Non-Branded Hotels 32% 10% By Max Starkov, The 2012 Dos & Donts of Hotel Distribution, Part 1, (PhoCusWright, STR, HSMAI Foundation), Article, Revenue Your Hotel, 2012, Appendix 46(1) % of total bookingsThe results of 2011 clearly show that the majority of non-branded hotels bookingscome from OTAs, which explains the decline in revenue for independent hotelsdespite the increase in number of rooms sold. It is also important to point out that OTAs’ success is currently higher than whatthe table highlights, because a huge percentage of total bookings made on the Internetgo directly in OTAs pockets. In fact, to compete with the growing success of bookingsites, OTAs created or bought back many of the currently existing booking sites.The best examples are Expedia that owns and Hotwire; and Orbitz thatowns HotelClub and CheapTickets and Priceline that bought back Pegasus’sTravelweb.com7.In addition, an EHL (Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne) and Rate Tiger study8 about thedistribution channels, shows that independent hotels are much more impacted byOTAs than are Chain Hotels. 2012 - Percentage of Reservation on OTAs and Hotels’ websites for Chain Hotels and Independent Hotels OTAs Hotels’ websitesChain Hotels 32% 33%Independent hotels 38% 31% By H.Tudori and R.C. Haynes, The Distribution Challenge - A viewpoint of 2010/2012, Rate Tiger and EHL study, 2012, Appendix19Although Chain Hotels have a balanced percentage of reservations made from OTAsand their website, the reservations for Independent Hotels through OTAs are higherthan the ones made through their website.Independent hotels’ situation being more critical than the one of Hotel groups, thisthesis brings analysis, strategies and solutions more adapted to independent hotels.                                                                                                                6­‐2012-­‐dos-­‐a-­‐donts-­‐of-­‐hotel-­‐distribution-­‐part-­‐1&catid=7%3Ae-­‐commerce-­‐gds&Itemid=14  7­‐commission-­‐models-­‐no-­‐threat-­‐to-­‐OTAs  8­‐2012ehl-­‐rt.pdf  9­‐2012ehl-­‐rt.pdf     22  
  • 23. Given the heavy competition on the OTAs market, in recent years lowcommissions OTAs (also known as “hotel-friendly” OTAs) were created in anattempt to seduce hoteliers.B- The emergence of “hotel-friendly” OTAs “Hotel-friendly” or “low commissions” OTAs are actually OTAs requesting acommission around 10% or less, just like the traditional Travel Agencies.1- “Hotel-friendly” OTA: a new concept Who are these revolutionaries of the online distribution, then? The first thatmade huge noise is Room Key, an attractive concept for hoteliers in that 10%commissions are requested. Room Key was launched in January 201210.Now the question is “what is their business model?”The answer is “the same as OTAs…” but the thing is that Room Key is on WorldHotel Brands’ initiative including Marriott International, InterContinental HotelsGroup, Hilton Worldwide, Choice Hotels, Hyatt, and Wyndham. Their objectivesimply was to take market shares back from OTAs. To achieve so, they differentiatedthemselves from OTAs by offering an easier and faster search system; along withloyalty program points, last room availability while reducing the commissions onroom sold11.a- The comparison between Room Key and Expedia The difference between Room Key and basic OTAs’ websites like Expedia isobvious. Room Key provides customers with a simple and fast platform, contrary toExpedia. We can notice this fact by simply comparing the search system of the twocompanies.                                                                                                                10­‐Room-­‐Key-­‐keeping-­‐up-­‐with-­‐OTAs  11­‐News/Hotel-­‐News/Report-­‐says-­‐hotels-­‐lose-­‐out-­‐with-­‐merchant-­‐sales-­‐on-­‐the-­‐Web/­‐Are_the_New_Anti-­‐OTA_Sites_Ready_to_Take_the_Spotlight-­‐HeBS%20Digital%20Blog%20Summary.pdf         23  
  • 24. Room Key’s Search System (July 2012) By Emilie Alba, Room Key’s Search System, Screenshot, July 2012, Appendix 712 Expedia’s Search System (July 2012) By Emilie Alba, Expedia’s Search System, Screenshot, July 201213                                                                                                                12     24  
  • 25. Expedia search system looks more overcharged than Room Key, in part due to theflight, car and cruise choice options. However, according to Choice Hotel CEOStephen Joyce, Room Key will soon provide the same choice options (except cruises),the challenge will be therefore to keep the airy way and rounded design. In addition,according to Max Starkov, Room Key plans on adding “independent customerreviews, and the ability to compare, plan and share with friends and family”14.b- My Best Hotel Rate, a similar concept to that of Room Key MyBestHotelRate is a reservation site operated by The Asian American HotelOwners Association (AAHOA). AAHOA consists of 11000 members who run morethan 20000 hotels. The organization was created in 1989 in order to join togetherunder a reference brand aimed at inspiring confidence and increasing customerloyalty15.In 1989, this association was certainly created to compete with traditional TravelAgencies on the American and Asian markets. In 2011, to remain competitive withOTAs, they created MyBestHotelRate 16 , which enables the member hoteliers toincrease direct bookings. Just like Room Key, they request a 10% commission andmake the reservation process fast and easy for web users. MyBestHotelRate’s Search System and Home Page (July 2012) By Emilie Alba, MyBestHotelRate’s Search System and Home Page, Screenshot, July 2012, Appendix 917                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            13  14­‐News/Hotel-­‐News/Report-­‐says-­‐hotels-­‐lose-­‐out-­‐with-­‐merchant-­‐sales-­‐on-­‐the-­‐Web/­‐Are_the_New_Anti-­‐OTA_Sites_Ready_to_Take_the_Spotlight-­‐HeBS%20Digital%20Blog%20Summary.pdf    15  16­‐niche-­‐OTAs-­‐compete-­‐with-­‐the-­‐big-­‐guys  17     25  
  • 26. The screenshot above highlights a simpler search system than Expedia, and anattractive design for web users. It also inspires confidence in terms of price with themention of “Best Available Rates” and makes itself different from competitors byensuring the possibility to “make multiple bookings in one reservation”18.c- Global Hotel Exchange: a no commission hotel-booking site Launched in 2011 19 , Global Hotel Exchange’s search system is all abouttravelers and hoteliers’ well being. They ensure that travelers won’t have their creditcard charged before their arrival, and will be able to change or cancel their reservationwithout any fees. Concerning hotels members, they won’t be charged withcommission or distribution fees because they will control their own rates andallocations through Global Hotel Exchange extranet. Global Hotel Exchange onlycharges travelers with a 2,99$ service fee for each booking, in order to cover the costsof credit card processing, search engine marketing and the Global Hotel Exchangetechnology20.The search system’s design also highlights the Global Hotel Exchange’ philosophy. Global Hotel Exchange’s Search System and Home Page (July 2012)                                                                                                                18  19­‐niche-­‐OTAs-­‐compete-­‐with-­‐the-­‐big-­‐guys  20     26  
  • 27. By Emilie Alba, Global Hotel Exchange’s Search System and Home Page, Screenshot, July 2012, Appendix 1021What transpires from the screenshot of GHE website is the design neutrality and allthe empty space, which conveys the fairness and simplicity of the booking site forboth travelers and hotels. The emptiness of the page also conveys GHE’s effort inshowing that their platform is easier to use than that of competitors, and that whatmatters is what travelers and hotels need and expect.Travelers’ search is made fast and easy through the search system, and hotels’booking management is easily accessible at the bottom of the page.GHE clearly differentiates from businesses like Room Key and MyBestHotelRatealthough the aim for each business is to be hotel-friendly and to simplify the bookingprocess for travelers. As a result, by the growing number of “hotel-friendly” OTAs, we can notice thereal need for hotels to increase revenue through fairer booking practices. The arrivalof these “hotel-friendly” OTAs is a hope of a better future for hotels. However hotelswill have to make efforts on their own websites if they want to increase directbooking. For example, hotels should start by reviewing the booking engine displayedon their website. The booking engine should be as simple, visible and easy to use asthe search systems displayed on “hotel-friendly” OTAs. This is why it is important toanalyze the strategies of OTAs and hotel booking sites to attract customers.Although the arrival of the “hotel-friendly” OTAs might seem like a revolution forhotels, they will still have to work with OTAs. As these latter invaded the hotelbooking space a few years ago, they have gained hotel guests’ confidence and arepresent everywhere through the creation of many brands.2- OTAs’ online presence What most hotel guests ignore is that many hotel reservation sites belong toglobal OTAs such as Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Orbitz, etc. Global OTAs & their Main Acquired Booking Site Brands OTAs Corresponding Booking Site BrandsExpedia + Hotwire +VenereTravelocity LastMinutes.comPriceline + AgodaOrbitz HotelClubs + CheapTickets By Emilie Alba, Global OTAs & their Main Acquired Booking Site Brands, Table, July 201222This large presence on the travel market influences OTAs to request highcommissions to hotels. According to Glenn Gruber 23 , a technology-marketingexecutive at Software Industry Insights who attended the Hotel Distribution Super                                                                                                                21  22,,,,,,,  23     27  
  • 28. Session at HITEC 2012 (High Impact Technology Exchange Conference), “OTAsthink they still provide a strong value proposition alongside the hotels directchannel”24.As a result, in 2012, OTAs have no good reasons to reduce the commissions theyapply to hotel partners. They were able to answer travelers’ needs and expectations ata time when hoteliers needed customers, and as time went by, they kept adapting tocustomers’ online behaviors. In my opinion, this is what Glen Gruber means by“strong value” talking about OTAs.Today, Hotel-Friendly OTAs are not as visible as global OTAs on search engines,because we could see through this chapter that they were launched very recently.However, if Hotel-Friendly OTAs keeps growing, it means that there is potential onthe market. This doesn’t validate the hypothesis through which I expected that HotelFriendly OTAs would become as visible as global OTAs, however independent hotelscan consider working with them. Furthermore, as global OTAs are very present onsearch engines, we can think about including them within the direct booking strategy. But now, the questions are, how long the OTAs’ monopoly can last? Is thereany possibility in the future that they will reduce their commissions? Do IndependentHotels have a chance to get higher revenue while still working OTAs?So far, no experts in the hospitality industry can predict the future of IndependentHotels in front of OTAs. However, getting interested in OTAs’ history can helpindependent hotels to anticipate OTAs’ future orientations or at least to become asattractive as they are for web users. II- Overview on the development of Online Travel AgenciesA- The various factors that contributed to OTAs’ growth1- The Internet Booming OTAs started to develop 15 years ago, with the access to the Internet for thegeneral public.According to the chart below, in 1999, more than half of the people aged 35-54already had an Internet access and in 1998, the Online Travel Industry was the mostsuccessful, after the book industry and the software and hardware industries. Thisencouraging activity from web users rapidly reassured OTAs regarding a potentialsuccess25.                                                                                                                24­‐is-­‐new-­‐in-­‐hotel-­‐distribution-­‐not-­‐a-­‐lot-­‐actually/?  25     28  
  • 29. Internet Users Trends Surveys Online Travel Industry, Internet Users Trends Survey, Statistics, National Chiao Tung University, Internet Marketing Class by Dr. Edwin Tang, Date Not Mentioned26 Online Consumer Trends Survey Online Travel Industry, Online Consumer Trends Survey, Statistics, National Chiao Tung University, Internet Marketing Class by Dr. Edwin Tang, Date Not Mentioned27                                                                                                                26  27     29  
  • 30. 2- September 9, 2001 terrorist attacks Soon after the Internet booming, the terrorist attacks of September 9, 2001 inNew York, hugely contributed to OTAs expansion. The travel decline (especially inthe United States) forced the hospitality industry to turn towards the OTAs in order toattract travelers and increase their number of bookings.According to the study from “Smith Travel Research and the American Hotel &Lodging Association” previously mentioned, in 2001, OTAs represented 1.4% of UShotel revenue; they doubled their market share in one year to 2.9%. Then, they keptgrowing up to 7.7% in 201028. Turning towards OTAs compelled hotels to provide OTAs with “the best accessto inventory and rates possible” 29 along with “bigger discounts and attractivepromotions like 24-hour sales30.This is why today, hotels, which used to be known for selling rooms at the highestpossible rates, start communicating about the fact they provide the best available rateson their web pages (websites, social media sites, etc.), in order to increase theirrevenue through direct bookings.3- 2008 world economic crisis In addition to communicating about their best available rates, hotels had toincrease their marketing budget to get their website redesigned and their onlinepresence optimized. These strategies were made still in the objective to increase directbookings by being more attractive and visible than OTAs.However, the economic crisis of 2008 was another considerable challenge for hotels,especially for independent hoteliers. First of all, they were more budget limited thanbranded hotels, and secondly they were loosing customers.As a result, they had to rely a lot on OTAs to at least, increase their number ofreservations. Given the massive demand growth that OTAs were benefiting, the latter decidedto increase their commissions. In the HeBS study previously mentioned, Max Starkovreveals the following figures concerning OTAs’ market shares:- in Q3 2008: 25.4% of booking for the top 30 hotel brands- in Q3 2010: 37.5% of booking for the top 30 hotel brandsWhich represent an increase of 12.1 points in 2 years concerning hotel reservationthrough OTAs’ websites, namely a revenue loss for hotels of $5,4 billion in 2010mainly because of OTAs’ high commissions31.                                                                                                                28­‐News/Hotel-­‐News/Report-­‐says-­‐hotels-­‐lose-­‐out-­‐with-­‐merchant-­‐sales-­‐on-­‐the-­‐Web/  29­‐News/Hotel-­‐News/Report-­‐says-­‐hotels-­‐lose-­‐out-­‐with-­‐merchant-­‐sales-­‐on-­‐the-­‐Web/  30­‐end-­‐of-­‐the-­‐ota-­‐merchant-­‐model-­‐%E2%80%93-­‐this-­‐time-­‐for-­‐real/  31­‐end-­‐of-­‐the-­‐ota-­‐merchant-­‐model-­‐%E2%80%93-­‐this-­‐time-­‐for-­‐real/     30  
  • 31. OTAs clearly took advantage of this demand growth because (except for onlinemarketing & selling that represented 1/3 of their revenue) they did not have as muchexpense as traditional travel agencies have32.In fact, traditional agencies had to cover the costs of brochures, trade shows, print ads,etc. and they were requesting a 10% commission. As a result, the 20% or 30%commissions OTAs request is not really justified33.B- The recent changes in online distribution1- Hotels’ online activity to become competitive Many hoteliers ceased to wonder if the OTAs’ monopoly will stop someday andstarted to think about a way to increase direct bookings. For a long time, theyremained focused on the objective to appear among the firsts on search engines. Then,they realized it was not sufficient and started considering investing in a new websiteor finding strategies to get potential guests to book on the hotels’ web pages (whetherwebsites or social networks). From a personal experience at Oneglobe Network, last year most hotels weworked with, regularly requested an analysis of their ranking on search enginesthrough the use of keywords. Then, from November 2012, with the arrival of Google+, Google algorithms that used to rank businesses on the search engine changed,leaving hotels and web marketing strategists in the uncertainty concerning the futureof the online visibility of their business.Since the beginning of 2012, many hotels are present on Google+ (even if they doubtthat someday they will be able to attract hotels guests from this social network) andhave had their website and/or booking engine redesigned.The most recent example of website redesign was announced today (July 11, 2012),on Facebook by Genre Hotels.                                                                                                                32­‐commission-­‐models-­‐no-­‐threat-­‐to-­‐OTAs  33­‐end-­‐of-­‐the-­‐ota-­‐merchant-­‐model-­‐%E2%80%93-­‐this-­‐time-­‐for-­‐real/     31  
  • 32. Genre Hotels’ New Booking Engine Announcement on Facebook By Emilie Alba, Genre Hotels’ New Booking Engine Announcement on Facebook, Screenshot, July 11, 201234 Genre Hotels’ New Booking Engine on their Website By Emilie Alba, Genre Hotels’ New Booking Engine on their Website, Screenshot, July 11, 201235What can be inferred from Genre Hotels is its effort in simplifying its bookingprocess, thus improving the online experience of its potential guests. Genre Hotels’booking engine and airy website design reminds us of the ones provided by RoomKey and MyBestHotelRate, the “hotel friendly OTAs” introduced earlier.                                                                                                                34  35     32  
  • 33. As a result, we can clearly notice the desire of hoteliers to beat the OTAs (whousually display overcharged booking engines and home pages) and increase directbookings. The current harsh competition against OTAs in which hoteliers have entered,made them realize the importance of knowing web users’ online behavior, in order togive them the online experience they expect.2- OTA: the beginning of the end?a- A decline in hotel bookings for OTAs 2011 was the first year OTAs had seen a decline in hotel bookings. This lightfall is certainly due to the growing competition with “hotel-friendly” OTAs and thestrategies set up by some hotels (like website redesign) to get more direct bookings.According to a HeBS study based on Top 46 hotel brands, published in The SmartHotelier’s Guide to 2012 Digital Marketing Budget Planning36, the figures for theonline distribution industry are as follow: 2007 – 2011: Percentage of bookings in Top 46 Hotel Brands via Computerized Reservation Systems By M. Starkov and M. Mechoso Safer, The Smart Hotelier’s Guide to 2012 Digital Marketing Budget Planning, HeBS Digital Study, September 11, 201137Between 2007 and 2010, OTAs kept gaining market shares (+ 8,6 points) while brandhotel websites were loosing direct bookings (- 8,6 points). However in Q2 2011(which correspond to the period between April and June 2011), OTAs’ bookings hadreached only 31,8%, which means that by the end of the year they would hardly reach32,7 (the percentage they got the previous year). As for, brand hotel websites, in Q22011, they already got 2% more bookings than the previous year.                                                                                                                36­‐smart-­‐hotelier%E2%80%99s-­‐guide-­‐to-­‐2012-­‐digital-­‐marketing-­‐budget-­‐planning/  37­‐smart-­‐hotelier%E2%80%99s-­‐guide-­‐to-­‐2012-­‐digital-­‐marketing-­‐budget-­‐planning/     33  
  • 34. This change in the online distribution industry that hotels start taking advantage of,can be due to a change in the online consumers’ behavior. It is also certainly the resultof all the efforts made by hoteliers on their web pages and on mobile, and of thegrowing increase of “hotel friendly” OTAs.b- Online consumer expectations The way web users act on the Internet influences the creation or thedevelopment of new tools or platforms. When OTAs started to expand on the web,they were selling the simple possibility to make several reservations in a short time,all of it at the best available rate. Consumers are still looking for the most convenientway to make reservations. However, today they also value a memorable or uniqueonline experience. This is why, more and more consumers want to directly deal withhotels’ manufacturers according to Max Starkov, in its HeBS study “End of the OTAmerchant model – This time for real”38.This trend is certainly in part responsible of the increase (+2%) of brand hotels’ directbookings in 2011, because hotels belonging to brands or chains usually provideattractive websites, entertaining blogs and dynamic activities on social media. As aresult, Max Starkov’s assumption in 2010 that “we should be witnessing a decline inthe indirect channel contribution” revealed true in 2011. Another trend in customers’ behavior is the quest towards a personalized pricethrough a personalized reservation system39. Before the web became social, peopleused to make hotel reservations mainly through OTAs. Years later, web users startedmaking only their first reservation on OTAs’ websites, then they would book directlywith the hotels for future venues. This is why we can assume that occasional travelerswill keep booking with OTAs (it is actually more convenient for packages) but on theother hand, regular travelers will get used to booking directly with hotels throughtheir websites, mobile apps or social media sites.c- The increase of mobile connected travelers Lastly, the Internet and mobile development have made travelers hyperinteractive, which results in more and more reservations made from mobile devices.                                                                                                                38­‐end-­‐of-­‐the-­‐ota-­‐merchant-­‐model-­‐%E2%80%93-­‐this-­‐time-­‐for-­‐real/  39­‐breves/banque-­‐finances-­‐economie/2476-­‐article/le-­‐regne-­‐des-­‐otas-­‐a-­‐t-­‐il-­‐atteint-­‐son-­‐apogee     34  
  • 35. Percentage of Travelers Using Mobile Phones to Access Internet for Travel Info By Google, The Traveler’s Road to Decision 2011, Study, July 201140Between 2009 and 2011, personal travelers using mobile phones increased 19 points(from 8% to 27%). Concerning business travelers, their number doubled in 2 years,reaching 51% in 201141.Note:Personal travelers: according to Google Think Travel, are people having taken at leastone trip for leisure in the past 6 months. In regard to the number of hotel reservations made from mobile devices in2011, about half the travelers (business & personal) now use these devices in a naturaland comfortable way, as it is through desktop computers or laptops.                                                                                                                40  41     35  
  • 36. Percentage of Travelers Using Mobile Devices for Travel-Related Activities By Google, The Traveler’s Road to Decision 2011, Study, July 201142This graph also shows that the number of travelers using mobile devices to check inhas increased (+ 6%) in one year. Mobile applications download also increased 6% aswell. As a result, it is important to point out that the investment in mobile optimizedwebsites and in mobile applications should be considered by hotels trying to boostdirect bookings. The priority is currently given to computer websites optimization, buthotels have to start thinking about mobile development and optimization as a nextstep. According to David Millili, CEO of Pegasus Solutions, the world leader intechnology and corporate services for the hospitality industry43, lately many hotelssaw an increase in voice bookings, which is in part due to the development of mobileapplications and mobile optimized websites44. Additionally, the popularity of mobile devices resulted in more and moreactivities from travelers on Social Media websites, especially Facebook and Twitter.This is why many booking engine applications are being developed on Facebook, andmore and more promotional offers are being posted on these social sites. They all areadditional opportunities for hotels to get direct bookings.                                                                                                                42  43  44­‐is-­‐new-­‐in-­‐hotel-­‐distribution-­‐not-­‐a-­‐lot-­‐actually/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Tnooz+%28Tnooz%29     36  
  • 37. The online customers’ behavior is especially observed on Social mediawebsites, and from these observations, hotels and OTAs can adapt according totravelers’ needs and expectations. The graph below highlights the main social mediaactivities travelers enjoy the most. It also shows how social media activities influencethe consumers in their decision making process. Percentage of Travelers Using Social Media during their Travel Experience By Google, The Traveler’s Road to Decision 2011, Study, July 2011, Appendix 1645 The results on this graph show that almost half of travelers use social mediawebsites before, during and after their trips, which partially validates the hypothesisthrough which I expected that online consumers would more and more use socialmedia during their travel experience. As we don’t know if these figures will increase,the hypothesis can’t be totally validated. It can be noticed from the graph that there is not many differences in the use ofsocial medias between personal and business travelers, which is a good point forhotels in that their social media strategies will be effective for both type of guests.Another important point is the importance given to pictures and reviews. With the recent launch of Google+ Local (the merging of Google Places andGoogle+), Google announced that more visibility on search engines will be given toreviews and pictures. It can therefore be inferred that consumers’ behavior alsoinfluences search engine development. As a result, the level of customer engagementa hotel can get is an indication of its chance to increase its visibility on searchengines.                                                                                                                45     37  
  • 38. To sum up, as OTAs made the most of the Internet at its early stage, they wereable to analyze and anticipate online customers’ needs and expectations. As timepassed, customers became more and more active online, which enabled OTAs to getspecialized and develop specific reservation sites for specific customers’ needs. Thiswhy, we saw the development of hotel booking sites (like, HotelClub,, etc.), comparison websites (like hotelscombined, kayak, etc.), flashsales (Groupon, LivingSocial, etc.) or last minutes booking sites (likes hoteltonight, As a result, with the recent launch of Room Key and MyHotelBestRates (“anti-OTA reservation sites”, made on hoteliers’ initiative), we can notice that nowhoteliers start paying attention to customers’ behavior. Hoteliers indeed realized thatwhat customers want today is to start enjoying the hotel experience online, whichconsists in getting in touch with them directly.C- A more segmented online distribution channel1- Hotel Comparison Sites Comparison Sites exclusively for hotel rooms appeared around 2005 in order tomake it easier for web users to choose the right hotel for the best price among all theexisting OTAs. They obviously differ from travel comparison sites, such as Kayak orLiligo, that compare prices for hotels, flights, cars, etc. The newly hotel price comparison sites concept could not be ignored by OTAsbecause it was the opportunity to get even more visibility and additional chances tosell hotel rooms. However, price comparison sites increased the competition betweenOTAs and became an additional obstacle for hotels to get direct bookings.As time passes, price comparison sites are turning visual in an attempt to enhance thetravelers’ experience, and the competition is getting harder and harder among pricecomparison sites.Note:Hotelscombined was launched in 2005, Trivago in 2006 and Room77 in 2011.   38  
  • 39. Home Page of Trivago’s Website (July 2012) By Emilie Alba, Home Page of Trivago’s Website, Screenshot, July 201246 Home Page of Hotels Combined’s Website (July 2012) By Emilie Alba, Home Page of Hotels Combined’s Website, Screenshot, July 201247 Home Page of Room77’s Website (July 2012) By Emilie Alba, Home Page of Room77’s Website, Screenshot, July 201248                                                                                                                46  47     39  
  • 40. When comparing the home pages of the main comparison sites, it can be noticed thatTrivago is the most overcharged site, Hotelscombined mainly attracts customers witha visible booking engine and many photos, and Room77 differs from the others with avisible booking engine and a strategic summer offer. As a result, it can be inferred that the customers’ need and expectations haschanged since 2005. Room77 has launched a better-adapted site than its competitors,by highlighting the simplicity of booking through a well-designed booking engine,and also the assistance of an online room concierge. The customers’ experience istherefore more complete.2- Online Travel Guides and Resellers From the years 2000, travel guide websites were being created to promotedestinations. As they were well designed and very visual, people spent time on themto look for holiday destinations. They also made themselves different from OTAs andother booking websites by choosing attractive names. For example, we can quote“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Wanderfly”. Nothing in these names refers to booking orhotel. However, as they became popular they ended up displaying booking engines bypartnering either with hotels or OTAs.“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” became a specialist of boutique hotels, guesthouses and luxuryspa hotels. They never involved OTAs and take care to visit each accommodationstructure before accepting a membership. Partnering with “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is awin-sin situation because the travel guide requests a 2 or 2.5% commission toaccommodations structures49. In addition, Travel guides and resellers’ website is generally fully optimized forvisibility, and inspires confidence and proximity with web users.The screenshot of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” home page below highlights the elements thatmake the website’s strength.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            48  49     40  
  • 41. Optimized Home Page of Mr. & Mrs. Smiths Website (July 2012) By Emilie Alba, Optimized Home Page of Mr. & Mrs. Smiths Website, Screenshot, July 201250Many hotel websites, especially independent hotel websites do not highlight all theelements framed in red on the screenshot, namely:- Business’ phone number, description, rewards, etc.- Booking engine, membership and social media boxes etc.As a result, people spend less than a minute on non-optimized web pages and go backon the search engine to click on another link, which most of the time belongs to anOTA51. Given the success of travel guides, OTAs indirectly found a way to position onthis channel as well. For example “Wanderfly”, unlike “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, is a morecomplete travel guide that displays hotel and flight bookings, along with localrecommendations and all the possible leisure activities offered on each destination52.Wanderfly is also well designed and attractive but chose to partner with the pricecomparison site Hotelscombined to position on the hotel booking segment. Whensurfing the Wanderfly website, nothing indicates that Wanderfly usesHotelscombined’s platform. However when comparing the 2 platforms, we realizethat they are similar because it is indeed the same platform.                                                                                                                50  51  52­‐relaunch/     41  
  • 42. Booking Platforms Comparison between Hotels Combined and Wanderfly (July 2012) By Emilie Alba, Booking Platforms Comparison between Hotels Combined and Wanderfly, Screenshot, July 201253It can be noticed that the two web pages are organized in the same way and provideexactly the same offers illustrated with the same pictures.The screenshots below compare the prices.                                                                                                                53,     42  
  • 43. Price Comparison on Hotels Combined and Wanderflys Booking Platforms By Emilie Alba, Price Comparison on Hotels Combined and Wanderflys Booking Platforms, Screenshot, July 201254It can be noticed from these screenshots that the prices are exactly the same. As aresult there is no doubt concerning Wanderfly’s partnership with Hotelscombined.                                                                                                                54,     43  
  • 44. Hotelscombined’s partnership with Wanderfly is a way to convince OTAs to gothrough their price comparison site. With Wanderfly, Hotelscombined differentiatesfrom the other price comparison sites because they ensure more exposure to hotelsthrough the travel guide channel. However, given Hotelscombined has to pay for acommission to Wanderfly on all the bookings made via the travel guide site, OTAshave to apply a higher commission to hotels in order cover their costs.In summary, online travel guides entered the “OTAs vs. Hotels competitions” becauseof the attractive visibility they gave to destinations. As a result, online travel guidescan be dangerous for hotels whether they decide to partner with OTAs. On the otherhand, travel guide sites can be hotel friendly, if they partner directly with hotels. Inthis case, the online travel guides have to have an additional source of revenue toensure the continued existence of the business. Concerning “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, as anadditional source of revenue, they sell gifts related to travel.3- Flash Sales / Daily Deals Sites Flash Sales and Daily Deals Sites were launch between 2006 and 2008 toprovide Internet users with exclusive and limited offers that can go up to – 70% off.Daily offers, such as the ones on Groupon and LivingSocial, first concerned productsand services delivered by local businesses but it was then extended to travels. It is thereason why Groupon created “Getaways” in partnership with Expedia. These websitesare usually well-designed, displaying attractive pictures and are not overcharged. Thereduced prices are highlighted and the booking engines are fast and easy.The screenshot below from Groupon getaways is one of the best illustrations of theoffers appearance online. Groupon Getaways’ Optimized Offer By Emilie Alba, Groupon Getaways’ Optimized Offer, Screenshot, July 201255                                                                                                                55­‐emerald-­‐dolphin-­‐inn?c=all&p=0     44  
  • 45. Although these sites seem to provide the best product for the best price, they onlytarget people whose main priority is too travel for the lowest possible prices.In addition, the emailing process (to benefit from deals, web users have to enter theiremail addresses knowing that they will receive offers every day or once a week) isless and less appreciated by web users because of the advertisements and spamsreceived in large number on mailboxes.The screenshot below from Voyage Privé is an example of registration systemthrough mailing. Voyages Privé’s Registration System through Mailing By Emilie Alba, Voyages Privé’s Registration System through Mailing, Screenshot, July 2012564- Auction and Discount Sites The main OTAs (Priceline, Expedia through Hotwire, Travelocity) positionedon this segment because hotels can get good prices for their extra rooms. Moreover,these sites work very well for the hospitality industry because people in search of agood deal are ready to make concessions to get a good price. Concerning the air travelindustry, people usually don’t feel comfortable if they get a “standby ticket”57. However, concerning hotels, auctions are much appreciated because people canget a very nice hotel room for a very low rate (up to 65% off). Nevertheless, on manyauction sites (especially “opaque” auction sites) the customers are given the name oftheir hotel once the bid is accepted, which means that the booking is automaticallydone. Hotels are kind of this process because they often are reluctant to let the siteknow about how much they are willing to sell the room. On the other hand, discounts work differently. They often appear under a “booknow” offer or a “buy now” package and are available at a fix price for a determineddate. The booking can be refundable in agreement with the hotel, which is impossiblethrough auctions58.                                                                                                                56­‐  57  58     45  
  • 46. 5- Last Minutes Sales Last minutes sales are another way to get hotel rooms for a low price; and withthe smartphone development, since 2011 we have seen the emergence of mobileapplications offering the opportunity to make a “last minute booking”. However, the“last minutes booking” concept was not new and was pretty well known because ofthe success of website since 199859.However, once again the hyper-interactive travelers’ behavior and the tendency tomake reservations later and later have highlighted the need for very evening booking.Although,’s principle is to sell travel packages only 2 or 3 weeks inadvance for a low price, mobile applications recently launched are more creative andentertaining. For example, the VeryLastRoom App displays deals for the very eveningbased on a price drop concept. As a result, the later people book, the cheaper theprice60.These booking apps often charge hotels with a commission that is lower than OTAs,namely around 15-20%, which is still high. For example HotelTonight app, whichpartners with hotels to provide last minutes deals, offers deals up to -70% off (justlike VeryLastRoom) but charges hotels with 20% commissions61.In comparison, VeryLastRoom charges 15% commissions based on the final saleprice62.These mobile companies strategically positioned below OTAs in terms ofcommissions but they are not as “hotel-friendly” as the recently launched hotelbooking sites Room Key, MyBestHotelRate and Global Hotel Exchange. Requesting15% to 20% on each room sold is taking advantage of the fact that hoteliers need tosell their extra rooms; because the costs of developing and maintaining a mobileapplication are not high. In regard to OTAs, more precisely Priceline and Expedia, when they realizedthat half the people who booked on mobiles made their reservation for the veryevening, they decided to add the “tonight only booking” function to their mobile apps.As shown by the screenshots below, Priceline created an app only for tonightbooking, which highlights the fact that the last minutes deals are worth 10% off.However, the former price is not clearly indicated, as a result, without doing the math,customers don’t really know how much they saved.                                                                                                                59­‐of-­‐lastminute-­‐com.html  60­‐hitches-­‐ride-­‐on-­‐late-­‐hotel-­‐booking-­‐train-­‐starts-­‐with-­‐france/?  61­‐tonight-­‐a-­‐lastminute-­‐travel-­‐app-­‐11172011.html  62     46  
  • 47. Pricelines Tonight Booking Mobile Application By Emilie Alba, Pricelines Tonight Booking Mobile Application, Screenshot, July 2012As for Expedia, they simply made the “tonight booking” function by default whenselecting the date of the stay, but they clearly mention the former price and thereduced price. Expedias Booking Mobile Application By Emilie Alba, Expedias Booking Mobile Application, Screenshot, July 2012These apps are convenient for OTAs’ loyal customers but they present nothing asattractive and original as Hotel Tonight or VeryLastRoom. They even look asovercharged as their websites. As shown by the screenshot below, Hotel Tonight and   47  
  • 48. VeryLastRoom pay attention to design in an attempt to provide travelers with anexperience that start from the reservation. The Strength of Design on "Hotel Tonight" and "Very Last Room" Mobile ApplicationsHotel Tonight App Very Last Room App By Emilie Alba, The Strength of Design on "Hotel Tonight" and "Very Last Room" Mobile Applications, Screenshot, July 2012As a result, it can be noticed that the competition between OTAs, “hotel-friendly”booking sites, mobile booking apps and all the other specialized booking sites isbecoming harder and harder, in that they all try to position to target a specific type ofconnected travelers. The advance taken by OTAs enables them to position on all the existingdistribution channels in order to target all types of connected travelers. The mapbelow highlights OTAs’ presence on all the main segments, through the creation ofspecific brands. These brands enabled OTAs to position on each distribution channel,and target several different types of travelers. We can take the example of Expediawhose brands are Hotwire (discount), (hotels booking), GrouponGetaways (Coupons), Venere (Comparison Sites) etc.   48  
  • 49. OTAs’ Presence on Distribution Channels By Emilie Alba, OTAs’ Presence on Distribution Channels, Graph, July 2012, Appendix 5 This graph also highlights the most successful online travel companies, namelyExpedia (in red) and Priceline (in green). They are followed closely by Orbitz (inorange) and Travelocity (in blue) in terms of presence on the market.Hotels should also take into account the fact that the most successful distributionchannels for OTAs are Comparison Sites, Daily deals and discount sites and Lastminutes sales app. This means that travelers are currently looking for “best availableprices” and promotions without having to make reservation far in advance. With thisassumption, hotels can set up their own strategies to answer the consumers’ needs. Some independent hotels recently set up this strategy based on the currenttravelers’ needs. For example, The Five Hotel in Paris launched the promotion forAugust (see below) the 24th of July on Facebook, which means 7 days ahead.   49  
  • 50. The Five Hotel’s Last Minutes Offer on Facebook By Emilie Alba, The Five Hotel’s Last Minutes Offer on Facebook, Screenshot, July 201263It can be noticed from the screenshot above that The Five Hotel respects all thecriteria expected by travelers, namely a last minute offer that can be seen frommobiles. It is a strategic way for this hotel to increase direct bookings and sell extrarooms for a good price. Given global OTAs developed their presence on diversified distributionchannels, it is another reason to include them within the direct booking strategy.Through their presence on diversified channels, they will answer to the needs andexpectations of a high number of online consumers. This will be appreciated byGoogle that will keep ranking them on top of search results. As a result, global OTAsshould definitely be part of the direct booking strategy, because of their exposure thathotels can benefit. We have seen that competing with OTAs is a hard task for hoteliers, andunfortunately it is not their only trouble. Hoteliers also have to constantly optimizetheir online presence, especially on Google, with all the recent changes that implynew criteria to rank websites on search engines.                                                                                                                63     50  
  • 51. - CHAPTER 2 –               Interpreting Google’s Mechanisms for Online Success   51  
  • 52. I- Approaching Google’s Tools for Successful OnlineDistribution StrategiesA- Independent hoteliers’ need to turn towards web-marketingstrategies1- The challenges and strategies of hotel revenue managers in 2012 In 2012, most hoteliers have realized the impact of online visibility on theirhotel revenues. Moreover, because the commissions requested by OTAs are still high,hoteliers start having no other choices than finding solutions to reduce theirdistribution costs.A recent study entitled “The Distribution Challenge”64 and led by Ecole Hôtelière deLausanne and Rate Tiger, provides detailed results about the biggest distributionchallenges for hotels in 2012. These results were based on a survey led betweenSeptember 2011 and February 2012, and dedicated to 72 three and four stars hotelslocated in France, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom and USA. Among theseproperties, 65 % were hotel chains and 35 % were individual properties.This study reveals that managing distribution strategies have become the mostimportant priorities for hoteliers, after increasing RevPAR. The graph belowillustrates the main challenges hotel revenue managers encounter. Hotel Revenue Managers’ Main Challenges in 2012 By H.Tudori and R.C. Haynes, The Distribution Challenge - A viewpoint of 2010/2012, Rate Tiger and EHL study, 2012, Appendix 1265                                                                                                                64­‐2012ehl-­‐rt.pdf  65­‐2012ehl-­‐rt.pdf     52  
  • 53. Although increasing exposure and reducing distribution costs are among the top 3issues challenging hoteliers, the graph shows that only an estimated 30% of the hotelssurveyed feel really concerned by their hotel’s exposure and distribution costs,whereas we have seen in the first chapter that half the hotel reservations (a bit morefor independent hotels) are made through OTAs.However, it is interesting to point out that roughly the same percentage of hoteliersmentioned exposure and distribution cost. As a result, it must be assumed that thosehoteliers plan to reduce distribution costs by getting more direct sales through moreonline exposure. According to the surveys, the hotels interviewed indeed plan on controllingdistribution costs “by increasing the number of booking on”.Note – “” means a hotel’s website.However, they especially rely on lower commissions with third parties (OTAsincluded) to reduce their costs. As for exposure, they plan on getting it increasedthrough “the diversification of distribution channels, as well as new media and socialpromotional channels”.From these statements, which are probably coming from the 30% of hoteliers havingmentioned exposure and distribution costs as a challenge, it can be noticed that thehoteliers interviewed attribute importance to their website and social media to reachtheir objectives. These hoteliers are on the right track but it is only the beginning. Tofully succeed they now need to make sure that they have an optimized website foronline visibility and a coherent online presence, in particular concerning the hotels’business information displayed on each web pages (social media, localrecommendation sites, review sites, etc.). It should be added that, from the moment when hoteliers have understood howGoogle works, they will rapidly notice all the details that might be harmful for theironline visibility. Then, they will just have to find the people in the position to proceedto these changes, especially the ones concerning hotel websites.Before covering the way the main Google tools work, let’s focus a little on theimprovement of hoteliers’ relation to web marketing.2- The development of distribution strategies adopted by hoteliers in 2012 Online distribution strategies in the hospitality industry remained for a longtime restrained to OTAs and booking sites. However, the “Distribution Challenge”study reveals that “more hotels are optimizing the use of Google PPC (“Pay perClick” via Adwords) and SEO to bring more direct bookings and take potential guestsaway from OTAs.” Turning towards Google is indeed recommended for the onlineoptimization of hotels. However, PPC advertising is not the most profitable tool forhotels (especially for independent hotels) because it involves fees.   53  
  • 54. Pay per Click advertising consists, for businesses, in paying only when web usersclick on an advertisement related to the business.66Although Google Adwords enables businesses to set up a daily maximum numbers ofclicks, which limits its costs, it is not the best use an hotelier can make of Google. Asa result, thinking about Google Adwords as a strategy to get more direct bookings isnot the best solution for hoteliers. Using Adwords also means that hoteliers seeGoogle as a distribution channel and that they are ready to keep paying to get moreexposure. Google Adwords will certainly give them more exposure but managingGoogle basic tools car bring more results for free. In 2012, along with the growing (but not the most efficient) use of Google byhoteliers, the use of social networks has become more important for them as well. Thestudy states that “Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are recognized and implemented asnew forms of digital marketing”. When we think that social media have been used inmass by the general public since 2008, hoteliers seem to realize its importance a bitlate.The graph below shows the digital marketing practices of all the hoteliers surveyed. The Percentage of Hoteliers’ Digital Marketing Practices in 2010-2012By H.Tudori and R.C. Haynes, The Distribution Challenge - A viewpoint of 2010/2012, Rate Tiger and EHL study, 2012, Appendix 1367As strange as it may seem, when talking about digital marketing, a majority ofhoteliers mentioned Google. This can be explained by the fact that the intervieweeswere mainly hotel chains (65%) probably using Google Adwords. The other 35%being individual properties probably do not invest their restricted budget in Google.                                                                                                                66    67­‐2012ehl-­‐rt.pdf     54  
  • 55. Many of them probably count among the 32% having not set up any digital marketingstrategies or among the 20% using TravelZoo.Note - TravelZoo68 is known as the largest publisher of travel deals on the Internet,and is appreciated by hotels because it works according to a Pay per Click principle(each click costs around $0,15 to the hotel). It is similar to Google Adwords but witha bit less exposure.Social media comes last, used by only 12% of the hotels interviewed. Such a lowpercentage is surprising in that 65% of the hotels surveyed are hotel chains. Hotelchains are usually comfortable with Facebook and Twitter at least to spread the wordabout the hotel activities. Therefore, it can be assumed that the use of social mediasimply to spread the word is not considered as digital marketing for hotels. As aresult, the 12% of hoteliers who mentioned social media can be the ones who forexample rely on Facebook to make additional sales (through a Facebook bookingengine), better rates or discounts. To sum up, it is important to point out the big step forward hoteliers took latelyin terms of digital marketing. They have realized that their online presence matters ifthey want to get more direct bookings and spend less money on OTAs. As a result,before paying Google to get more exposure, a simple use of Google’s main tool is toppriority. However, hoteliers have reasons to feel left behind with the use of Googlebecause many changes occurred lately in a short time.B- Google’s rapid development frightens hoteliers Successful SEO practices are at everybody’s level. However, it is necessary forhoteliers to figure out Google’s approach with its users (professionals or not) and tokeep abreast with its major updates and new tools.1- Google’s efforts to always improve its search enginea- An overview of Google’s products development since 2011 Over the last two years, motivated by competition and online web users’behavior, Google launched many new tools, which encouraged the company tochange the algorithms that determine websites ranking.All these changes overwhelmed most of the companies, which, as time went by,finally found successful SEO practices and got a satisfying ranking on Google. Suchwas the situation for independent hoteliers. Barely comfortable with Googlealgorithms, which enabled them to closely monitor their competitors’ online ranking,that they suddenly realized that new algorithms had upset the ranking on GoogleSearch Engine.                                                                                                                68           55  
  • 56. The graph below highlights the major changes Google made in 2011 and 2012, thatespecially impacted hoteliers and all the local businesses in general. Googles Major Changes Since 2011 By Emilie Alba, Googles Major Changes Since 2011, Graph, August 201269Note:- “G” on the graph means “Google”- “#-pack” means “the number of algorithm updates”This timeline shows Google development according to its:- new products launched: Google+, Search + your world, Google Knowledge Graph,Google+ Local.- Algorithms updates: Google Panda and Penguin that regularly generate “x-pack” ofupdates as indicated on the graph.b- Defining Google algorithms to get the basics of SEO As any technological product, Google keeps improving its search engine, whichrequires the creation of new algorithms and the updates associated with.Hoteliers don’t need to become experts in Google algorithms to further makesuccessful SEO practices; however knowing some basics will help to understandGoogle performances. First of all, it is important to know what really are Google Panda and Penguin.                                                                                                                69­‐algorithm-­‐change#2012     56  
  • 57. As already mentioned, they are algorithm updates that "scan" websites content andrank the sites according to the relevance of this content. As a result, Google acts infavor of web users, who need to find the best information corresponding to the keywords they typed.However Google Panda and Google Penguin have specific functions.Panda especially focuses on SERP (Search Engine Result Page) and targets the highamount of advertisements on websites, duplicate content and page headlines that dontmatch websites content70.Penguins function is to target more low quality links on websites in order to limit thespamming of the web71.All the websites that don’t fulfill the conditions imposed by Panda and Penguin aredetected and ranked far from the top results on Google Search Engine. With this in mind, hoteliers can figure out the importance of displaying contentrelated to their business, along with appropriate key words and good quality links.They can also realize the importance of limiting the use of online advertisements.Before analyzing Google’s latest products launched, a global vision of Google’sapproach to satisfy users’ need is essential to understand what this world giant values.2- Google’s approach to offer a 360° web user experience Google users are the general public and businesses, that is to say individuals andprofessionals. In regard to professionals, we will tackle the ones related to thehospitality industry, namely OTAs and hotels. However, we will start by analyzinghow Google enhances its search engine to entice web users. Google’s main objective is to lead web users to use its search engine. Satisfyingindividuals is Google’s first priority because with no users there is no businesspossible for Google at all. Therefore, in order to differentiate from competitors likeBing, Google is banking on the user experience.The screenshot below, taken from the Google Search “lutetia hotel paris” shows howthe Google tools recently launched contributes to the users’ experience.                                                                                                                70­‐seo-­‐glossary-­‐1/G/google-­‐panda-­‐120.html  71­‐penguin-­‐update-­‐definition/       57  
  • 58. Google’s Enhancement of User Experience on its Search Engine By Emilie Alba, Google’s Enhancement of User Experience on its Search Engine, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012, Appendix 1172 It can be noticed that Google tools are inter-related in order to provide the userswith a complete range of information. We can indeed see that Google KnowledgeGraph (the set of information framed in green) displays a Google map and a“direction” link, as well as Google+ photos, reviews and ratings.So far there is no need to understand what Google Knowledge Graph is to understandthat it provides users with visual information. Additionally, even if the links towards Google tools (Google maps, Google+)are highlighted at the top of the page, links pointing towards the hotel website areemphasized as well (framed in purple). And thanks to Knowledge Graph, whenplacing the mouse on the hotel’s URL, an overview of the web page is opening on theright-hand side, so that the user can decide whether it is worth to visit the page. Thisfunction of Knowledge graph is further explained in this chapter. To finish, it can be pointed out how much Google+ contributes to the userexperience on Google Search. Google+ is covered in details later in this chapter,however it is important to rapidly explain that it is Google’s social platform recentlylaunched. It displays businesses or individuals’ complete profile and enable them toshare and sort out the pieces of information they want to share with contacts. As a                                                                                                                72,mod=0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-­‐8     58  
  • 59. result, Google+ contributed to making the search more personalized for its users. Thepersonal results (framed in red and located at the top of the page) point towards a listof the people in my Google+ contacts who posted information about Lutetia hotel. Google+s Contribution to the User Experience Improvement on Google Search Engine By Emilie Alba, Google+s Contribution to the User Experience Improvement on Google Search Engine, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012The “review” links, the ratings and the photos point towards the Google+ Local pageof the hotel. Google+ Local is also discussed later in this chapter, but to rapidlyexplain, it is the merging of Google Places and Google+ Pages for business. Itdisplays all the information related to a business, along with the possibility for usersto share and rate reviews about businesses. As a result, without mastering Google tools, hoteliers can figure out whatGoogle values, by simply looking at how the information are organized on GoogleSearch. As a result, from the screenshots taken, it can be assumed that Google willrank higher hotels with a presence on Google Maps and Google+. Then, as Googlehighlights photos and reviews, hoteliers can assume that feeding their Google accountwith photos and setting up strategies to get online reviews are essential. To finishwith, by looking at the hotel websites ranked first on Google, hoteliers take notes ofwhat they think Google values.   59  
  • 60. C- How Google manages the online presence of both OTAs andHotels On Google Search, Google+ Local, Google Maps and Google Hotel Finder bothOTAs and Hotels are present. However, according to the organization of the platform,sometimes either OTAs or hotels seem favored, especially with the implementation ofthe Google “hotel price comparison” feature on each platform. This system enablesweb users to see, according to their dates of stay, which OTA provides the cheapestrate.The following screenshots taken on each Google platform show how Google is anadvantage or a disadvantage for OTAs and hotels. I first started looking for a hotel inSan Francisco on Google Search with the key words “Hotel San Francisco”1- Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Search Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Search By Emilie Alba, Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Search, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012I focused the analysis on the Google 7-box, which displays the 7 best hotels onGoogle Maps according to the key words typed in search. It should be mentioned thateach result in the 7-box displays the best-guaranteed price each OTA can provides.When clicking on the price, as highlighted on the screenshot, Google “hotel pricecomparison” feature appears and display a list of OTAs classified from the cheapest   60  
  • 61. to the most expensive. Only at the bottom of the window, a link towards the hotel’swebsite is displayed.As a result, on Google Search, although two links point towards the hotel’s website,OTAs seem favored because their price is mentioned. At this phase of the research,web users are making their choice according to their budget, then they are firstattracted by prices. In order to continue the analysis, I let myself drive by Google. I decided to getinterested in Argonaut Hotel. Then, when placing my mouse on the hotel name,Google opened a window in the right-hand column (it is a matter of GoogleKnowledge graph explained later in this chapter) with a map and photos of the hotel.By clicking on one photo, I was directed on Argonaut Hotel Google+ Local page.2- Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google+ Local Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google+ Local By Emilie Alba, Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google+ Local, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201273Google+ Local seems to be at the advantage of OTAs because, just like on GoogleSearch page, the “hotel price comparison” feature appears. However, at this phase ofsearch, as web users will have already seen pictures of the hotel, they will be temptedto either visit the hotel website or watch the location of the hotel on the mapdisplayed. If they click on the map, then the hotel will be favored compared to OTAs.We will see why, when analyzing Argonaut Hotel Google Maps page.                                                                                                                73     61  
  • 62. However, the bottom of the hotel Google+ Local page is not at the hotel’sadvantage, in that OTAs are mentioned again, along with hotel’s direct competitors.Whatsoever, Argonaut hotel doesn’t have to worry about the presence of its directcompetitors, because the hotel is also mentioned on their Google+ Local page. OTAs and Hotels Direct Competitors Exposure at the Bottom of Hotels Google+ Local Pages By Emilie Alba, OTAs and Hotels Direct Competitors Exposure at the Bottom of Hotels Google+ Local Pages, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012743- Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Maps Google Maps seems more at the advantage of hotels than Google Search andGoogle+ Local are.                                                                                                                74     62  
  • 63. Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Maps By Emilie Alba, Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Maps, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201275First of all, unlike Google Search and Google+ Local, it can be noticed that theGoogle “hotel price comparison” feature displays only the average rate of Argonauthotel and a link towards the hotel’s website. This might be a Google attempt toencourage hotels in creating or updating their Google Places Listings and creating aGoogle+ business page, which would generate a Google+ local page.Note – Google+ Local is further explained in more details in this chapter.Secondly, it can be pointed out that several links point towards the hotel’s website,which is also in favor of the hotel. However, most of the other links point towards theGoogle+ Local page, where OTAs and the hotel’s direct competitors are present.4- Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Hotel Finder Google Hotel Finder is Google’s meta-search tool that displays and comparesthe rates provided by the main OTAs. As a result, it competes with price comparisonsites like Hotelscombined or Kayak76.                                                                                                                75  76­‐hotel-­‐industry-­‐outlook       63  
  • 64. For OTAs, Google Hotel Finder is another distribution channel that is worth payingbecause it ensures visibility to the hotels they work with. Moreover, when comparingthe links towards OTAs and hotels websites, OTAs seem more favored than hotels.The screenshot below shows the Argonaut hotel profile on Google Hotel Finder. Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Hotel Finder By Emilie Alba, Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Hotel Finder, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012, Appendix 377 It can be noticed that OTAs are given more visibility, through the presence ofthe “hotel price comparison” feature on the top of the hotel’s profile. A link towardsthe hotel’s website is present at the very bottom of the page, which is not at thehotel’s advantage. In addition, all the tabs on the hotel’s profile, which are “overview, photo,reviews and location” also favor OTAs rather then the hotel’s website.On the review tab, there is a link towards OTAs below the reviews list. On thelocation tab, a map is displayed but there is no link towards Google Maps, whichwould have been an advantage for the hotel given hotels are favored on Google Maps.On the photo tab, there are no links towards both OTAs and hotels. On the overviewtab, as shown on the screenshot, there is a link towards the hotel’s site but it is locatedbelow a link towards the review tab, which is in the advantage of OTAs. To sum up, OTAs are more favored than hotels on a majority of Googleplatforms.                                                                                                                77;l=Argonaut+Hotel,+Jefferson+Street,+San+Francisco,+CA;d=2012-­‐11-­‐01;n=1;h=15751763593913061514;si=312a1ba1     64  
  • 65. OTAs are indeed enhanced on Google Search and Google Hotel Finder, whereashotels are enhanced only on Google Maps. Google+ is the only platform thathighlights hotels and OTAs in a balanced way. As a result, the hypothesis throughwhich I expected that Google will make independent hotels as visible as OTAs, cannot be validated. However, Google’s social approach with its Google+ project mightmake independent hotels more visible on search engines.Still in view of interpreting what Google values, hoteliers have to understand thebasic use of the latest products launched by Google.II- Google turns towards a more social approach Google remained for a long time a powerful search engine, whose main pageand search results were displayed faster that the ones of its competitors. Googlesearch engine also differentiated from its competitors by providing a clean whitebackground without ads popping up, as it was the case for Yahoo search engine.Today, Google differs from the other search engines by providing an onlineexperience to users. This is why Google turned towards a more social approach withthe launch of the Google+ project, and highlights photos and reviews on each of itsnew features.A- The development of Google+ project1- From the launch of Google+ to its adaptation to businessesa- Objective and description of Google+ project Google+ for business was launched in November 2011, 5 months after thelaunch of the Google+ project. This project was created “to fix sharing on the web”78and first consisted of a profile page displaying information and pictures of its users. Itdifferentiated itself from Facebook and Twitter by enabling its users to add contacts indifferent “circles” so they could share specific information with classified contacts incircles. Google wanted to make it possible for its users to share business relatedinformation only with a “colleague” and/or “business partners” circle, which in thiscase, enabled users not to share this type of information with a “family” or “friends”circle. Additionally, Google launched the “hang out” tool that enabled Google+ usersto make videoconferences with several people at the same time.Google finally created its social platform in an attempt to evolve and provide webusers with a social experience. The latter was different from the social experienceprovided by Facebook.                                                                                                                78­‐onto-­‐google-­‐platform.html     65  
  • 66. In November 2011, the Google+ project was adapted to businesses, enablingthem to create a business page from a personal/profile account. As Google+ hadaroused the interest of most of Google users, hoteliers were advised to create a pagefor their hotel, even if the general public was not active on Google+ yet. As a result, although hoteliers were not against a Google+ Business Page, theywere not confident about Google+’s real potential and remained pretty inactive ontheir page, in case it would be a waste of time.In addition, they became quickly confused with Google+ features. They were indeedoften mistaking their personal account with their business page, were being frustratedof being unable to add contacts to their Google+ hotel page, were getting their hotelname refused by Google because it did not sound like a “real name”, etc. All thesesmall “malfunctions” were time consuming for hoteliers when creating their page.b- Content and organization of a Google+ business page After the launch of Google+ for Businesses, many articles were published toexplain to businesses how to create a Google+ page. Many web marketing agenciesspecialized in the hospitality industry did the same for hotels. The purpose was toencourage them to create their page, because it could be assumed from Google thatthe hotels’ presence of Google+ would result in more visibility on search engines. I therefore created the first Google+ guidelines for Oneglobe Network’s clients.These guidelines were further used by Oneglobe Network team, to create the Google+pages of our hotelier clients.The screenshots below represent the Google+ Business Page that I created to promotethe suites of the Landmark Hotel in London. The Top of “The Landmark London Suites” Google+ Business Page By Emilie Alba, The Top of “The Landmark London Suites” Google+ Business Page, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201279                                                                                                                79     66  
  • 67. We can see that the Google+ Business Page enables hoteliers to display the pieces ofinformation related to their hotel (framed in orange) and a link towards the hotel’swebsite (framed in purple). A map is also automatically generated from the streetaddress inserted in the business information listing. The Bottom of “The Landmark London Suites” Google+ Business Page By Emilie Alba, The Bottom of “The Landmark London Suites” Google+ Business Page, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201280Recommended links (framed in blue) can be added; at Oneglobe Network we decidedto strategically display the links of the other Google+ Business Pages of the hotel inorder to generate more visits on the hotel’s pages. On the right-hand side, we can seethe contacts who are in the hotel’s circles and the contacts who added the hotel intheir circle (framed in pink).3- Google “+1” buttons to fix sharing on the web Along with the launch of Google+, the “+1” button was created so that Google+users can recommend and share online content with the people in their circles.a- Google’s sharing process: the “VCS” principleNote – VCS means “Vote, Comment and Share”                                                                                                                80     67  
  • 68. During the last think-tank organized by Oneglobe Network in April 2012, Iintroduced Google as a “Marketing Partner for Hoteliers” (thought out and supervisedby Liz Craig, CEO of Oneglobe Network). I devoted a part of the presentation toexplain Google’s sharing principle, which, it should be remembered, was created inan attempt to fix the sharing on the web. Google’s Sharing Principle: Vote, Comment, And Share By Emilie Alba, "Google’s Sharing Principle: Vote, Comment, And Share", Graph, March 2012 (Design created by E.Alba and produced by E.A.Lee)To get more online visibility from their Google+ Business Page, hoteliers have tounderstand the “VCS principle” (meaning “Vote, Comment, Share”) through the useof the “+1” button and the “circles”. By clicking on the “+1” button of an article, theweb user “Vote” for the article, which gives him/her the possibility to add a“Comment” and then to “Share” the article in question with the people in their circlesor publicly.The more an article runs through the VCS principle, the most visible it becomesonline, and the most visibility the author of the article gains as well.   68  
  • 69. b- The sharing process development: Google “+1” vs. Facebook “Like” When Google launched its “+1” button, its function did not talk much to people.Personally, I explain the “+1” button as a button allowing people to give “oneadditional vote” to online content. However, for people who have no ideas howGoogle sharing process works, the usefulness of “+1” button is kind of hard tounderstand. In a logical way, many people associated the “+1” button to the Facebook “like”button, although Google did many efforts not to be compared with Facebook. I alsocovered this issue during the last think-tank, and explained the difference between thetwo buttons as follow:The “+1” button enables web users to comment and share articles (or web pages) withpeople in their circles, through a window that opens directly on the article (asillustrated below). This process enables web users to quickly work out which peopleor circles they want to share their articles (or web pages) with. As a result, Google“+1” button appears like a recommendation tool. Google “+1” Button - A Recommendation Tool By Emilie Alba, Google “+1” Button - A Recommendation Tool, Screenshot and Analysis, March 201281The Facebook “Like” button also enables web users to let their Facebook friendsknow about an article (or a web page) they like, but it does not allow them to rapidlysort out which friends they want to share the information with. In addition, beforesorting out the friends they want to share the information with, the content is first                                                                                                                81­‐video-­‐to-­‐the-­‐arctic/     69  
  • 70. posted publicly. Facebook also made the creation of “lists of friends” (similar toGoogle circles) possible, but the concept is not as developped as Google circles are,and is not used much. As a result, the Facebook “Like” button is more perceived as aself-expression tool. Facebook “Like” Button – A Self-Expression Tool By Emilie Alba, Facebook “Like” Button – A Self-Expression Tool, Screenshot and Analysis, March 201282c- A never ending competition between Google and Facebook It can be noticed on the screenshot below, Facebook’s attempt to compete withGoogle. When clicking the Like button, a window opens and gives the possibility toweb users to add a comment before sharing an article (or a web page). However, thisnew feature still does not enable Facebook users to sort out the friends they want toshare the information with.                                                                                                                82­‐video-­‐to-­‐the-­‐arctic/     70  
  • 71. Facebook’s New Sharing Feature to Compete with Google By Emilie Alba, Facebook’s New Sharing Feature to Compete with Google, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012 Still in an attempt to compete with Google, Facebook also created a“recommend” button but its function is similar to the like button. Furthermore, therecommend button is not used a lot by businesses because they don’t generate asmany clicks as like buttons do. As Facebook is trying to compete with Google in terms of technical innovation,Google keeps improving its features in order to ensure the best possible onlineexperience to its users. To this end, it should be pointed out Google’s recent attemptto give more influence to its “+1” button.First of all, Google highlights its recommendation function by changing its sharingmessage: “You publicly +1’d this” by “You publicly recommended this” (see theillustration below).   71  
  • 72. Google Officializes The Recommendation Function of its “+1” Button By Emilie Alba, Google Officializes The Recommendation Function of its “+1” Button, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201283Secondly, Google now encourages Google+ users to “+1” web pages by mentioningthe names of the people in the users’ circles who already “+1’d” the web page. In theexample below, I can see that 1 person belonging to my circle, and 2 other peoplealready “1’d” the web pages of this hotel.                                                                                                                83­‐video-­‐to-­‐the-­‐arctic/     72  
  • 73. Google “+1” Button Optimization to Increase the Number of Shares through the Mention of Users’ Contacts By Emilie Alba, Google “+1” Button Optimization to Increase the Number of Shares through the Mention of Users’ Contacts, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012 84On the example below, I can see that none of my Google+ contacts have “+1’d” thisweb page. However I might be encouraged to “+1” the page because it is indicated(framed in orange) that 7 people already did so.                                                                                                                84     73  
  • 74. Google “+1” Button Optimization to Increase the Number of Shares by Mentioning the Number of Recommendations By Emilie Alba, Google “+1” Button Optimization to Increase the Number of Shares by Mentioning the Number of Recommendations, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201285Thirdly, concerning articles, Google encourages users to read and “+1” additionalarticles on the same websites that have been +1’d by people in their circles. Forexample, in the illustration below I can see that one of my Google+ contact has +1’dtwo articles on this very website.                                                                                                                85     74  
  • 75. Google “+1” Button Optimization to Increase the Number of Shares by Suggesting Additional Articles to Read By Emilie Alba, Google “+1” Button Optimization to Increase the Number of Shares by Suggesting Additional Articles to Read, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201286 To sum up it can be noticed from the examples above that the creation of theGoogle+ project along with its 1+ button and circles, can generate web users’ activityon hotels’ website and blog. It is therefore obvious that the Google algorithmsmentioned earlier value article and web page with the most number of +1. In addition, through the development of Google sharing process, it can bepointed out that Google’s main priority is to always improve the online experience ofits web users. As a result, hoteliers should assume that Google will value all theirefforts adopted to improve the online experience of web usersB- Overview of Google+ Local to understand the Google+ project1- Google+ Local: explanation, description and differences with Google+ BusinessPages Google+ Local is the result of the merger of a Google Places Listing and aGoogle+ Business Page. More concretely, the merger consists in the transfer of ahotel’s business information (present on Google Places) on this hotel’s Google+                                                                                                                86­‐Not-­‐to-­‐Steal-­‐People-­‐s-­‐Content-­‐on-­‐the-­‐Web.aspx     75  
  • 76. Business Page. Once the merger is done, the Google+ Business page of the hotel (orof any business) can no longer be found on Google+. Only the Google+ Local Page ofthe hotel is displayed on Google+. However, Google+ Local is currently confusing for hoteliers because, as long asa business is present on Google Places, a temporary Google+ Local page is generatedfor the business in question. As a result, this business gets a Google Places listing, aGoogle+ Business Page and a temporary Google+ Local page. We will further explainin more details why having so many Google pages turned out confusing for hotels.First of all, it is important to know how to distinguish a “permanent” Google+ LocalPage from a Google+ Business Page.Note – it must be reminded that a “permanent” Google+ Local page is the result of thesuccessful merger between the Google Places Listing of a business and its Google+Business Page.The “permanent” Google+ Local Page of CitizenM Hotel Glasgow is a perfectexample. CitizenM’s Permanent Google+ Local Page By Emilie Alba, CitizenM’s Permanent Google+ Local Page, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012, Appendix 2387Unlike the Google+ Business Page of the Landmark Hotel Suites (re-illustratedbelow), it can be noticed that CitizenM’s Google+ Local Page is indicated as                                                                                                                87     76  
  • 77. “verified” by Google (represented by the tick in the red circle next to the hotel name),and can now only be found under Google+ Local tab (framed in red).However, it should be pointed out that the organization of the page is exactly thesame as the Landmark London Suites’ Google+ Business Page. The location ofphotos, website link, map, contacts is indeed the same. On the other hand, the “about”section of the Google+ Local Page has changed, and is filled with the information thatused to be present on Google+ Places. The possibility of writing reviews (framed indark blue) has also been added to Google+ local. “The Landmark London Suites” Google+ Business Page By Emilie Alba, “The Landmark London Suites” Google+ Business Page, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201288The Landmark London Suites’ Google+ Business page cannot be transferred toGoogle+ Local because no Google Places listing has been specifically created. This isalso the reason why the Landmark London Suites cannot be found on Google Maps.However, The Landmark London Hotel, which is present on Google Places, got its“temporary” Google+ Local page generated, on top of its already created Google+Business Page. As a result, it is important to keep in mind that only businesses present onGoogle Places got a “temporary” Google+ Local page generated on Google+. In orderto get the “temporary” Google+ Local page changed into a “permanent” Google+Local page, the Google+ Business page (of a hotel for example) has be “verified” byGoogle. Getting a Google+ business page verified is at the initiative of the business,which means that the business has to launch the verification process. This is wherehotels got even more confused and seriously worried about the future of their hotel’sonline presence. The Google+ merger concept and the verification process will becovered in details in chapter 3.                                                                                                                88     77  
  • 78. 2- Google partners with Zagat to develop Google+ Local To further describe what Google+ Local is, it is important to mention that it wasfirst created for restaurants, providing Zagat’s scores and recommendations. Zagatbeing a famous guide created to display reviews and ratings about restaurants andbeing “internationally respected as a symbol of quality”89, it is not surprising thatGoogle chose to partner with them. Google’s objective was to provide web users with information about the bestplaces to go for breakfast, lunch, dinner etc. based on reviews and recommendations.As a result, Google created Google+ Local in an attempt to answer to web users’current needs. As time went by, Google enlarged Google+ Local to hotels, becausemany of them have restaurants and are as concerned by reviews and recommendationsas restaurants are.The screenshot below illustrates the search page of Google+ local Google+ Local is Adapted to Hotel Search By Emilie Alba, Google+ Local is Adapted to Hotel Search, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201290The screenshot shows that Google+ Local enlarged to hotels (framed in red) andprovides a map for the businesses location (framed in blue). Concerning Zagat, it hasto be pointed out that the total rate is based on the food, decor and service for                                                                                                                89­‐us  90     78  
  • 79. restaurant (framed in orange) but it has been adapted to hotels. The latter are rated onthe business’ quality, facilities and service (refer to the screenshot below). Zagat Rating has been Extended to Hotels By Emilie Alba, Zagat Rating has been Extended to Hotels, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012, Appendix 22913- Google+ Local expansion Google+ Local was rapidly integrated to Google Search, Google Maps andmobiles. This integration to Google’s main tools and devices means that reviews andpositive recommendations are valued a lot by Google, and that they will directlyimpact hotels ranking on Google search engine. In addition, it has to be pointed outthat Google+ Local brings together Google’s main tools and devices, which enablesGoogle to display a complete profile of each business on all its platforms and devices.As a result, it was becoming urgent for hoteliers to update and optimize all theirGoogle accounts. In order to convince Oneglobe Network’s hotelier clients of doingso, I emphasized this Google+ Local expansion on the following slides:                                                                                                                91     79  
  • 80. Google+ Local Integration into Google Search By Emilie Alba, Google+ Local Integration into Google Search, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201292This slide clearly shows how much Google values the presence of photos, ratings andreviews. As a result, it can be assumed that Google+ Local improves hotels rankingon search engine. The map is also mostly enhanced, which means that hotels have tocheck out (and update if needed) their business-related information displayed onGoogle Maps.                                                                                                                92,mod=0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-­‐8     80  
  • 81. Google+ Local Integration into Google Maps By Emilie Alba, Google+ Local Integration into Google Maps, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201293We can see on this screenshot, the presence of Zagat directly on the map but also inthe left column of the page, which will influence web users to read reviews abouthotels. As a result, Google+ Local’s social functionality is especially enhanced onGoogle Maps. In addition, it can be noticed that web users are more likely to be takento the Google+ Business page or Local page of hotels than on the hotels’ websites.Only one hotel website URL is indeed displayed in the left column, whereas 3 linkspoint towards the Google+ Business page of the hotel.                                                                                                                93     81  
  • 82. Google+ Local Integration into Mobile Phones By Emilie Alba, Google+ Local Integration into Mobile Phones, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201294Most independent hotels still do not have a mobile optimized website. Therefore, theintegration of Google+ Local on mobiles emphasizes the importance for hotels to takecare of their mobile presence in a near future. In the paper sent to hotels about Google+ Local, it was essential to highlight thefact that the launch of Google+ local was an opportunity for hoteliers to update theirGoogle accounts, especially Google Places Listings and Google+ Business pages. To finish, the launch of Google+ Local once again validates the hypothesisthrough which I expected that Google would keep developing its search engine, andlaunching tools likely to encourage businesses to use Google+. The fact that Google+Local is integrated into all Google platforms is indeed a chance for hoteliers to bevisible online, which will encourage them to create a Google+ account.                                                                                                                94­‐with-­‐dash-­‐of-­‐zagat-­‐and.html     82  
  • 83. C- Google Knowledge Graph and the value of images among searchresults1- The launch of Knowledge Graph Google Knowledge Graph was created in May 2012 to answer the need for webusers to get specific results when searching with key words. Google’s objective wasto improve web users’ search and make it a better experience for them. Googledescribes Knowledge Graph as a tool “enabling users to search for things, people orplaces (…) that Google knows about, and instantly get information that is relevant tothe users’ query95. Knowledge Graph is therefore considered as the next generation of search. Itcan indeed narrow search results by suggesting to the users several answers thatcorrespond to a same group of key words. This tool should not be ignored by hotels orserviced apartments companies because, according to their business name or thepictures attributed to their place, Google can highlight them better if they are relatedto specific key words potentially typed by web users.If we take the example chosen by Google96, when typing the key words “Taj Mahal”,we can see that a “See results about” box (framed in orange) opens in the right-handcolumn. This box suggests different meanings attributed to the key words typed. Itcan also be noticed that Google emphasizes a hotel whose name and photos are linkedto the key words. Google Knowledge Graph’s “See results about” box Improves Search by Keywords By Emilie Alba, Google Knowledge Graph’s “See results about” box Improves Search by Keywords, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012                                                                                                                95­‐knowledge-­‐graph-­‐things-­‐not.html  96­‐knowledge-­‐graph-­‐things-­‐not.html       83  
  • 84. 2- A More visual search results page on Google Since the launch of Knowledge Graph, Google’s search results page has becomemore visual. From now on, web users no longer have to click on each search result togain an insight into its content. Each search result indeed displays an overview of thewebsite on right-hand column, and highlights the key words present on the webpage,so that the user can see if the result matches its query. Here again we recognizeGoogle’s attempt to improve the web users’ experience. After the launch of Knowledge Graph, it was important for hotels to see howthey appeared on search results, and where they were ranked on Google Searchaccording to specific key words. As a result, the hypothesis through which I expectedthat Google kept developing its search engine and launching tools can be validated.The launch of Knowledge Graph will certainly encourage hoteliers to improve thedesign of their website and pay more attention to Google+. I ran some tests for a client, whose business is about serviced apartments.First, I compared the results I got on both Google Chrome and Safari (two differentweb browsers) with the key words “London Luxury Serviced Apartments”. Ingeneral, the results were the same, only the ranking was different.The screenshot below is an example of what happens when a user passes its mouse ona search result (framed in orange). Google Knowledge Graph Appearance on Google Search By Emilie Alba, Google Knowledge Graph Appearance on Google Search, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201297                                                                                                                97     84  
  • 85. As explained earlier, we can see an overview of our client ‘s website, as well as a fewsentences highlighted by Google about the client’s business (framed in red).According to the specific key words used, our client appears first in natural ranking(the first three results in the pale pink background belongs to paid search), it meansthat the key words are appropriate for the business. As a consequence, the website isvalued by Google and ranked first. To make sure our client really appeared first, I made the search on a laptop thatI had never used before (because Google tends to display first the websites people areused to visiting, it is called “personalized search”) and the client appeared first aswell.In addition to key words, we can see that choosing appropriate pictures is importantfor the business, because Google emphasizes them on search. The pictures have to beattractive enough so that the users fancy opening the page. By going deeper into the analysis of results on Google Search Engine, I realizedthat Google+ Business pages impact the business ranking on search engine. The slidesbelow have been done in May, and were presented to our client.Among the following results, I analyzed the last one (framed in orange), whichconcerned our client’s property: C* House. At the time I did the research, I realizedthat none of the key words used in search, namely “London Luxury ServicedApartments” were present on C* House’s website page. In addition, I realized that thetext in “C* House” result (framed in orange), was not present on C* House page ofthe website either.Yet, our client’s website was displayed on Google Search.It is important to point out that at the time I did the research (in May 2012) I did notknow that the texts in Google Search could come from the website’s page source. Thetext I am analyzing indeed comes from the website’s page source. However, I choseto keep this analysis because with the development of Google, it has been confirmedthat Google values the keywords mentioned on all of its platforms.   85  
  • 86. Keywords Analysis on Google Search for C* HouseBy Emilie Alba, Keywords Analysis on Google Search for C* House, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012 I decided to analyze C* House Google+ Business page, on which I could findthe key words “London Luxury Serviced Apartments”. These key words were usedfor several photo captions. And as C* House’s Google+ Business page pointedtowards C* House’s website page, it can explain C* House’s ranking on GoogleSearch.   86  
  • 87. Keywords Analysis on C* House’s Google+ Business Page By Emilie Alba, Keywords Analysis on C* House’s Google+ Business Page, Screenshot and Analysis, August 201298 As I assumed that the presence of photos were valued by Google, I did a furtheranalysis on the photos we published on C* House Picasa account. Picasa beingGoogle’s photo sharing album, in February 2012 we created albums for our clients inorder to see the impact they might have on Google Search. I realized that the keywords we used on Picasa were closely similar to the one displayed on Google Search.To finish, as we shared the photo albums created for C* House on Google+, weassumed that the presence of C* House top ranking on Google Search could be alsodue to C* House’s presence on Picasa.                                                                                                                98     87  
  • 88. Keywords Analysis of C* House on Picasa By Emilie Alba, Keywords Analysis of C* House on Picasa, Screenshot and Analysis, August 2012 To conclude, this analysis reveals that the presence of businesses on Google+and Picasa is very likely to be valued by Google. Although the origin of the textdisplayed on C* House’s result on Google search comes from the website’s pagesource, it does not justify the excellent ranking of the website on Google Search.However, the presence of keywords on Google+ and Picasa has certainly contributeda lot in the ranking on Google. As a result, the hypothesis through which I expectedthat the potential of Google+ would make independent hotels as visible as OTAs andWorld Hotel Group cannot be entirely validated, because we can’t measure theinfluence of Google+ in the ranking of our client on Google search engine. From this experience, hoteliers should keep in mind that photos and key wordsare essential elements that influence the ranking on Google Search engine. Theyshould especially remember that the description of the business in the website’ssource page is displayed on Google Search, which imply that the description has to beoptimized (no more than 160 characters, filled with keywords and in relation to thebusiness). Taking into account Google’s tools and features (which are being developedand improved according to online consumer behavior), and Google’s way of workingwith OTAs and hotels; web marketing solutions can be set up to help hoteliers toimprove their online visibility and to increase their direct bookings.   88  
  • 89. -­‐  CHAPTER  3  –               Leveraging  Strategies  to   Help  Independent   Hoteliers  Meet  their   Goals     89  
  • 90. I- Factors to consider in the optimization of online visibility Independent hotels are mainly concerned with two things: being visible on theInternet and increasing direct bookings.They work in partnership with web-marketing strategists to improve their onlineperformance and get revenue increase. In addition, in order to maximize the chancesof success, time and regular work for both the hotel and the marketing agency have tobe considered.However, some independent hotels tend to think that web-marketing agencies workfor them instead of along with them. They think so simply because web marketing hasbecome a new job in the hospitality industry. As a result, independent hotels oftendon’t realize all the steps web-marketing strategists have to come up with beforeresults can show up online.Thus, the aim of this first part is to show hotels where are located the main problemsthat prevent them from meeting their objectives and how the online strategies arefinally adopted.A- Understanding the principles of online visibility Being present on the Internet consists in being present and/or active on threeinterrelated touch points:- Social Media- Websites- Search EnginesThen, it consists in enlarging a hotel’s web presence through the use of another touchpoint: local directories. Maintaining coherent business information among all these touch points isessential for successful SEO. Each touch point requires specific and diversifiedknowledge, which implies the know-how of different persons.This is why it takes time to get and maintain a business visible online. It can alsobecome expensive if the business doesn’t learn to manage their online presence ontheir own.1- The organization and influence of the touch points for hotels’ online visibility Maintaining a hotel visible on the Internet works the same way as any otherbusinesses, except that for hotels much importance is especially given to SocialMedia. As hotels sell intangible services, they have to communicate a lot about theirservices and the experience they provide, if they want to get online reservations.   90  
  • 91. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr etc. aretherefore essential to convince potential customers to make reservations.The graph below highlights the importance of each touch point for the online successof a hotel. Pyramid Model - The Independent Relationship of Social Media, Website and Google Plate of the author, By Emilie Alba, “Pyramid Model - The Independent Relationship of Social Media, Website and Google”, Graph, September 2012The graph is organized according to the 3 elements previously mentioned: SocialMedia, a hotel’s website and Google Search Engine. They have to be considered alltogether to ensure the online performance of a hotel.Each touch point embodies one or several specific role(s), which explains theirposition on the pyramid:1- Social Media is positioned on the top because good management influences thenumber of visits on a hotel’s website, which influences top ranking on Google’ssearch engine.2- A hotel’s website is located at the center of the pyramid because it influences andis influenced by both the activities on Social Media and Google. As a result thewebsite also needs to be perfectly optimized to exert an influence towards the top andthe bottom of the pyramid.3- Google is the base of the pyramid because its tools and features will influence thevisibility of a hotel’s website and social media sites, which will increase the number   91  
  • 92. of visits on the website, and finally result in a better ranking on Google’s searchengine for the website.As a result, Google’s tools and features need to be optimized so that your hotel can bementioned (through a link pointing towards your hotel’s website) on as many placesas possible (Google Maps, Google Search, Google+ Local, etc.) The 3 touch points influencing one another creates a vicious circle that is at theorigin of whether online performance or online disaster. This means that if a hotel isperforming well on each touch point, then the hotel will be visible online. On theother hand, if a hotel encounters a problem on only one touch point then the twoothers will be affected and the hotel will lose online visibility.We therefore understand why Google is the base of the triangle. Google indeedembodies the role of a “provider of tools and features” (Google maps, Google+Business page, Google+ Local, etc.) that exposes your hotel to the public eyes. ButGoogle also embodies the role of a “policeman” with its algorithms that access allyour social media accounts and websites, before deciding whether or not a hoteldeserves to be visible on the Internet. This explains why web-marketing strategists give much importance to Google.It is indeed the beginning of the launch of a “wheel” that is going to turn until thehotel is visible on Google Search Engine. Pyramid Model – Visibility Insights Wheel Plate of the author, By Emilie Alba, “Pyramid Model – Visibility Insights Wheel”, Graph, September 2012The launch of the wheel consists in setting up Google accounts for each of its maintools. Then, so the wheel can continue its rotation, a hotels’ website needs to beoptimized (web-developers have to intervene on this step). To finish, so the wheel cankeep turning, social media accounts need to be created and regularly updated. At thisstep the “wheel” is turning, and to give it speed, hotels need to be active on social   92  
  • 93. media. It will create more visits on the website and a better ranking on Google searchengine.2- The current obstacles that prevent the “wheel” from turning up to hotels’ onlinevisibility. So far, we clearly understood that to get a hotel’s website reaching morevisibility online and getting more visits, the wheel has to turn in the right direction(from right to left on the graph). But the wheel is heavy and therefore takes timebefore turning on and on towards its goal. Independent hoteliers often want the wheelto turn rapidly, which result in the wheel falling down and stopping rolling on. During the launch of the wheel, hoteliers will encounter many obstacles thatwill slow down the wheel. However, they will have to deal with these problems untilthey are solved, in order to maintain the wheel in its launch.The graph below highlights the main obstacles hoteliers were encountering inSeptember 2012. Pyramid Model – The Main Obstacles Encountered on Each Touch Point Plate of the author, By Emilie Alba, "Pyramid Model – The Main Obstacles Encountered on Each Touch Point", Graph, September 2012   93  
  • 94. As indicated on this graph, the main problems hoteliers are encountering come fromGoogle+ Local (the merger of Google+ and Google Places) and from the under orover optimization of their websites and/or social media sites.a- Problems encountered at Google’s level The actual main trouble with Google is to get the Google+ Local page created,from the successful merger of the hotel’s Google+ Business page and Google PlacesListings. The launch of Google + Local is confusing for hoteliers because, even beforethe merger of the 2 tools, a temporary Google+ Local page is generated. Hoteliers aretherefore facing 2 Google+ pages (the business one and the temporary local one) anddon’t not know what is going to happen next.They are wondering whether the final merger would automatically get done orwhether there is something to do to get it done. Once the merger was done for somebusinesses (hotels included), many of them noticed data inconsistencies (wrongbusiness name, phone number, photo missing, etc.) on their Google+ Local Page, orsaw their hotel disappeared from the Google+ Local listing. These problems are dueto the merger and will be discussed in more details further on.b- Problems encountered at the hotel’s website level The problems with the websites usually come from an under-optimization or anover-optimization.When a website is under-optimized, it doesn’t have a performing content (wrong keywords, not enough pictures, links missing or pointing towards under-optimizedwebsites, business information not updated, etc.…).On the other hand, a website can not perform well when it has been over-optimizedwith for example too long meta-tag description, excessive use of the same key wordsor links pointing towards other sites of the same owner, etc.99c- Problems encountered at social media level Too many independent hotels miss to update their social pages or to regularlypost new content. This can directly have a negative influence on the ranking of ahotel’s website, in that Google can consider as “abandoned” a site linked to socialmedia accounts (Facebook, blogger, etc.) that are not regularly updated.As indicated on the graph, the mistakes accumulated on each touch point have directimpacts on the website and on Google ranking. The website will register less visits,                                                                                                                99­‐optimize-­‐site.htm­‐Website-­‐Might-­‐Be-­‐Over-­‐Optimized-­‐If-­‐     94  
  • 95. which generally results in a loss of direct reservations. And in the end, the websitewill lose rankings on Google’s search engine and will be less visible.OTAs will therefore benefit from the situation because when a web-user types forexample, “Hotel San Francisco” in Google Search, the first results that are going toappear are results from:- Google Hotel Finder- Local Directories (ex: TripAdvisor)- Online Travel Agencies (ex: Expedia)See the screenshot below: The Enhancement of Third Party Sites’ Visibility on Google Search Engine By Emilie Alba, The Enhancement of Third Party Sites’ Visibility on Google Search Engine, Screenshot and Analysis, September 2012, Appendix 2As a result, web-users are more likely to make a reservation on an OTA’s websitethan on a hotel’s website.To sum up, it is highly recommended to have each touch point optimized by gettingrid of the problems when they show up. It is not a step-by-step process; hoteliers haveto maintain their presence on each touch point as regularly as possible. Optimizing a hotel’ online presence doesn’t consist in dealing with Google forone month, with the hotel’s website the following month, and then with the socialmedia sites the month after. It consists of dealing with the three touch pointsaltogether, by:1- solving in priority the most important problems (whether they appear on a socialmedia site, Google account or a hotel’s website)   95  
  • 96. 2-updating the hotel’s information as soon as mistakes are noticed, and renewing thecontent as regularly as possible.To better understand how to sort out the most important modifications to bring online,getting back on Google’s online presence is necessary.B- Understanding how Google sees businesses’ presence on theInternet1- Hoteliers’ misunderstanding about the way to target and attract potentialcustomers Many independent hotels do not realize the real impact Google has on theInternet, which explains why many of them do not use the right tools, or are notpresent on the right platforms. Moreover, as Google is moving quickly, hoteliers whoare not comfortable with the new jobs in web marketing can rapidly get lost.In April 2012, at the occasion of the Think-Tank – Now for Next 2012, I covered thistopic through the presentation “Google as a marketing partner for hoteliers”. The aimof this presentation was to introduce hoteliers to Google’s main tools (Google places,Google maps, Google+) but especially to show hoteliers how Google was visualizingthe way businesses (hotels included) should position themselves on the web in orderto attract potential customers.I realized that the visibility strategy of independent hotels was incoherent with theway Google was viewing the visibility strategy of businesses.   96  
  • 97. The Representation of Independent Hotels’ Online Visibility Strategy (Early 2012) Plate of the author, By Emilie Alba, The Representation of Independent Hotels’ Online Visibility Strategy (Early 2012), Graph, March 2012The percentages approximately represent the importance independent hoteliersattributed to each touch point (Social Media, Local Search Sites, Google Maps &Places).Many independent hotels were picturing their website at the center of the Internet, andwere trying as much as possible to bring potential clients on their website through alimited use of Social Media (10%), Local directories (10%), Maps and Places (10%).This means that 50% of the touch points combined were not optimized to target andattract hotel guests. As a result, I created the graph below in order to change independent hoteliers’way of thinking. The graph enhances Google’s positioning strategy last April to targetbusinesses’ online consumers, and the importance Google attributed to all touchpoints to target and attract clients.   97  
  • 98. Google’s Positioning Strategy to Target Businesses’ Online Consumers (Early 2012) Plate of the author, By Emilie Alba, Google’s Positioning Strategy to Target Businesses’ Online Consumers (Early 2012), Graph, March 2012It can be noticed from this graph that, unlike hoteliers, in April 2012, Google wasvisualizing potential hotel guests in the center and strategically positioned itself on allthe different existing touch points. As a result, I assumed that hoteliers had to bepresent on all these touch points (which are not distribution channels), and pay aparticular attention to online influencers, because they are the ones who are the mostlikely to spread words about hotels online.In addition, I assumed that all these touch points had to display the main informationabout hotels, and bring potential clients to a bookable platform, because potentialclients should be able to make reservations through the touch point of their choice. Asa result, because independent hoteliers were not making the most of these touchpoints, I realized that Google had understood how hoteliers should proceed online,whereas independent hoteliers had not.2- The standardization of businesses’ online presence thanks to Google+ Local Since last April, Google did not stop improving its online presence. The launchof Google+ followed by Google+ Local, brought considerable changes. We can see   98  
  • 99. on the graph below that Google+ Local contributed to standardizing the web-userexperience online, by making Google’s current tools and features more social. Google’s Social Extension through the Launch of Google+ Local to Target Businesses’ Online Consumers Plate of the author, By Emilie Alba, Google’s Social Extension through the Launch of Google+ Local to Target Businesses’ Online Consumers, Graph, September 2012, Appendix 21The graph clearly shows the impact Google+ Local is having online on each maintouch point.The launch of Google+ Local strengthens Google’s position on Local directories(Local search sites like Tripadvisor), which provides businesses with another localsearch platform. This was made possible by Google’s partnership with Zagat.In addition, Google+ Local makes businesses more visual on Google search. Wehave indeed seen in chapter 2 that the photos of businesses present on Google+ Localshowed up on Google search, and were influencing web-users to click on them.Google+ Local also contributed to making Google maps more social, bydisplaying “review” links pointing towards the Google+ local pages of the hotels.Furthermore, Google+ Local standardization has considerably reinforced thepossibility for potential hotel guests, to have a direct access to booking platforms oneach touch point, with the “hotel price comparison” feature already introduced in theprevious chapter. This feature is also present on Google search, which means thatGoogle has made of its search engine an additional touch point, where customers canhave a rapid access to booking platforms.   99  
  • 100. As a result, the launch of Google+ Local should encourage hoteliers to create aGoogle+ business page, a Google+ Local page and to link their website to Google+by adding the Google+ button. However, with the launch of Google+ one year ago,most hotels are already familiar with Google+, and have already created theirGoogle+ Business page and embedded their Google+ button on their website. Given the huge exposure Google+ Local gives to businesses online, it is theopportunity for hotels to make sure their online presence is coherent. It is indeedimportant that hotels make a list of all the sites they are present on, and check out ifthey display the right information about their business. As time passes, concerninghotels, sometimes the phone number changes and photos need to be updated.Google values a lot businesses’ information coherence online. If Google can rapidlyidentify a same hotel on several touch points, this hotel is more likely to be rankedamong the top results on search engines. Updating its online presence is a longprocess, but it is easy to accomplish when we know how to organize and sort out themost important tasks.3- Making the online presence of a hotel coherent Google+ Local having integrated all the touch points hotels are using to targetpotential clients, it means that Google values the hotels’ presence and activity on eachtouch point. As a result, hotels have to update all their listings and accounts on eachtouch point, in order to provide Google with coherent information about theirbusiness, so that Google can recognize a same business on different touch points. Google+ Local is therefore the opportunity for hotels to review their onlinepresence and make it coherent.At first sight, updating a business’ online presence seems like a heavy task. However,by proceeding in an organized way, we can distinguish which touch point needs to behandled in priority, and what are the most important pieces of information to update.The update of a touch point consists in checking out and modifying (if necessary), allthe points listed on the top left-hand corner of the graph below.The graph below highlights this process:   100  
  • 101. The Update of a Hotel’s Online Presence According to Google’s New Requirements By Emilie Alba, The Update of a Hotel’s Online Presence According to Google’s New Requirements, Graph, September 2012,As notified on the graph, it is recommended to start by updating the business’s listingson Google Places, because Google+ Local is currently merging these pieces ofinformation within the business’ Google+ page. This first step is easy because it onlyconsists in verifying if the information concerning the hotel are correct, and if thehotel has only one listing created per street address (if the hotel is present on differentlocations).The second priority is to focus on social media because if this touch point is wellmaintained, hotels can gain visibility, which compensate the loss of traffic manyhotels’ website affected by Google’s new algorithm (Google Panda and Penguin)experienced100.All the social networks mentioned on the graph are important, but starting byupdating Google+ is essential for the merging reason explained above. The objectiveof being present on social media is to gain in popularity, because Google values the                                                                                                                100­‐penguin-­‐updates.htm     101  
  • 102. web-user experience. The more a page is followed by web-users, the more it givesGoogle proofs of the real existence of the business.The third priority (and maybe the most time consuming one) is to update the hotel’spresence on local and recommendation sites. It consists in finding the sites on whichthe hotel’s competitors are present, and creating listings on these sites. It is importantto be present on sites that are valued by Google. In general, the ones ranked on topresults, and the ones who display Google features (like maps) or visuals (photos,videos, etc.) are efficient.To finish with, it is essential to review the performance of the hotel’s website.Google’s algorithms analyze every detail of the website to see if the business relatedto is still existing, and if it provides web-users with relevant information likely toenhance good consumer experience. As a result, a website has to be well organized,dynamic and interactive. The best way to improve a hotel’s website is to have a web-developer and a web-marketer working together on it. The optimization of each of these touch points will be further developed in thesecond part on this chapter, in order to satisfy the hoteliers’ need to visualize wherethey lack performance and how to relieve the situation.II- Online Performance Recommendations for Hoteliers In 2012, Google brought many changes in its tools and features, and alsolaunched new products in order to always optimize its search engine and improve theweb-user experience. The main changes that impacted the online presence ofbusinesses (hotels included) are Google+ Local and Google Panda and PenguinAlgorithms. Although the previous chapter explained how Google+ Local wasconfusing for hoteliers, it did not cover all the issues it generated on Google+ andGoogle Maps. This part will therefore provide hoteliers with recommendations toperform on Google +.In addition, as Google Panda and Penguin affected many hotels’ websites, a lot ofhoteliers lost online visibility and direct bookings. This part will also focus onwebsites optimization according to Google’s new requirements, and onlineperformance strategies.A- Google+ Local merger performance: maps for hoteliers All hoteliers must have noticed the Google+ Local “temporary” page that wasgenerated with the launch of Google+ Local. Many of them don’t know what is goingto happen next. They wonder if they have to “verify” their Google+ page andGoogle+ Local pages as suggested by Google, and what will happen if they “verify”these pages. They simply don’t know how to get their pages merged in order to   102  
  • 103. activate their Google+ Local page. Today, these questions can be answered in asimple way, but the answers will differ according to the Google tools and platformshoteliers are already using or not.1- Steps before launching the verification process of the Google+ pages Before explaining all the possible cases hoteliers can encounter, it is essential tounderstand how the process of activating a Google + Local page works. In order to get a Local Google+ page activated (i.e. to get the Google placeslisting of a hotel merged with its Google+ Business page), the hotel has to get whetherits Google+ Business page or its Google+ Local “temporary” page verified. Gettingthese pages verified consists in clicking on a button and filling in a form (we will seethe latter on the second graph). The process takes 5 minutes to achieve, but if Googledetects mistakes or inconsistencies, it can take several months to edit the data and getthe pages “verified” again afterwards. This is why it is important for businesses tohave no data issues on any of these two pages, or on their Google Places Listingsbefore getting their pages verified.The graph below enables hoteliers to review their situation with Google, and helpthem to update their listings before launching the verification process. Instructions Before Getting Your Google+ Page Verified By Emilie Alba, Instructions Before Getting Your Google+ Page Verified, Graph, September 2012   103  
  • 104. This graph analyzes the possible situations of a hotel on Google Places, Google+Business Page and Google+ Local Temporary Page, no matter they are active users ornot, or efficient users or not.First, the graph requests to choose among three possible situations on GooglePlaces.- If the hotel has never created a Google Places Listing (which is rare) or created alisting but never had it verified, then the hotelier can create a Google+ Business pageand a Google+ Local Page.- If the hotel has a verified Google Places Listing and a Google+ Business Page, thenthe hotelier can have the hotel’s Google+ Business page or Temporary Google+ Localpage verified (if he/she is sure that there are have no data issues on none of thesepages).- To finish, if the hotel has a verified Google Places Listing with no Google+Business page created, this hotel will have a temporary Local Google+ Page that willbe generated. So far, in September, it is recommended in this particular case to notcreate a Google+ business page, nor have the Temporary Google+ Local Pageverified101.Google will probably automatically generate the definitive Google+ Local page, andwill notify the users about the functions of the page.For the businesses that are recommended to create a Google+ Business page, they willhave to create a Google+ Local page. The latter won’t be automatically generated as itwas the case for businesses:- having created Google+ Business Pages before the launch of Google+ Local- being present on Google Places before September 2012Whatsoever, creating a Google+ Local Page is only a matter of entering informationabout the business. Moreover, it is included in the creation process of the Google+Business page102.To finish, only when there is doubt that the Google+ Business page, the Google+Local Temporary page and the Google Places Listing of a hotel (or any businesses)have not data issues, and are filled in with the same business-related information, thenthe hotel can launch the verification process103.2- Getting Google+ pages verified by Google to proceed to the merger As mentioned earlier, to get the Google+ Pages verified, it simply consists inclicking on the “Manage this page” button on the Local Google+ Page, or the “Verifynow” button on the Google+ Business page. The graph below highlights the nextsteps of the process.                                                                                                                101­‐plus-­‐local-­‐places-­‐page-­‐faq/  102  103­‐plus-­‐local-­‐places-­‐page-­‐faq/     104  
  • 105. How to Request a Google+ Verification to Get Your Pages Merged By Emilie Alba, How to Request a Google+ Verification to Get Your Pages Merged, Graph, September2012,After clicking on one of the 2 buttons embedded of the Google+ Pages, hotels will getto the following page. Google Places’ Listing Management Page By Emilie Alba, Google Places’ Listing Management Page, Screenshot and Analysis,   105  
  • 106. September 2012By clicking on “continue” button, hoteliers will arrive to the “Google + pageverification request” form104 (mentioned on the graph). See below how the form lookslike: Google+ Page Verification Request Form By Emilie Alba, Google+ Page Verification Request Form, Screenshot and Analysis, September 2012105It can be noticed from this screenshot that before launching the verification process,Google informs businesses about its eligibility criteria. According to the criterialisted, a link to the business’ website is compulsory on Google+ pages, and theGoogle +1 button should be embedded on the website. As a result, it can be assumedthat Google values links and +1 buttons for search engine ranking.Back on the graph, after this form has been completed, Google:- either sends a Pin that will have to be entered in the Google+ business page- or Google manually reviews the Google+ pages, and automatically verifies them (ifthey are eligible). 106                                                                                                                104  105     106  
  • 107. After this step, once the pages have been verified, the Google+ Business page of ahotel (or any businesses) can no longer be found; only the Google+ Local page isdisplayed online107.From this moment, the hotel should never update again its Google Places Listing(analytics data on Google Places account can still be consulted), all the updates haveto be made directly on the Google+ Local pages108.However, after the verification process, many businesses never got their pagesmerged. After 3 weeks, hotels have to contact Google to solve the situation.3- Managing Google+ Local listing problems due to the mergera- Contacting Google for Google+ Listing problems Every problem has a solution. However when a business encounters a problemwith Google it can take a long time before it gets solved. To solve problems onGoogle more rapidly, it is important to understand what and where the problems are,and contact Google through the right process.The Graph below lists the different problems that can be encountered on thetemporary Local Google+ pages and on Google Maps, due to the launch of theverification process.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            106­‐g-­‐merge-­‐has-­‐started-­‐google-­‐now-­‐processing-­‐manual-­‐merge-­‐requests/  107  http://marketing-­‐­‐plus-­‐business-­‐google-­‐places-­‐merge.html  108­‐plus-­‐local-­‐places-­‐page-­‐faq/     107  
  • 108. Process in Case of Merging Failure or Data Issues By Emilie Alba, Process in Case of Merging Failure or Data Issues, Graph, September 2012The main problems that frequently occur are the merger failure of the Google+ pages,or data issues in the temporary Local Google+ page or in Google maps. The 2 causes of theses problems are mentioned in red color, and consist of: - “Multiple accounts problem”: it means that a same business listing has beencreated with different Gmail accounts109.It often occurs when a hotel has worked with different web-marketers. This problemcan show up before the merger process, and in that case the Temporary Google+Local page displays the data issues mentioned on the graph110. The solution is to editthe page before requesting its verification.On the other hand, this problem can show up after the merger, and in that case GoogleMaps can display the same data issues listed on the graph. Google thereforerecommends filling in a reporting issue form named “Incorrect DataTroubleshooter”111.                                                                                                                109  http://marketing-­‐­‐google-­‐places-­‐google-­‐local-­‐images.html  110  111     108  
  • 109. Once completed, Google support comes back to hoteliers by email to let them knowwhat the problem is, and if they succeeded in solving it. In the article “MissingGoogle+ Local AKA Google Places Images?” by Linda Buquet, the latter suggests toalso ask Google to “UNverify” all the listings belonging to other owners of theaccounts, so that the duplication problem will not happen again112.- “The duplication problem”: it can also be the reason why Google+ pages don’tmerge after launching the verification process. In that case, one solution is to contactGoogle by reporting the problem on the “Technical Issue” forum113.Google only will be able to solve this problem by gluing the duplicate listingstogether114.To finish, all the problems that Google+ merger created don’t encourage us tovalidate the hypothesis through which I expected that the potential of Google+ wouldmake independent hotels as visible as world hotel groups and OTAs on search engine.However, Google’s merger process is still recent, they may solve these problems andencourage businesses to merge their pages or create a Google+ Local account.b- What to do in case of “Google Places Account Suspension” When a Google Places listing doesn’t fit Google requirements, after the launchof the verification process, Google suspends this account. The question manyhoteliers in this situation ask themselves is “Can we delete a suspended account, andrecreate a new one without being banned if the new listing doesn’t fit Googlerequirements as well?”The answer is “Yes”, Google indeed advises to recreate an account when a previousone got suspended115.                                                                                                                112  http://marketing-­‐­‐google-­‐places-­‐google-­‐local-­‐images.html  113!categories/youtube/report-­‐a-­‐technical-­‐issue  114!msg/business/YoBCFp7siWM/6zUrgk13qsUJ  115     109  
  • 110. Google Support for Listing Marked as “Needs Actions” By Google, Google Support for Listing Marked as “Needs Actions”, Instructions, September 2012116However, since the launch of Google+ Local, it is no longer necessary to recreate aGoogle Places Listing. The process is therefore to erase the Suspended Google PlacesListing, and create a Google+ Business Page and a Google+ Local page.To erase the suspended Google Places account, simply follow the process explainedby Google, framed in red on the screenshot below:                                                                                                                116     110  
  • 111. The "Right Way" to Delete a Google Places Listing By SEOmoz, The "Right Way" to Delete a Google Places Listing, Article, May 2011117Once the Google Places Listing is erased, it possible to create a Google+ Businesspage and a Google+ Local Page. It should be reminded that the creation of theGoogle+ Local page is included in the creation of the Google+ Business pageprocess118.                                                                                                                117­‐right-­‐way-­‐to-­‐delete-­‐a-­‐google-­‐places-­‐listing  118     111  
  • 112. Google Support for Creating a Google+ Local Page By Google, Google Support for Creating a Google+ Local Page, Instructions, September 2012 119Once the hotel-related pieces of information are coherent on Google pages, theGoogle+ Local page or the Google+ Business page can get verified. Once again, thepages will be “verified” by Google only if the content abides by Google+ policy, andif the business information abides by Google quality guideline policy120. All the stepsto recreate an account have been explained in details above, because it is a real needin the hospitality market.B- Website and Social Media Optimization Website and Social Media can be tackled together in this part because theiroptimization process is quite similar. This is why dealing with these two touch pointsseparately would be too repetitive. Moreover, social media have become as importantas websites for Google.                                                                                                                119  120       112  
  • 113. In addition, the aim of this part is not to simply enumerate the factors (keywords,backlinks, advertisements, etc.) that Google values, because hundreds of articlesalready cover this topic on the Internet. This part is more about the impact each factorreally has on search results, so that hoteliers can optimize the most important factorsin priority and get results more rapidly. This part is also about the constant evolution of ranking factors on searchengine, because it is important that independent hoteliers realize that website andsocial media optimization is a long-term project. It has to be regularly reviewed andadapted according to what Google’s algorithms value. A recent study by SearchMetrics entitled “UK SEO ranking factors 2012121”,provides a detailed analysis of the main influencing factors in search results, betweenFebruary and March 2012. SearchMetrics searchers based their results on the analysesof “10000 selected top keywords, 300000 websites and millions of links, shares andtweets” present on Google UK. Focusing on Google UK enabled the searchers (fromthe UK) to get more complete results than they would have got on a foreign Google(Google US, France, Spain, etc.), especially if they based their research on UKspecific topics.For example, if someone searches information about the Queen Elizabeth II, thisperson will have more results on Google UK than on Google US or France, becausethe topic is specific to the country.Unlike all the articles about website and social media optimization, SearchMetricspresented its ranking factors results on the detailed graph below.                                                                                                                121­‐ranking-­‐factors-­‐uk.pdf     113  
  • 114. Search Engine Ranking Factors in 2012 By M. Tober and S. Weber, SearchMetrics, UK SEO Ranking Factors 2012, Search Engine Ranking Factors in 2012, Whitepaper, June 2012, Appendix 14122The figures on the graph tally with “the correlations between each factor (listed on theleft) and Google search result”.1- The importance of backlinks and social media First, hoteliers should notice how Google highly values social mediaoptimization and backlinks.Note: a backlink is a “link coming from another website to your own website”123.It is clearly showed on the graph that Facebook is the most valued social network.However, this does not mean that social networks like Pinterest or LinkedIn are notvalued. They are valued, just like blogs (blogs being part of social media), especiallyif they contain backlinks and quality links in general.Every link on hotels’ website or on any other web page should be a quality link. Itmeans that the links should point towards a quality website with relevant content. If a                                                                                                                122­‐ranking-­‐factors-­‐uk.pdf  123     114  
  • 115. hotel’s website is associated with a bad quality website, then the hotel’s website willlose ranking on search engine.Concerning backlinks, it is demonstrated on the graph that the number of backlinkmatters. It means that the more a hotel has its website URL mentioned on sites orsocial media, the better for search engine ranking. In addition, it can be noticed thatthe backlinks quality matters as well. It indeed appears on the graph that “backlinkswith keywords”, “backlinks rel=nofollow”, and “backlinks with Stopword” tend to beaffected by Google algorithms, and therefore lose ranking on search engines.Note:- “rel=nofollow” is an indication that should be placed in the website or blog coderight before the link of an untrusted website or blog. Thus, it prevents Google fromassociating your website with other untrusted sites124.- “stopwords” are all the articles and conjunctions belonging to a language (such as:a/an/the/ and/in/to/ etc.). They should not appear in a link because they weaken itsvalue125.                                                                                                                124  125     115  
  • 116. 2- The Negative Influence of Advertisements The Negative Influence of Advertisements in Search Engine Ranking in 2012 By M. Tober and S. Weber, SearchMetrics, UK SEO Ranking Factors 2012,The Negative Influence of Advertisements in Search Engine Ranking in 2012, Whitepaper, June 2012126As indicated on the graph, any type of advertisements should be avoided because theynegatively influence ranking (they have a negative correlation). However, this studyreveals that Google Adlinks is not as negatively valued as Google Adsense in general.Note:- Adsense is a Google tool that enables web publishers to earn money by displayingGoogle ads on their websites for free127.- Google Adlinks is part of Google Adsense but it may be assumed that it is lessnegatively valued than Adsense, in that Adlinks displays a list of topics that arerelevant to the website. As a result each link points towards an advertisement inrelation to the content of the website128.                                                                                                                126­‐ranking-­‐factors-­‐uk.pdf  127  128     116  
  • 117. 3- The Impact of Keywords The Impact of Keywords in Search Engine Ranking in 2012 By M. Tober and S. Weber, SearchMetrics, UK SEO Ranking Factors 2012, The Impact of Keywords in Search Engine Ranking in 2012, Whitepaper, June 2012129 Surprisingly enough, according to the graph, keywords no longer appear amongthe top ranking factors. Whether they are found in backlinks, URLs, descriptions ortitles, the presence of keywords seems to influence Google to rank websites lower insearch results. This change in SEO value is certainly due to the numerous businessesthat ended over-optimizing their websites with keywords, to gain rankings on search.Over-optimized websites most of the time results in providing a bad online userexperience. Using too many repetitive keywords indeed makes the site more difficultor uncomfortable to read. As a result it seems obvious that Google algorithms wouldaffect these sites. However, keywords should not be banned from SEO strategies. They remainvery important, insofar as web users will find hotels’ websites from the use ofkeywords in search. Keywords just have to be used in reasonable quantity, and should                                                                                                                129­‐ranking-­‐factors-­‐uk.pdf     117  
  • 118. refer to the hotel’s website content. Google also seems to negatively value unnaturalkeywords position in titles. Titles should be understandable for web users, thuskeywords should be placed where they make more sense in the sentence.4- The end of traditional SEO? Traditional SEO is way behind, because search engines keep evolving rapidly.SEO strategies have to be constantly adapted in order to keep businesses among thetop results. For example, early 2012, web-marketers were banking a lot on “morephotos/less text” strategy, because with the launch of Google+ and Pinterest, photoswere highly valued by Google. Today, if we refer to the study, we realize that Googledoes not value photos this much any more, and neither the length of text. The Influence of Images and Text in Search Engine Ranking in 2012 By M. Tober and S. Weber, SearchMetrics, UK SEO Ranking Factors 2012, The Influence of Images and Text in Search Engine Ranking in 2012, Whitepaper, June 2012130However, it might be reminded that the results of this study concern research made onGoogle UK only. Consequently, a larger study would probably give deeper positivecorrelations to the number of images and words in text. Hoteliers should maintaintheir efforts in preferring photos to long text, because their business depends a lot onvisuals. “More photos / less text” strategy will always appeal to web-users, this is whythe correlation is positive on the graph.In this study, even though the correlation figures don’t talk much to hoteliers, theyenable them to visualize and remember which factors are valued by Google. When wecompare the correlation of Facebook shares with the correlations of tweets, we realizethat Facebook should be given more particular attention than Twitter.To finish, the study found a 0.37 correlation in analyzing Google+1, which is higherthan Facebook shares (0.35). However this data cannot be considered as fully reliable,given the small number of Google+1 users compared to Facebook and Twitter.                                                                                                                130­‐ranking-­‐factors-­‐uk.pdf     118  
  • 119. Whatsoever, hoteliers should give importance to Google+ because the results (even ifthey are not currently reliable) are rather promising.This study confirms the need of a reposition strategy that would generate more directbookings to hoteliers, despite the huge online presence of OTAs. The idea is to slowdown the online keywords competition between hotels and better work with OTAs,while banking everything on Facebook. It first sounds like a brutal change forindependent hotels, but we will explain in the last part in what this reposition strategywill turn out efficient.III- A reposition strategy to generate direct bookings Independent hotels can no longer let OTAs take a high percentage of theirrevenue. Recently, many petitions launched at the independent hotels’ initiative havebeen posted on the Internet to denounce the negative influence of OTAs. The lattermake money on the backs of hotels, forgetting that their role is to help hoteliers toincrease bookings and therefore revenue.One of Oneglobe Network’s clients who owns an independent hotel in Paris, did notworry about OTAs (even though it contributed only a little to the revenue increase ofthe hotel) until last year, when he realized that this time OTAs did not contribute anymore to the revenue increase of the hotel.This is why the CEO of Oneglobe Network, Elizabeth Craig, started to think about adirect booking strategy for independent hotels. It took one year to set it up, aftertaking into account the development of all the factors intervening in the strategy,along with the latest trends in the consumer behavior on the Internet.A- Adapting to the development of online trends1- The influence of online consumers’ behavior on Social Media, OTAs and SearchEnginesa – Social media: a solution to consider to increase direct bookings Today, independent hotels have reached a stalemate, because they realize thatOTAs are expensive high commission channels, and are positioned on the 3 greatestemerging forces in online distribution.Independent hotels invest in SEO measures in an attempt to compete on a wide rangeof keywords, in order to drive more visitors to their hotel’s website. They hope that acertain percentage of these visitors will make direct reservations.However, they have trouble encouraging visitors to book through their hotel’swebsite, because OTAs’ rate parity agreements prohibit offering better deals on hotelbrand sites.   119  
  • 120. In addition, we should take into account the fact that more and more potentialcustomers first discover hotels through their preferred social touch points, and thenmake a search from the hotel name on Google (to a lesser degree Bing).The solution would be to optimize Social Media, especially Facebook, which isalready considered as a distribution channel by hoteliers (even if it is not), and convertFacebook visitors into buyers.Before going deeper into the new direct booking strategy, it is essential for hoteliersto be aware of the latest changes on the Internet.b- OTAs’ position in the online distribution system OTAs are currently positioned on the 3 major emerging forces in onlinedistribution, namely: Search Engine, Social Media and Mobile.The graph below clearly represents OTAs’ position and influence on Independenthotels. OTAs’ Position in the Online Distribution System By Emilie Alba, OTAs’ Position in the Online Distribution System, Graph, October 2012, Appendix 6   120  
  • 121. According to an AH&LA and STR special report for hotels131, Google (with itselaborate search engine and meta-search platform “Hotel Finder”), Facebook,TripAdvisor, and Apple are “Well-positioned to control the traffic leading to thedemand for hotel rooms”. They are also described as “volatile and dynamic”, and aretherefore likely to change the overall distribution landscape.Note:AH&LA: American Hotel & Lodging AssociationSTR: Smith Travel ResearchOTAs strategically positioned on these 3 major touch points, because, according tothe same study, they are becoming “the preferred points of entry for consumers to dotravel shopping and buying”. However, it can be assumed that Google, Facebook andmobile apps companies will end charging higher fees to refer hotels, which willoblige OTAs to increase (even more) the commissions to hotels.As a result, it is becoming urgent for hotels to reconsider the way they work withOTAs, and especially retain control of pricing, inventory and brand value as much aspossible. In addition, to ensure direct bookings increase they should review their SEOstrategies, and bank on OTAs’ billboard effect to bring travelers on their website.c- The reason to review SEO strategies based on keywordsNote:- SEO means « Search Engine Optimization » A Google Trends analysis, made by Elizabeth Craig for a client, shows thatbroad search keywords are in decline. It means that less and less web users type broadkeywords in Google search, when they look for information. Broad search terms arespecific description keywords related to a business category or to a specific piece ofinformation.                                                                                                                131  Distribution  Channel  Analysis:  A  Guide  for  Hotels,  by  C.Estis  Greens  &  M.V.  Lomanno,  January  2012     121  
  • 122. The Decline of Broad Search Terms According to Google Trends By E. Craig, The Decline of Broad Search Terms According to Google Trends, Analysis, September 2012On the other hand, when analyzing standard search terms, it can be noticed that theyare more used by web users than broad search terms. Standard search terms are basickeywords used by web users during their information search. The Increase of Standard Search Terms According to Google Trends By E. Craig, The Increase of Standard Search Terms According to Google Trends, Analysis, September 2012, Appendix 17Based on these results, it can be assumed that online consumers discover generalinformation about the topic they are looking for, elsewhere than on Google search;and use Google search in the second step of their search. A possible explanation ofthe graph above would be that a web user got informed by family or friends that   122  
  • 123. serviced apartments might answer his/her need for his/her future stay in London,which led this web user to directly type “serviced apartments London” in Googlesearch.As social networks (especially Facebook) have become one of the main means ofcommunication between friends and family members, it can be assumed that they areresponsible of the change in the consumers’ way of looking for information.As a result, to build our new direct booking strategy, we started out from the principlethat “online consumers discover brands on social touch points, and then search by“brand/property name + location” on search engines.2- Online consumers’ behavior goes from “search” to “discover” Online studies prove that consumers’ behavior trend is more and more socialmedia oriented than search oriented. Among the reports and analyses studied, thefollowing quotes supports the direct booking strategy we are setting up:“48% of consumers reported that social media posts are a great way to discover newproducts, brands, trends, or retailers, but less than 1% of transactions could betraced back to “trackable” social links.”132Forrester Research, Less Than 1% of Online Purchase Come From Social Channels,September 25, 2012“Awareness of social network sites is very high. Facebook is close to 100%, Twitterreaches 80% awareness and Google+ is known by 70%. More than 7 out of 10Internet users are member of at least 1 social network. This implies that more than1,5 billion people social network sites.”133InSites Consulting, Social Media Around the World 2012 - September 24, 2012“Awareness of new social networks like Instagram and Pinterest is picking up. 25%know Instagram, 24% are aware of Pinterest. Further, users show a very highintention to use both sites more in the future.”InSites Consulting, Social Media Around the World 2012 - September 24, 2012 In addition, famous lodging and social media companies have already started toturn their platform towards a more “discovery” approach.Recently, Airbnb created “Wish Lists”, a social platform similar to Pinterest thatenables web users to create boards, from the accommodations they just “discovered”.Online consumers can therefore gather the types of accommodations they are likely tobook, and automatically share a picture, along with a description of theaccommodations, on Facebook. Unlike common social platforms, Airbnb’s WishLists enable consumers to directly contact the hosts and make reservations. Airbnbtherefore succeeded in generating business from its social platform.                                                                                                                132  133­‐media-­‐around-­‐the-­‐world-­‐2012-­‐by-­‐insites-­‐consulting     123  
  • 124. Note:Airbnb is a community marketplace for people to book accommodations around theworld, in local homes or in atypical places run by professionals. Airbnb’s Wish Lists – A Discovery Oriented Social Platform By Emilie Alba, Airbnb’s Wish Lists – A Discovery Oriented Social Platform, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012, Appendix 18This new tool totally matches the consumers’ needs and expectations. In fact,according to Cliff Kuang from Fast Company134:“Since Airbnb released Wish Lists, 45% of their users have engaged with WishLists, and over one million have been created.”135Fastcodesign, How Airbnb Evolved To Focus On Social Rather Than Searches,October 2012In the same purpose as Airbnb, Facebook is currently releasing a new button: the“Want” button. 136                                                                                                                134­‐kuang  135­‐airbnb-­‐evolved-­‐to-­‐focus-­‐on-­‐social-­‐rather-­‐than-­‐searches#1  136­‐facebooks-­‐want-­‐button-­‐will-­‐look-­‐like-­‐2012-­‐10     124  
  • 125. Facebook’s “Want” Button – A Discovery Oriented Social Feature By Emilie Alba, Facebook’s “Want” Button – A Discovery Oriented Social Feature, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012, Appendix 15137Web users will be able to click on the button and explain why they want the item. Inaddition, according to Mashable138, the items will be attached to a buy link that willpoint towards a site on which it will be possible to purchase the product.Note:Mashable is a famous online news platform about digital innovation139.As a result, statistics show that consumers are turning towards social media todiscover new products and services. According to this trend, social media arecurrently developing tools to make it easier for consumers to purchase these productsand services. Consequently, it can be assumed that social media will keep developingthe discovery process of their platform, in order to generate business but also tobecome the first step of consumers’ online search.                                                                                                                137­‐facebooks-­‐want-­‐button-­‐will-­‐look-­‐like-­‐2012-­‐10  138­‐wantable-­‐pic/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashable+%28Mashable%29&utm_content=Google+Reader  139       125  
  • 126. B- The Elaboration of a direct booking strategy for independenthotels1- The objectives of this innovation concept Building a direct booking strategy is a long and complex project, because itimplies many research and analyses, perfect knowledge of the hospitality and Internetmarket, and technical skills in web marketing. The strategy indeed consists in generating business from online search, socialmedia activities and sharing methods, along with website optimization. Inaddition, as it is a real innovation concept for independent hotels, the latter will haveto be convinced that this strategy is the solution to generate more revenue from directbookings. Furthermore, independent hotels’ marketing specialists will have to betrained to efficiently provide the daily efforts the strategy requires.As a result, according to the development of OTAs’ online position and the evolvingconsumer’s behavior on the Internet, the 2 following objectives came up:“Influencing potential customers’ decisions in their discovery journey, byoptimizing hotels’ visibility onto trusted websites.”“Limiting dependence on OTAs, and better competing with hotels by using thefull potential of Social Media.”Determining these objectives for the strategy is a way to show hotels that we haveunderstood their needs, and that our direct booking strategy is the solution for them.2- A visual explanation of the strategy Through the strategy, we encourage independent hotels to rethink the way theymanage their online presence and generate bookings. I created the graph below tohelp them to figure out how we visualize the new way of leading online consumers todirectly book with hotels:   126  
  • 127. Direct Booking Strategy Visual Plan for Independent Hoteliers By Emilie Alba, Direct Booking Strategy Visual Plan for Independent Hoteliers, Graph, October 2012,Step 1 & 2 – Consumers’ search on search engines and OTAs’ sitesThe first two steps represent the current online consumers’ journey, before making ahotel reservation.When searching a hotel, most consumers usually start by typing “hotel” + “specificlocation” in Google Search. Among the first results displayed 3rd party sites arepresent, which encourages the online consumers to reserve through OTAs’ websites.However, many consumers take a look at the hotels’ websites, before going back toOTAs’ websites to make a reservation. These consumers are potential direct hotels’customers, in that they would be likely to make a reservation on a hotel’s website, butdo not do so because the website is not optimized to.One of the main reasons why hotels should keep working with OTAs is because theyare present and visible in large number on search engines. Trying to compete withOTAs is therefore a waste of time. As a result, our direct booking strategy highlyencourages hoteliers to better work with OTAs, starting by considering therequested commissions as advertising expense.Step 3 – Consumers’ new way of searching on search engines   127  
  • 128. The third step corresponds to the growing trend of consumers who, after having heardof a hotel on social sites, start by making a research through the use of the standardkeywords “hotel name + derivatives + location”. These hotel websites will thereforeappear in top search results.Step 4 – Consumers’ visit on the hotel’s websiteThe hotel guest experience starts at this point. As soon as a consumer arrives on ahotel’s website, he/she should be attracted by something he/she is familiar with andenjoy, namely social media.This is why the second part of our direct booking strategy encourages hotels tooptimize their web pages (website home page + social page + blog), by creating a“social environment”.The consumer will either visit the Facebook or the Pinterest page of the hotel. At thisstage, the consumer should feel the hotel’s philosophy, and the general atmosphereconveyed by the social content and the design of the website. The first success of thehotel will be to have aroused the consumer’s desire.Step 5 – Consumers’ experience on the hotel social media pagesAt this step, it is important that the consumer find high value social offersbecause this will trigger his/her purchase decision. It should be pointed out thatrate parity are not applied to password protected access or social media platforms.This is why our direct booking strategy relies on social media to convert travellersinto buyers.If the consumer is an active social user, he/she will share the hotel’s social mediapage or a specific hotel’s publication to his/her social contacts, before makingreservation.Step 6 – Consumers’ sharing actions and purchase processTo finish, the consumer will either make reservation from the social media bookingplatform, or will go back on the hotel’s website and use the hotel’s booking system.Only consumers who need a travel package will look for an OTA’s site to makereservation.The entire strategy is therefore adapted to the 2 major types of consumers:- The ones who start by searching a hotel on search engines – step 1 to 6- The ones who discover a hotel on social media sites, and type this hotel on a searchengine – step 3 to 6As their online journey consists in using OTAs, Search Engines and hotels’ websites,the action plan to set up for the strategy needs to be effective on each of these touchpoints.   128  
  • 129. - DISCUSSION CHAPTER –                     Direct Booking Strategy: A 3-pronged Action Plan   129  
  • 130. The direct booking strategy is aimed mainly at independent hotels because theyare the ones who suffer most about OTAs’ monopoly, given they are budget limited tobuild a strong online presence. In Chapter 1, we were indeed amazed to discover that38% of independent hotels reservation are made through OTAs, against 33% ofreservations are made through their own website (Appendix 1).This discussion chapter consists of the action plan independent hotels should set up,because each action has been determined according to the hypotheses explained in theintroduction and to which we refer throughout the chapters.The action plan therefore consists in: • Better Working with OTAs – to attract visitors on a hotel’s website • Optimizing the Hotel’s Web Pages for Social Media – to get visitors to connect with the hotel brand • Cultivating and Promoting Brand Value via Social Media - to turn visitors into buyersI- Better working with OTAs Independent hotels have to understand how OTAs work in order to better workwith them. The most difficult thing for a hotel is to find the right balance, whichconsists in providing OTAs with a limited percentage of annual occupancy.A- Hypotheses related to the positive influence of OTAs in the directbooking strategy1- Discussion related to hypothesis 1Hypothesis 1 – “the potential of Google+ will make independent hotels as visible asWorld Hotel Groups and OTAs on Google search engine, so that online consumersare more likely to visit their website” Including OTAs within the direct booking strategy might seem audacious.However, we could see throughout the chapters, that Google favors OTAs on most ofits platforms. As this first hypothesis can not be validated, because so far Google+does not make independent hoteliers enough visible on its search engine, it wasessential to use the potential of OTAs in the direct booking strategy.In chapter 2, we could see that Google was ranking third party sites (OTAs included)on top of search results, when searching for “hotel san Francisco”(Appendix 2).Moreover, the first result was Google Hotel Finder, which also favors OTAs’presence (Appendix 3). As a result, OTAs benefit from large exposure on Google, andare therefore not encouraged to reduce the commissions they request to hotels. We   130  
  • 131. indeed saw in Chapter 1 (Appendix 4) that in 2011, 32% of independent hotels’reservations were made through OTAs’ websites, and only 10% of reservations weremade through their hotels’ own website.Until then, Google has favored OTAs’ online presence to independent hotels’presence, because OTAs’ business answers to online consumers’ expectations. This iswhy OTAs positioned themselves on so many diversified distribution channels(Appendix 5), on social media and on mobile as well (Appendix 6).2- Discussion related to hypothesis 4Hypothesis 4 – Hotel-Friendly OTAs will become as visible as global OTAs on searchengines, due to their efforts in providing an attractive consumer experience, and inrequesting low commissions or no commission to hotels” Today, in November 2012, Hotel-Friendly OTAs are not as visible as globalOTAs on Google search engine. As a result, it is too early to validate this hypothesis.If Hotel-Friendly OTAs are not favored by Google yet, it is because they are tooyoung to be referenced on Google. Global Hotel Exchange and MyBestHotelRatewere launched in 2011, Room Key in January 2012 and Treovi in July 2012.However, we can consider that Google will favor them soon, because they provide theonline experience that consumers are expecting (Appendix 7, 9, 10). We thereforeencourage independent hotels to start working with Hotel-Friendly OTAs, because asthese platforms usually let hotels manage their rates and inventory, it is a good way toprepare independent hotels to better work with global OTAs.B- The new OTA strategy independent hotels should consider  1- A step-by-step process to a more balanced approach The first step of the direct booking strategy requires hotels to deal with the rootof the problem: OTAs. We therefore recommend all hotels experiencing revenuedecline to follow the 4 steps process below140:- Step 1-Hoteliers should examine all their current distribution channels, and pay particularattention to the third party sites that play a part in generating bookings.141For example, hoteliers should make sure their hotel’s business information listing onTripAdvisor is updated, because reviews are highly visited on this site by onlineconsumers.                                                                                                                140  141­‐top-­‐five-­‐tips-­‐to-­‐increase-­‐your-­‐hotels-­‐exposure-­‐on-­‐otas.html     131  
  • 132. Top 10 Review Sites by Number of Reviews By Olery, The Naked Truth about Hotel Reviews, Top 10 Review Sites by Number of Reviews, Infographic, Published by BlizzardInternet, August 2012142Note:- Olery is an online reputation and social media monitoring company, for the leisureand hospitality industry.143Note: TripAdvisor is not an OTA. It is a local recommendation sites that works inpartnership with OTAs- Step 2-Hoteliers should stop partnering with OTAs that don’t generate many bookings,and furthermore request high costs (transaction fees, commissions, rate and inventorycontrols, etc.)- Step 3-Hoteliers should invest in low cost OTAs (also referred to as “Hotel friendly OTAs”in chapter 1) or no commission OTAs in order to save money, and retain control overrates, inventory and branding as much as possible.An example of no commission OTA is Treovi. It is a brand new online platform(launched in July 2012)144 that fully respects its role of intermediary between hotelguests and hotels. The latter can display their rooms for reservation with nocommission requirement, because hotels have to deal with inventory, rates, and roomdescription on their own145.- Step 4-Hoteliers should optimize the visibility of their hotels on OTAs’ websites by: - Updating content regularly - Opening up availabilities (inventory) - Ensuring rate parity - Considering vacation packages (air + hotels / hotels + car) - Advertising their hotels on OTAs’ devices (ex: Expedia TravelAds)                                                                                                                142­‐reviews-­‐infographic/#more-­‐5963  143  144  145     132  
  • 133. - Communicating with OTAs’ market managersHoteliers who work fairly with OTAs’ market managers are more likely to be givenmore exposure.2- Understanding OTAs’ business model Better working with OTAs also consists in understanding what are their revenuestreams and cost drivers. As explained in chapter 1, independent hotels have to followOTAs’ online development, because they rapidly adapt to the consumers’ behavior,and strategically position themselves where they are more likely to be visible.The graph below will enable hoteliers to figure out OTAs’ business model, butespecially help them to determine which of their own revenue streams they shouldoptimize to increase revenue as well. OTAs’ Main Revenue Streams and Costs Drivers By Emilie Alba, OTAs’ Main Revenue Streams and Costs Drivers, Graph, October 2012It should be mentioned that all OTAs have not invested in all these revenue streams,and don’t have to cover all these expenditure. Many mid-sized OTAs (especiallyEuropean OTAs) have indeed not invested yet in cost control and CRM systems, butthey are likely to do so in the future.   133  
  • 134. Some revenue streams and cost drivers deserve additional explanations146.- OTAs positioned themselves on non-air products (hotels, cruises, car rental, etc.)because they can apply high commissions, which are not applicable to air products.This is why OTAs benefit from higher margins with non-air products (especiallyhotels) than with air products. Non-air products are also likely to increase the numberof cross selling (through the creation of packages), which enables OTAs to positionthemselves on price, and build loyalty at the same time.- CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Systems help OTAs to modify any typeof information related to products and offers, and help to gain customer loyalty. It isdifficult to determine how much of total costs it represent for an OTA, because thecosts depend on the OTAs’ needs.147- Cost control through automation and outsourcing enables OTAs to focus on theirbusiness, while costs are automatically managed with no risk of human errors.- Marketing for OTAs consists of Search Engine Marketing (10$/booking), Meta-search, banner & advertising, SEO, tracking & reporting methodology and affiliatemarketing. The most important for hoteliers is to find where they can get revenue increase,and compete with OTAs. In the two previous chapters we have demonstrated that onsearch engines, it is impossible for independent hotels to compete with OTAs.However, hoteliers should rethink the way they way they use local recommendationsites and social media (highlighted in purple on the graph).Concerning local recommendation sites (like TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc.), hotels shouldoptimize their listing as much as possible. Optimizing a business listing simplyconsists in making sure that the right pieces of information of hotels are displayed,and in uploading recent photos with captions containing keywords. We alreadyexplained this in details in chapter 2, but it is important to emphasize, because itbrings high value to hotels brands.Social media will be further developed below, but it is important remind independenthotels to massively communicate about their best price guarantees, high value offersand loyalty programs. Many independent hotels do not provide loyalty programs yet,but they should use social media in the purpose of keeping their followers andcustomers’ loyal. A customer will become loyal if there is an interest to, namelyentertainment, regular offers, travel tips, tourism related information, etc.To finish with service fees and markups, hoteliers now have the possibility to dealwith hotel-friendly OTAs. We previously mentioned Treovi and Room Key, but wealso introduced MyBestHotelRate and Global Hotel Exchange in chapter 1. Inaddition, it should be recalled that it is essential for hotels to keep working withglobal OTAs, because a large part of consumers will discover hotels on these sites,                                                                                                                146­‐%20White%20paper%20On%20line%20Travel%20agencies.pdf  147­‐base/crm-­‐price-­‐cost/     134  
  • 135. before visiting the hotels’ websites. For example, according to Chris Anderson fromCornell University, 62% of IHG InterContinental Hotels (IHG)’ consumers visitedExpedia before booking on IHG’s website148.II- Optimizing the hotel’s web pages with social media Hotel website optimization is an essential step in the direct booking strategy,because it is the intermediary step before consumers arrive to the hotel’s social mediapages. According to the new direct booking strategy, the hotel’s website is aimed atcapturing visitors in their preferred social media touch points, instead of only gettingthem to make reservations on the website. To achieve so, the hotel’s social mediapages should be highlighted on the website home page, and an additional page(belonging to the website or not) should be dedicated to the social media environmentof the hotel.It is essential that the social page:- Reflects the hotel’s personality, to draw the consumer’s attention, and makehim/her want to visit the social media pages of the hotel.- Offer social benefits such as fan rates, early notification of exclusive deals,complimentary services (free parking, late check-out, etc.)Enhancing social media on a hotel’s website, therefore implies a “social media ”optimization of the website through SEO strategies.A- Hypotheses demonstrating the importance of social mediaintegration within hotels’ web pages1- Discussion related to hypothesis 1 and hypothesis 3Hypothesis 1 – “the potential of Google+ will make independent hotels as visible asWorld Hotel Groups and OTAs on Google search engine, so that online consumersare more likely to visit their website”Hypothesis 3 – “Google keeps developing its search engine, and keeps launching newtools and platforms likely to encourage businesses (hotels included) to be active onGoogle+” We demonstrated in the previous part that hypothesis 1 cannot be validated yet.However, based on the fact that Google developed its own social platform “Google+”,it means that Google values social media and the online consumer experience. This is                                                                                                                148­‐benefits-­‐of-­‐using-­‐OTAs     135  
  • 136. why we decided to devote one part of the strategy to the integration of social media(Google+ included) within hotels’ web pages.Highlighting social media on a hotel’s web pages (home page and external or internalsocial page) will increase the consumer experience. As a result, the hotel’s website ismore likely to be valued by Google, and ranked among the top results on Googlesearch engine. We assume that Google values online consumer experience because, asintroduced in chapter 2, Google launched “Knowledge Graph” (Appendix 11) alongwith the launch of Google+ Local, to make its search engine more visual (withphotos, reviews, maps, etc.) and to encourage online consumers to visit Google+Local pages. This fact obviously validates hypothesis 2. In addition, we assume that our direct booking strategy will convinceindependent hoteliers, because the strategy requests low costs, in that we especiallyrecommend hoteliers to optimize their social media presence and their website(website optimization and partnership with OTAs are the only strategy’s cost drivers).We could see in chapter 2, that getting more exposure and reducing distribution costsare a real need for independent hotels (Appendix 12). It is exactly what the strategy isaimed at, namely: increasing exposure through social media and OTAs, to get moredirect bookings and reduce distribution costs.To finish, independent hoteliers will be interested in adopting this strategy because itrequires the entire update of their online presence (including the update of theirGoogle accounts). In chapter 2, we noticed that more and more hoteliers startedconsidering the importance of Google. According to the study conducted by EHL andRate Tiger (Appendix 13) 30% of hoteliers (among 65 hotel chains and 35%individual hotels) mentioned the use of Google in their marketing strategy. Even if theuse of Google can only be limited to the use of Adwords for some hotels, the fact thathoteliers start giving importance to the visibility on Google is encouraging. Moreover,knowing that creating and managing a Google+ account is free, hoteliers will beinterested in the direct booking strategy.B- The social media strategy on hotels’ web pages1- Web pages optimization through keywordsFirst of all, it is important to understand the following points:The web pages to optimize are:- Website home page- Social Page (internal or external to the website)- Social media pages   136  
  • 137. The optimization consists in inserting social media related keywords in the followingwebsite component: • “Hotel description” part – located in the website’s source code (Google often makes this description appear in the results displayed on Google search) • Urls • Links / Backlinks - A backlink is a link coming from another website to your own149. • Tags – they are keywords or terms attached to a piece of information (such as a title, a box, a button, etc.) on the website. • Text + Photo/Video captionsEfficient social media related keywords would be:- Social Media- Fan Rates, Fan Offers- Facebook Like Rates- Social Preferred Rates- Social Fan Rates- Special Social Hotel Rates- Social Offers, Facebook Offers- Facebook Hotel Offers + destination2- Tutorials for keywords management within web pages Optimizing a website through keywords management is the most technical partof the strategy. Hoteliers should understand the basics; even though their role is toknow which keywords they want to use, and on which part of the site. The keywordsinsertion can be done by an IT professional.The tables below explain in details how the social media keywords should appear ineach website component mentioned above.                                                                                                                149     137  
  • 138. The Strategic Use of Social Media keywords to Optimize the Description of a Hotel on Web PagesBy Emilie Alba, The Strategic Use of Social Media keywords to Optimize the Description of a Hotelon Web Pages, Tutorial, October 2012 150                                                                                                                150  view-­‐source:,  view-­‐source:­‐media.aspx,  view-­‐source:,     138  
  • 139. URLs Optimization through the Use of Social Media KeywordsBy Emilie Alba, URLs Optimization through the Use of Social Media Keywords, Tutorial,October 2012151                                                                                                                151­‐friendly-­‐url-­‐syntax-­‐practices-­‐134218     139  
  • 140. Links/Backlinks Distribution on Each Web PageBy Emilie Alba, Links/Backlinks Distribution on Each Web Page, Tutorial, October 2012*Backlink: a link coming from another website to your own152.Before getting to the tags table, it is essential to understand what tags are and figureout the importance of tags in a website.In information systems, different types of tags exist: • Title tags - It is the descriptive name of a page that appears in the Header of HTML Source Code • H1 tags - describes the page topic • H2 tags - corresponds to topical headings • H3 tags - corresponds to sub-topical headings • Strong tags - enhances a page key phrase                                                                                                                152     140  
  • 141. Below is an example of the way tags appear in a website page source. By Emilie Alba, Hotel Sofitel So Bangkok & Bellagio Hotel Source Code, Programming, October 2012153                                                                                                                153  view-­‐source:­‐6835-­‐sofitel-­‐so-­‐bangkok/index.shtml,   view-­‐source:       141  
  • 142. Now it is easy to locate each tag on the websites. Visual Tags Location on “Hotel Sofitel So Bangkok” Website By Emilie Alba, Visual Tags Location on “Hotel Sofitel So Bangkok” Website, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012154                                                                                                                154­‐6835-­‐sofitel-­‐so-­‐bangkok/index.shtml     142  
  • 143. Visual Tags Location on Bellagio Hotel Website By Emilie Alba, Visual Tags Location on Bellagio Hotel Website, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012155                                                                                                                155     143  
  • 144. The “possible tags” table below is therefore easier to understand. Example of Tag Optimization through the Use of Social Media Keywords By Emilie Alba, Example of Tag Optimization through the Use of Social Media Keywords, Tutorial, October 2012These tutorials will enable hoteliers to review the keywords performance of their webpages, and start thinking about emphasizing their social media presence and activitieson their website.Before inserting the appropriate social media keywords into their website, hotelierswill have to create the social offers and benefits they will want to communicate aboutin their web pages. They will also have to think about redesigning the social parts oftheir website in order to draw the consumers’ attention.3- Social media optimized websites through effective design The home page of the website should emphasize the hotel’s social connection,because the aim of the direct booking strategy is to get consumers to visit the socialmedia pages of the hotel. The latter will indeed convey the hotel’s philosophy andlifestyle, which will trigger the consumers’ desire to make a reservation.The screenshot below is an example of design that highlights the social environmentof the hotel.   144  
  • 145. Design and Content of a Hotel’s Website Home Page Enhancing Social Media By Emilie Alba, Design and Content of a Hotel’s Website Home Page Enhancing Social Media, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012156Palms Casino Resort’s website above is the perfect example, because the home pagehighlights: • Social media buttons – on the top right-hand corner in pink color • Special offers – below social media buttons • Invitation to take part in a contest – central offer • Invitation to visit the social media pages – “get social” button, on the bottom right-hand cornerThe design and the social content of the home page enhance the hotel brand value. Itindeed conveys the dynamism and optimism of the brand, which is reassuring forleisure-oriented consumers.We can also notice the booking engine (on the top left-hand corner) that is simple ofuse and visible. Moreover, the hotel gives the possibility to book a package “flight +hotel”. The consumers interested in a package have, therefore, no reasons to go backto OTAs’ websites to make a reservation. The internal or external social page of a website should convey the hotel’ssocial environment. As the page is fully dedicated to social media, all the social touch                                                                                                                156     145  
  • 146. points have to be enhanced. The content should also entertain the visitors, andperfectly reflect the hotel’s personality.The 2 social pages below are representative examples of effective social pages. Design and Content of Palms Casino Resort’s Internal Social Page By Emilie Alba, Design and Content of Palms Casino Resort’s Internal Social Page, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012157                                                                                                                157     146  
  • 147. Design and Content of Fairmont Hotel’s External Social Page By Emilie Alba, Design and Content of Fairmont Hotel’s External Social Page, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012158Palms Casino’s social page better encourages consumers to visit their social mediapages through the use of the main social media buttons, and the embedding ofFacebook and Twitter Live Post boxes (framed in orange).In comparison, Fairmont Hotel’s social page is more guest experience-oriented,through the use of a photo contest (framed in green), and sharing and commentfeatures highlighted in the middle of the page. Unlike Palm Casino’s page, FairmontHotel’s page does not highlight enough the social media buttons. They are indeedlocated at the very bottom of the page, and the design does not encourage consumersto visit these social networks. Several world hotel groups recently decided to create an external social page,whose name does not refer to the hotel. Fairmont Hotel’s page “Everyone’s anoriginal” is a good example, but Four Seasons’ “Have a family, Will Travel” blog isanother excellent example. The aim of these external pages is to keep a close contactwith hotel guests all year long. They display diversified content (travel, cooking,health, etc.) just like a cultural and lifestyle magazine, while communicating about thehotel in parallel. It is a strategic way to get hotel guests to share articles from thesocial page with family and friends, who are new potential guests.                                                                                                                158     147  
  • 148. Independent Hoteliers are therefore recommended to either create an internalsocial page on their website, or an external social page (through the use of a free blogor mini website for example) to communicate about their social activities and offers.Social pages are a way for hoteliers to retain control of brand value, and to makevisitors adhere to the hotel brand (because they are convinced that they share the samevalues). III- Cultivating and promoting brand value via social media The direct booking strategy is also mainly based on the creation of high valuesocial offers. The latter will make the difference with the packages provided byOTAs, and will therefore turn visitors into buyers.To achieve this goal, the hotel’s presence and activities on social media have to behighly optimized, through the use of:- all popular social media touch points- updated high value social offers and benefits- social offers’ cross promotion and sharingA- Hypotheses highlighting social media power to enhance brandvalue 1- Discussion related to hypotheses 2 and 5Hypothesis 2 – “Online consumers will more and more refer to social media websitesbefore, during and after their trips or vacations”Hypothesis 5 – “Online consumers will also more and more trust the booking systemsembedded on social media to make hotel reservations” Hypothesis 2 can be validated because, as covered in chapter 3, through thestudy made by SearchMetrics about the influence of online factors on Google searchresults (Appendix 14), Facebook is considered as the most influential factor with its“share, comment, like” actions. As a result, if Google values Facebook’ factors somuch, it is because more and more consumers refer to Facebook on their every daylife. Hypothesis 5 cannot be validated because, we could see in chapter 3 that,according to a Forrester Research, “less than 1% of transactions could be traced backto “trackable” social links.” (c.f p.112) It means that consumers use social mediaplatforms to make purchases, or prefer using e-commerce websites or brands’websites. This fact explains why Facebook recently launched a “want” button(Appendix 15), that brands can embed and point towards their website or towardsanother e-commerce website. This is why our direct booking strategy encourages   148  
  • 149. hotels to embed the link of their website’ reservation system behind a “book now”button on Facebook.We also bank a lot on Facebook offers in our direct booking strategy because,according to a Google study in Chapter 1 (Appendix 16) both personal and businesstravellers use social media in their travel experience. Between 40% and 57% of themare especially interested in pictures, reviews and web discussions related to traveltopics. Throughout the thesis, I was not expecting that online consumers woulddiscover brands (related to hotels or any other products or services) on social media,whereas it is currently the case. I realized this trend when Elizabeth Craig, CEO ofOneglobe Network, shared her finding about the keywords research she did onGoogle Trends (Appendix 17). The results showed that online consumers use moreand more specific search terms involving the mention of brands on Google search.This means that online consumers discovered the brands before making researchabout them. We can therefore assume that they discovered the brands on social media.Two studies, by Forrester and InSites Consulting, confirmed this new consumer trendby revealing, in respective order that "48% of consumers discover new products orbrands on social media", and that "awareness of new social network site is very high,with almost 100% for Facebook and 80% for Twitter" (c.f. p.111)In addition, I realized that Airbnb had developed its own social platform "wish lists"that is based on the discovery process. This platform, which is similar to Pinterest,enables consumers to add to their wish lists all the accommodations they areinterested in, while "discovering" them. (Appendix 18)We ended up valuing Pinterest for the direct booking strategy because a research byeMarketer, reported that 47% of U.S are influenced to make purchases on thisplatform, against 33% on Facebook (Appendix 19) 2- Discussion related to hypothesis 3Hypothesis 3 – “Google keeps developing its search engine, and keeps launching newtools and platforms likely to encourage businesses to be active on Google+” This hypothesis can be once more validated with Google’s launch of authorshipfor online publisher (Appendix 20), which will certainly display companies’ logo onGoogle search in the future. This tool will obviously encourage businesses to beactive on their Google+ page in order to increase their visibility on Google searchengine. As a result, Google is currently communicating about the value of its socialplatform Google+, which promotes companies’ brand value.However, Google also communicated about the value Google+ Local could bring tocompanies’ brand value. In chapter 3, we demonstrated that Google+ Local wasincluded on each touch point (social media, website, recommendation sites andsearch) (Appendix 21). We also showed that Google+ Local was adapted to hotel   149  
  • 150. search, along with Zagat (Appendix 22). As a result, Google wants to convince hotelsthat they will get visibility when actively using its new social platform.Furthermore, Google made its Google+ social platform visually attractive to enticeboth companies and online consumers. In analyzing CitizenM Glasgow’s Google+Local page (Appendix 23), we indeed could notice Google’s efforts in optimizing itsplatforms with the ability to display photos, reviews, business information, etc.B- Brand value promotion strategy on social media  1- The use of all popular social media touch points Independent hotels have to be convinced that they can generate business fromsocial media platforms, if they strategically use the right platforms.The right platforms are the ones used by the general public, where information can beeasily shared, and that are accessible from all digital platforms (smartphones, tablets,laptops, etc.). Social Media platforms have to be free from rate parity agreements forall the special offers published. It has to be reminded that all the platforms with anaccess code don’t require rate parity agreements.Lastly, the social platforms have to provide the ability to embed a booking system.Many hotels are not ready to trust embedded booking systems on social platforms,however a simple “book now” button pointing towards the booking page of a hotel’swebsite can be as efficient. The best social platform responding to the 3 criteria mentioned above isobviously Facebook. However, although Pinterest still does not enable the embeddingof a booking system, it does not have to be ignored because, just like Facebook, it canstimulate growth for businesses.According to a February 2012 survey by BlogHer159, “Close to half of US femalePinterest users had gone on to make a purchase based on recommendations receivedon Pinterest, compared to around one-third of female users of Facebook orTwitter160.”Note: BlogHer is a news, information and entertainment community for womenonline, recognized as the largest community of women who blog, by Nielsen SiteCensus.                                                                                                                159­‐this-­‐network  160       150  
  • 151. The Influence of Pinterest on U.S. Women Purchase Decision Process By Emarketer, Pinterest Fosters Unique Shopping Behaviors, The Influence of Pinterest on U.S. Women Purchase Decision Process, Study, October 2012, Appendix 19161As Pinterest is being very successfully used by U.S. women, there is no doubt that theplatform will provide e-commerce features in the future (just like Facebook “want”button pointing towards e-commerce websites).2- The use of updated high value social offers and benefits Social offers and benefits are the trigger actions of the consumers’ purchasedecision, since as previously mentioned, they will make the difference with OTAs’rates and offers. This is why the social platforms have to display a visible bookingsystem, or a visible link towards the website’s booking page. When consumers areready to make a reservation, they should be able to do so from the social platformthey are currently using.Having a booking system on social networks is part of the social pages optimizationprocess. Before giving an example of effective communication on social networks, itis important to figure out what is an efficiently optimized social media page.The screenshots of Hotel Ares Facebook page below are a perfect example.                                                                                                                161     151  
  • 152. Hotel Ares Eiffel – Example of an Optimized Facebook Page By Emilie Alba, Hotel Ares Eiffel – Example of an Optimized Facebook Page, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012162 We can first notice the popularity of the page. It encourages visitors to “like”or “recommend” the page to family and friends. The more a page is “liked”, the moreit triggers additional “likes”.Secondly, the personalized URL (also known as “Vanity” URL) makes the sharingof the page more efficient. Web users are indeed more likely to click on a “clear”URL, rather than on a “messy” non-optimized URL.Thirdly, the booking tab is visible and made of the 4 keywords “book, rates, special,fan”. It should be reminded that Google favors businesses that enhance consumerexperience, by ranking them among the top search results. This Facebook booking tabis therefore perfectly optimized, because it makes the hotel reservation easier forconsumers. Concerning offers and benefits, to be efficient, a repetitive communication isnecessary, especially on social networks. Online consumers indeed watch only thelatest posts published by hotels. Offers and benefits have to be among them.                                                                                                                162     152  
  • 153. Hotel Ares Eiffel - Example of Communication Management on a Facebook Page By Emilie Alba, Hotel Ares Eiffel - Example of Communication Management on a Facebook Page, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012163On the example above, Hotel Ares communicates about both its website and bestguaranteed rates. Moreover, the hotel regularly publishes similar posts (the latestdating from the August 2 and October 19, 2012) to keep encouraging new consumersto visit the hotel’s website.The hotel also shows its proximity with the fans by addressing them with the phrase“dear fans” (it seems obvious, but many hotels forget such mentions, which moreovercount as keywords). In addition, the hotel shares keywords optimized links that pointtowards its website. The keywords “4-star Luxury Boutique Parisian Hotel”,automatically highlighted on Facebook, will indeed draw the attention of consumerswho are looking for a luxury boutique hotel. The Hotel’s effort in optimization earned it the second place on Google Search,when search is made with the terms “hotel paris facebook rates”, as we can see on thescreenshot below.                                                                                                                163     153  
  • 154. Hotel Ares Eiffel - Ranked Among the Top Results on Google Search Engine By Emilie Alba, Hotel Ares Eiffel - Ranked Among the Top Results on Google Search Engine, Screenshot and Analysis, October 20121643- Social offers’ cross promotion and sharing Cross promotion and sharing are all about communicating about the socialoffers.Cross promotion consists for a brand to communicate about its partnership withanother brand or celebrity, in order to attract customers, so that the two parties canbenefit from revenue. For example, when a hotel communicates about the reductionof a spa package including the beauty product of a famous brand, it is a matter ofcross promotion.Palms Casino Resort recently communicated on Facebook about a show that is takingplace within the hotel.                                                                                                                164     154  
  • 155. Example of a Hotel’s Visual Facebook Offer Involving Cross Promotion The  offer  is  visual  through  the  use  of   a   picture,   highlights   the   words   «  Presale  »,  and     shares  the  password  «  Reservations  »   to  get  reduced  price  for  the  show.     The   hotel   therefore   gives   opportunity   to   its   fans   to   benefit   from  a   special  offer,   and  increases   its   chance   to   convert   this   potential   audience  into  hotel  guests.   By Emilie Alba, Example of a Hotel’s Visual Facebook Offer Involving Cross Promotion, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012165 The following step, after the publication of an offer, is obviously the sharing ofthe latter. Palms Casino Resort tweeted out its offer, as shown in the screenshotbelow. The Sharing of Palms Casino Resort’s Offer on Twitter By Emilie Alba, The Sharing of Palms Casino Resort’s Offer on Twitter, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012166Palms Casino Resort perfectly manages the optimization of posts on Twitter. Thehotel indeed used the @ symbol that enhances people or brand mentions, the #symbol that highlights a keyword, and inserted a link pointing towards the offer.                                                                                                                165  166     155  
  • 156. Palms Casino Resort could have even more optimized the communication of its offerby sharing it on Google+ and Pinterest. Most hotels, whether they are world groups orindependents, don’t use Google+ as regularly as they use Facebook and Twitter. Not giving importance to Google+ is a serious negligence; all the more so asGoogle+ has just released “Authorship” for the large public. Google Authorshipfeature enables online publishers to have their photo and a brief description of them,displayed next to each of their results in search. It is therefore an opportunity to getexposure and visibility. The screenshot below is an example. The Visual Result of Authorship Verified Google+ Profiles on Google Search By Emilie Alba, The Visual Result of Authorship Verified Google+ Profiles on Google Search, Screenshot and Analysis, October 2012, Appendix 20167It can be assumed, from the launch of authorship for online publishers, that Googlewill soon adapt the latter for businesses. Google indeed recently released a code thatenables businesses to link together a Google Business Page and a Business Website,just like “authorship” links together online publishers’ websites and their Google+Profile.It is therefore very likely that Google will soon display businesses’ logo and briefdescription next to each of their results in search. Consequently, as Google willrequire that businesses’ content should be linked to their Google+ account beforevalidating their registration to authorship, businesses have to start optimizing theirGoogle+ page. To finish, all social offers don’t have to involve cross promotion. Hotels canregularly communicate about simple offers and get profitable results. Eye catchingand attractive design matters a lot because it is what is going to draw the customers’attention, and make them want to share these offers. To conclude, the direct booking strategy consists in better using and optimizingthe channels and platforms used by online consumers. By observing the consumers’behavior, and adapting to OTAs’ presence, we were able to rethink the wayindependent hotels generate bookings.                                                                                                                167     156  
  • 157. Social Media are the key elements of the strategy, because they seduce new potentialhotel guests everyday, and because they don’t involve much marketing andcommunication costs for independent hotels.In addition, adopting this direct booking strategy is the opportunity for independenthotels to update, and therefore optimize their online presence, which is an importantfactor in revenue generation. The visibility of social offers and benefits will simplyattract interested consumers, and potentially generate direct bookings. Some hypotheses concerning Google could not be validated because Googleranks websites on search engines through the use of algorithms. The latter beingconstantly reviewed, it is difficult to determine the factors that Google value morethan others. This is why it is important in web marketing to follow Googledevelopment. Google is indeed aware of the online consumers behavior thanks totheir advanced measurement tools, and therefore develops new tools and platformsaccording the new consumers’ needs and expectations. As a result, we were able toassume what Google values according to what they develop for web users. It is also important to follow Facebook development for the same reason asGoogle, especially as Facebook certainly has the most important number of resourcesto measure online consumers’ behavior. As a result, when a digital company launchesa new tool, web marketers have to wonder why they did so, make research accordingto their assumptions and anticipate the beginning of a new trend to optimize theironline presence. To finish, I did not compare the direct booking strategy with the work of others,because it is an innovation concept that is about to be communicated on thehospitality market. It has to be reminded that this innovation concept has been thoughtout by Elizabeth Craig, and I made research to optimize and set up the strategy forIndependent Hoteliers. While conducting the research, I was trying to find hotels(independent or not) whose website was optimized to social media, and whose socialsites were communicating and cross sharing social offers. World Hotel Groups tendto have an optimized website, but don’t communicate about social offers and are notactive enough on Google+. It is the case of Fairmont Hotel San Francisco168. As forindependent hotels, they are more and more active on social media through thepromotion of social offers, but ignore Google+ and have a non-optimized website.                                                                                                                168     157  
  • 158. - GENERAL CONCLUSION – The elaboration of this thesis shows that web marketing is a new job in thehospitality industry, and that independent hotels should closely work with webmarketing strategists specialized in the lodging sector.Throughout the paper, we indeed realize that it is essential for independent hotels thatweb marketers are familiar with hotel guests’ needs and expectations, and are awareof the constantly evolving online consumers’ behaviors. They also should have goodknowledge of OTAs’ business, but that of direct and indirect competitors in thelodging industry as well. To finish, they should be aware of Google’s emergingposition in the travel industry, and should therefore anticipate the potential benefitsfor independent hotels of the latest tools, features and platforms developed by digitalcompanies. The elaboration of the direct booking strategy thus implies the integration ofall these skills and knowledge, which are related to two different industries that arenow interdependent: the hospitality industry and the digital technologies industry. The direct booking strategy will enable independent hoteliers to generaterevenue, if they rethink their online strategies. The Internet, consumers, technologieskeep evolving. As a result, hoteliers can no longer be afraid of changing theirstrategies. It took time to hoteliers before they start getting interested in social media.However, we could see through this paper that social media is the solution to triggeronline consumers’ interest, and convince them to make reservations. In addition, hoteliers should not ignore OTAs, because they can make themost of their billboard effect to attract consumers on their hotel’s website. To finish, they should pay attention to Google’s social platform, because,although today the general public is not using it, being active on it will enhance onlinevisibility. When carrying out the thesis and before the elaboration of the direct bookingstrategy, I was skeptical about the way to proceed with global OTAs, which requestthe highest commissions, and about the effectiveness of Google + social platform. Concerning global OTAs, I was not certain whether independent hotels shouldkeep partnering with them, especially as no-commission and low-commissions OTAsare emerging, and turn out to be profitable for hotels. However, the study of onlineconsumer behavior and Google’s constant enhancement of OTAs, show that ignoringthe latter could be harmful for independent hoteliers. It is worth learning to betterwork with OTAs, and especially making the most of their billboard effect. As for Google + social platform, before the launch of Google + Local in June2012, the optimization of Google+ social pages had no concrete influence on hotels’online visibility. We were therefore wondering if it was not a waste of time to keepoptimizing the pages, especially as most online consumers don’t use Google+.However, with the release of Google+ Local that gives importance to customerreviews, Google+ social platform gained interest, all the more so as the platform wasfurther integrated to Google Search and Google Maps.   158  
  • 159. We also realized that, in 2012, online consumers were more and morediscovering brands and products directly on social media platforms. It led us to realizethat competing on broad search terms with hotels and OTAs was more and moreuseless, all the more so as Google favors third party sites’ presence on Google Search.This is why, for the direct booking strategy, we decided to optimize hotels’ websitesand social pages with social media-related keywords, content and design. The suggested direct booking strategy is currently being tested on OneglobeNetworks’ clients, and should be the object of a press article on famous online newswebsites like Tendance Hotellerie and Tnooz.   159  
  • 160. - WEB REFERENCES -Chapter 1I- A B,,,,,,, A C   160  
  • 161.,, 2I-A B,mod=0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8I- C;l=Argonaut+Hotel,+Jefferson+Street,+San+Francisco,+CA;d=2012-11-01;n=1;h=15751763593913061514;si=312a1ba1II- A B,mod=0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8   161  
  • 162. II- C 3I-A A!categories/youtube/report-a-technical-issue!msg/business/YoBCFp7siWM/6zUrgk13qsUJ ADistribution Channel Analysis: A Guide for Hotels, by C.Estis Greens & M.V. Lomanno, January 2012   162  
  • 163. III- C,view-source:,,view-source:                             163  
  • 164. - LIST OF APPENDICES –  Appendix 1 - 2012 - Percentage of Reservation on OTAs and Hotels websites for ChainHotels and Independent HotelsAppendix 2 - The Enhancement of Third Party Sites Visibility on Google Search EngineAppendix 3 - Online Exposure Comparison of Hotels and OTAs on Google Hotel FinderAppendix 4 - 2011 - Percentage of Reservation on OTAs and Hotels Websites for Brandedand Non-Branded HotelsAppendix 5 - OTAs Presence on Distribution ChannelsAppendix 6 - OTAs Position in the Online Distribution SystemAppendix 7 - Room Keys Search System (July 2012)Appendix 9 - MyBestHotelRates Search System and Home Page (July 2012)Appendix 10 - Global Hotel Exchanges Search System and Home Page (July 2012)Appendix 11 - Googles Enhancement of User Experience on its Search EngineAppendix 12 - Hotel Revenue Managers Main Challenges in 2012Appendix 13 - The Percentage of Hoteliers Digital Marketing Practices in 2010-2012Appendix 14 - Search Engine Ranking Factors in 2012Appendix 15 - Facebooks "Want" Button - A Discovery Oriented Social FeatureAppendix 16 - Percentage of Travelers Using Social Media during their Travel ExperienceAppendix 17 - The Increase of Standard Search Terms According to Google TrendsAppendix 18 - Airbnbs Wish Lists - A Discovery Oriented Social PlatformAppendix 19 - The Influence of Pinterest on U.S. Women Purchase Decision ProcessAppendix 20 - The visual Result of Authorship Verified Google+ Profiles on Google SearchAppendix 21 - Googles Social Extension through the launch of Google+ Local to targetBusinesses Online ConsumersAppendix 22 - Zagat Rating has been Extended to HotelsAppendix 23 - CitizenMs Permanent Google+ Local Page   164  
  • 165. - APPENDICES -Appendix 1Appendix 2   165  
  • 166. Appendix 3Appendix4   166  
  • 167. Appendix 5Appendix 6   167  
  • 168. Appendix 7Appendix 9   168  
  • 169. Appendix 10Appendix 11   169  
  • 170. Appendix 12Appendix 13   170  
  • 171. Appendix 14   171  
  • 172. Appendix 15Appendix 16   172  
  • 173. Appendix 17Appendix 18   173  
  • 174. Appendix 19Appendix 20   174  
  • 175. Appendix 21Appendix 22   175  
  • 176. Appendix 23   176