The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 3, 2013

Hotels check in to Web for a long-term stay

Hotels are steadily recovering from the recession, but that doesn’t mean it’s back to business as usual.

The rapid rise of online booking and reviews in the past several years has sharpened competition as travelers consider service, price and location on websites visited by hundreds of thousands of potential guests.

The Web has given small hotels a better chance of competing with their larger counterparts for out-of-town travelers, but all owners need to be constantly vigilant about protecting their online reputations.

Amber House Bed and Breakfast, a 10-room inn tucked into a residential street in Sacramento, Calif., has seen its business transformed by online exposure.

When Judith Bommer bought Amber House in 2004, she quickly realized she wasn’t reaching many customers by spending the majority of her advertising budget on Yellow Pages ads. So she began scaling back her print ads and instead began advertising on Google and TripAdvisor while working with online booking sites.

Nine years later, 50 percent of her business comes from the Internet, Bommer said. The hotel now sits at the top of the TripAdvisor results page for Sacramento bed and breakfasts, and has an online ad allowing customers to easily find its phone number and website.

Business at Amber House dipped during the recession but has recovered to pre-recession levels, she said, adding that positive reviews of her hotel’s service have helped draw people.

“All the marketing we do is online,” Bommer said. “We don’t do any print advertising.”

Angela Welch, who manages the 16-room Sterling Hotel in downtown Sacramento, also advertises with Google and TripAdvisor, and does about 25 percent of her booking online.

Advertising with Google is inexpensive because the company charges a fee only when visitors click on the link to the Sterling Hotel’s website, Welch said. The search engine ads, combined with increased use of online booking, has changed the mix of guests at the Sterling. Welch said the hotel once depended heavily on business travelers and weddings but now pulls in more tourists, who tend to book online.

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