The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 3, 2013

Hotels check in to Web for a long-term stay

(Continued)

Welch said revenue rose about 20 percent from 2011 to 2012. This year so far, it’s up another 10 percent. Today, about 70 percent of the rooms at the Sterling are occupied each night, compared with about 55 percent in 2011.

Welch attributes the improvement to increased online advertising and the end of the recession.

She reaches out to customers and builds the hotel’s reputation by monitoring online customer reviews and responding to them in a timely fashion.

“Whether it’s good or bad, it is good to respond to (show) that you’re paying attention,” Welch said.

By getting good reviews, smaller, independent hotels like Amber House and the Sterling can vault to the top of search pages on such popular sites as Google, Expedia and TripAdvisor. They can also take out paid advertisements on TripAdvisor that will showcase their hotels’ contact information alongside customer reviews. Google’s AdWords service allows hotels to target specific keywords that potential guests use when searching for hotels.

Larger hotels are also highly conscious of their online presence, and are fighting to stay at the tops of those pages, too. But because Internet ads are relatively inexpensive, it is harder for them to dominate.

“With AdWords, the quality and relevance of an ad are just as important as the amount an advertiser is willing to spend,” Google spokeswoman Winnie King said in an emailed statement.

In this changed market, consumers themselves possess unprecedented power. The savviest aren’t just looking at online hotel reviews; they’re scrutinizing and comparing prices using multiple online booking sites, said Anthony Dimond, a hotel adviser and asset manager at Horwath HTL, a hospitality consulting firm.

The recession made both leisure and business travelers extremely conscious of room rates and forced hotels to be increasingly competitive with one another, Dimond said. Travelers are getting better at shopping around, and hotels have taken to hiring revenue managers that monitor room rates to make sure they’re competitive with other hotels in the region.

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