Corisande Manor on the Web
Initial investment: Web storage space and name registration cost about £350 a year (although free Web space is available, Grant recommends buying into a good provider which will give faster connection and less downtime)
Annual fees: Grant does his own programming and promoting so has no additional annual cost, but hoteliers should expect to pay about £1,000 for a Web site to be set up and managed for the first year
Average number of visits to the Corisande Web site in the first year: 25 per day
Turnover from bookings from Web site enquiries in the first year: £50,000
Average number of visits to the Corisande Web site in the second year: 50 per day
Turnover from bookings from Web site enquiries in the second year: £100,000
Projected turnover for third year: about £130,000
You may be wondering what benefits an Internet site could bring to your hotel. Having done the calculations, I believe that it can add at least £10,000 a year to the average hotel's turnover. And if the Web site is working effectively, then profits could be 10 times that sum.
Without any previous Internet knowledge I set up a Web site to promote our hotel in May 1997, and by this time next year I expect to add an extra £130,000 to our annual turnover.
I have found that for every six Web visitors a day, I can expect a reservation every 16 days on average, which is worth about £10,000 in turnover. Or, put differently, every visitor to the Web site will bring you £5 worth of bookings in the long run.
The profit depends on the number of surfers visiting the site. While six a day would bring about £10,000 of turnover per year, 60 a day could equate to £100,000 turnover per year. If it has cost you, say, £1,000 a year to have a Web site built and promoted, then this is a reasonable return on the investment.
But how do you measure the number of Web site visitors and, more importantly, how do you increase that number? There are lies, damn lies and statistics. Taking the figures from my own sites, I can see that one visitor to a Web site views two pages per visit and accounts for 20 "hits". In Web-speak, hits mean very little. They arise merely because each Web page that a visitor views comprises not just the page, but also the photographs, buttons, logos, etc, that make up the page. Each is registered as a hit. Merely looking at a single page of my site generates 10 hits. The same visitor looks at two pages on average, and hence notches up 20 hits. Hits mean nothing.
Forget hits. The only thing of interest to a hotel is how many individual visitors the hotel Web site attracts. I have recently done a study of 20 different hotel Web sites. Each was an individual hotel with its own site and was not part of a bigger site. The range of visitors was interesting and the hotels were a good market cross section.
My conclusions from this study are that a poorly performing Web site attracts three or fewer visitors per day; an average-performing site four to nine visitors per day; and a good site gets 10 to 20 visitors per day. Few hotel sites currently get more than 20 visitors per day.
So why do some hotels attract more visitors to their Web site than others?
There are various levels at which a hotel's site gets visitors. A site may have been created, but no matter how good it is or how many gizmos it has, unless it is on the database of the top eight "search engines" out there in cyberspace, then fewer than two or three visitors per day will find it. A search engine is like an automatic book finder in a library. Users of the Web enter key words and phrases for the search engine to supply them with a list of Web sites which have registered those same words and phrases. So, step one is to ensure your hotel's Web site is actually on the databases. Once it is successfully there you can expect four to nine visitors per day.
But being on the database is only the first step. Ask a search engine for "a hotel in Cornwall" and it will offer you a choice of about a million references. Helpfully, it ranks its suggestions in what it considers to be the order of relevance to the enquirer. Unless your hotel comes up in the first 20 or 30 references, then the surfer is unlikely to find your Web site.
Getting good search-engine positioning, which is a black art and part of the programming of the Web pages, will get the number of visitors up to between 10 and 20 per day, which is the ceiling of most hotels' Web aspirations.
To increase the number of Web site visitors even further, the answer is to funnel visitors in from other sites. Advertising on a big commercial site, however, in my experience does not increase the number of visitors. I have a paid "link" to my site on the British Tourist Authority (BTA) site, and my own logs have not picked up a single referral from this site in nearly a year, although it costs me about £80 annually. The dilution effects of these big sites are enormous. The BTA claims 6,000 users a day, but also claims 24,000 holiday businesses on its database - you can see, therefore, that no one business is going to attract many visitors.
You are going to attract more visitors to your site only if you can find a way of luring them there. I have set up a separate Web site, "Cornwall calling", supplying information on Cornwall with the added suggestion that if you are coming to Cornwall then stay at our Cornish hotel.
This has successfully doubled the number of visitors to my hotel Web site. I have followed this up with "Wales calling" and "Devon calling" to promote hotels whose Web sites I have written. The rest of the UK will follow in due course.
Now that you understand how to get visitors, back to the economics. Out of every 100 visitors to your site, you can expect about two to e-mail you. And of these two, expect one to actually book.
We average about £500 per reservation as we are a seaside hotel in Cornwall, and most people book three or four nights (very few book one night; some book a fortnight). So that is how the economics build up.
The Internet operates on a law of averages. In the end, the success of your Web site depends fundamentally on getting enough users every day. Attract more users to your site and business for your hotel will improve in proportion. Remember, it is £5 a visit. n
David Grant now offers a Web site construction service for other hotels through his company Soft Options, which can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com