Info Directed to Travelers, Home Hunters at Touch of Fingers
Posted: October 29, 2012
Travel specialist Carole Downey is photographed helping visitors Oct. 22 at the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center on the cover of the Shenandoah Valley Business Journal for Oct. 29. (Photo by Michael Reilly)
Just as Smartphones are a growing source for those looking into travel destinations, or even their next townhouse, they are also becoming a significant medium for booking accommodations.
A Google statistic from the Mobile Ads Blog in May 2011 reported that 19 percent of hotel queries came from mobile devices. Among Smartphone app users, the rate of people using travel-related apps has grown 116 percent in the last year, according to a June 2012 Nielsen survey.
For hospitality and rental businesses in the Valley, keeping up with the mobile-booking trend means subscribing to popular sites as a way to connect with potential customers.
Sites such as Expedia, Rent.com and Travelocity act as search engines for consumers to sort their preferences and create profile pages listing matching hotels, apartments, etc. They may list ratings or comments about the establishments, but ultimately, they’ll direct the customer to contact information for the individual business or an agency to begin the standard process of signing leases and checking into rooms or new places to live.
Direct to the Consumer
Eve Carter, who owns the Inn at Old Virginia in Staunton, lists her business on BedandBreakfast.com, and pays an additional subscription fee for more listings on associated websites like Hotels.com.
“We’re probably out there in front of a much higher number of potential guests and probably a different demographic: more college-educated, higher income, the usual demography for a bed and breakfast.”
Most of her guests book online or call ahead, but new social media resources could change the process in the future.
“We are starting to look at mobile particularly because this has really changed the timeframe between making a reservation and actually arriving,” Carter said. “It used to be that reservations would be made two to three weeks in advance, but it’s not uncommon now to get a phone call from someone coming that night and, if they had the mobile app, they could book it on their own.”
Last month, Travelocity joined Expedia and Priceline by launching a mobile app allowing users to search their location and book hotel rooms at the last minute. Because the Inn at Old Virginia requires 24 hours’ notice to make bookings, Carter said she is looking at ways to make it work.
Larger Target Market Tapped
Chain hotel companies dominate the Harrisonburg listings on search sites such as Hotels.com, but small businesses have also increased visibility by participating in sites that increase visibility.
For example, the Harrisonburg search page on Hotels.com features a special deal from the Stonewall Jackson Inn at 547 West Market St. Wayne Engle, the inn owner, has used these websites since he began the business 13 years ago.
“Our online business through our webpage is about 85 percent of our business,” Engel said, in part, because about half of his customers come from out of state. “We have reservation directories that book for us or that we’re on where we’re visible on the Internet, like Tripadvisor.com, BedandBreakfast.com, Hotels.com, Travelocity. About seven years ago, print advertising went out and now, predominately, we’re online.”
Niche Marketing Connections
Matchbox Realty Chief Operating Officer Mike Hendricksen found that, if nothing else, most people start their property search by using the Internet before approaching a management company.
“A lot of people we deal with are pretty knowledgeable about what they want and pretty savvy about how to find that on the Internet before they even try to set up a showing or call us, Hendricksen said. “Certainly, the majority of the student-management side of what we do, at least 75 percent of them, will start looking online before they contact us. For local residents, probably half at least.”
Hendricksen said that most of the business’ activity is online, and although the Internet hasn’t necessarily changed the costs of advertising, it’s changed how businesses have chosen to spend on different marketing mediums. Matchbox Realty uses sub-brands to attract different markets: HarrisonburgHousing.com for adult residents and OffCampusHousing.com for students. Both of these brands are on Twitter and Facebook.
“If nothing else, we try to be interactive with our prospective [customers] if they remain interactive,” Hendricksen said. “The big picture is, the Internet is where most things start these days and if you don’t have [your business online], then someone else will.”
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