At this week’s Choice Hotels Conference in Las Vegas, Karmela Gaffney, VP of digital commerce at Choice Hotels International, shared insights on the hotel company’s new digital presence and website. “Our team has been researching, testing, trying, failing, and triumphing ever since the last day of the 2014 convention,” she told the 6,000-strong crowd of owners and general managers, “Because that’s the day we officially started creating the new ChoiceHotels.com.”
Over the past year, the digital team spent an estimated 45,000 hours testing more than 375 designs for the new website. A key element to updating the site for a new generation of travelers was updating the images from each hotel represented. “When your website is dated and your photos are dated, customers assume that if they use your service, they’re gonna have an outdated experience,” Gaffney said. To that end, Choice is taking new photos of every one of the hotels in its portfolio, with 1,400 properties completed to date and a “very aggressive timeline” to get to the rest. “We will complete over 5,000 hotels by next March,” Gaffney said, “and we’re taking between 30-40 new photos of every property.” Previously, every hotel’s page only had between 10 and 15 images of the rooms and public spaces, she noted, but the new photography will be high-res and in-depth to draw potential guests in.
Beyond the still photos, Choice is also shooting custom virtual tours for all room types as well as Google Business View virtual tours—“that’s the exclusive Google 360-degree experience that will give your properties additional exposure directly within Google,” Gaffney promised. “Some other hotel chains provide stills or Google Business View tours, but we are the only hotel company providing all three,” at no additional charge to the franchise owners or managers.
Then there’s the website itself, which Gaffney describes as “simple and welcoming” and that “appeals to Millennials and others who might never have considered Choice before.” Choice is positioning itself at the top of the organic Google searches, and the site itself can be adjusted to display results by location, price or rating. When guests view hotel pages, the site sends messages to encourage booking: “Only one room left at this rate!” “100 people have booked this hotel in the last 24 hours!” Moving the final “make reservation” button to the left so that it is aligned with the rest of the page improved conversion by 1.78 percent, which translates to an additional $20 million in revenue.
With Google now requiring mobile optimization for top rankings in search results, the site is also adaptive for a consistent experience on smartphones, tablets or traditional computers. “And it does it in eight languages,” Gaffney added, “because Choice is an international company with hotels in 30 countries.
“Changing a button location, changing verbiage on a call to action or small changes on the booking path—these are all things that can impact revenue,” Gaffney told the crowd. “Just doing this, we project to deliver an additional $75 million for your hotels.”