Boutique Hotel Website Re-Design Case Study

As we’re currently working on a boutique hotel website with a hotel booking system, we thought it’ll be fun to reveal what we do when we say we are working on a website design project.

The Challenge:

Rose, the owner of a boutique hotel in George Town, approached us because she had 2 problems. One, her website was in need of a redesign because it was outdated. Second, she had purchased a hotel booking system but this system couldn’t be integrated into her website and her current website designer didn’t have a clue how to help her. When we looked at her website, we saw that the design did not do justice to the beautiful hotel she had. The booking system was too complicated to use even if we managed to integrate it into her website. And they were paying hefty commissions and fees on a monthly basis to third-party sites because they didn’t have a booking system in their own website. For every room they sold on a third-party site, they had to pay a certain percentage of fees. (This is why we encourage business owners to learn how to market their own businesses. When you have marketing skills, you have much better control of how and where you want to market. If you have no marketing skills or poor publicity, you rely on third-party sites to help you market. If you haven’t figured it out, it is always better for the long-term of your business to focus on strengthening your marketing. If you don’t, well, you’ll always be relying on third-party sites to help you market.) Third-party sites like Agoda were “marketing” their hotel, but they also knew their hotel would always be seen side by side with their competitors! (That’s the pro and con of using a marketplace website!) Here’s the thing: if you have a problematic website, it is always best to start new. In our case, we never build on or continue with problematic websites. When we design a client’s website, we design it using our own methodology. This means we always host the website on our own premium, private servers for easier management and troubleshooting.

The Solution:

First, we had to talk to Rose’s hotel manager and find out what exactly her needs were. Her manager was still using a manual way to record and manage hotel bookings and guest reservations. She collated all her sources of bookings by hand by tallying her sold rooms with third-party sites, walk-in guests and phone-in guests on a daily basis. Her master list of rooms was basically a book with pencil markings on dates! When we saw this, we knew that she needed a proper hotel system – basically a master list online instead of a paper list. A paper list/book/log can get lost or stolen. Second, this hotel wanted to reduce the commissions and fees they were paying out on a monthly basis to third party sites. That was the original reason why they had a piece of hotel booking software stuck on their website. They had problems with integrating their old booking system into their website because they were working with 2 different providers. The online hotel booking system was purchased from a separate vendor (who probably didn’t bother to find out if the system could be used on the existing website). Rose and her hotel manager realised that they couldn’t even log into their booking system. (Here’s the lesson: if you want to integrate a piece of software or programming into your website, always discuss options with your website designer. Don’t assume all software can “talk” to each other just because they’re software.) We suggested that we would design their entire website from the ground up to include a more user-friendly hotel booking system which served their needs. We spoke to the hotel manager and in the process, learnt a few things too about managing a boutique hotel. A boutique hotel isn’t like a commercial hotel which hundreds of rooms. This boutique hotel only had 8 suites. However, competition is stiff in George Town because so many hotels and hostels are often side-by-side. Tourists are spoilt for choice and they’re also spoilt by the idea that they can “book now and pay later” (a practice that gives lots of headache to hoteliers!). As their hotel is also listed on third-party sites like Agoda and Booking, managing the rooms’ availability is akin to walking a tightrope. You never know if a guest will turn up (since she can pay later or cancel her booking at the last moment). Or some guests will price-shop not knowing that third-party hotel reservation sites don’t include GST and hence the price will often look cheaper when you compare it to the rates on the hotel’s official website. The hotel couldn’t use PayPal for transactions as this meant higher fees when compared to their credit card machine (PayPal charges 4.4% + RM2 per sale versus 1-2% if using a credit card machine). Plus if they accepted and transacted the full rate online, what if the guest cancels and asks for a refund? They’d make a loss because they’d have to return the amount paid by the guest and have to absorb the PayPal transaction fee! Cancellations are a high possibility – it could be due to something out of their control such as the current haze situation! Funnily, most travellers aren’t like Nic or me. When we book a holiday, we make a decision and pay in full when we book. We rarely change our minds about hotels unless they are really lousy. Perhaps we’re a rarity! Our belief is this: you can always make more money but the ridiculous amount of time spent price-shopping or hunting for bargains is an absolute waste of precious time that we can use to serve our clients and yes, make more money! Eventually, we suggested that the hotel can avoid refund issues if their website just accepted bookings without the need to accept payment. However, they would need to hold on to the guests’ credit card details (guests can be charged for a no-show) but this also meant additional security layers. (If you take credit cards for whatever reason online, you must put security as your top priority. It costs money, but it costs less than having your customer accuse/sue you for credit card fraud or theft.) We also suggested that they should start using an online booking system as their master list. This way, Rose and her manager could easily check on the daily bookings even if they were not at the hotel and they could easily login online to update and tally bookings on a daily, even hourly basis. We also suggested that the hotel needed to offer more perks to attract travellers to book directly at their website instead of going through third-party sites. We gave them further ideas about how this can be done so that they can slowly reduce their dependency on third-party sites and start doing their own active marketing with their official website. This was just about the booking system. What about the website redesign? We always inform clients that the reason they commission us is that we not only solve their technical problems (as explained above) but we also know how to help clients attract the customers they need. The previous website of theirs didn’t show how marvellous the decor was. We knew that if travellers/guests could see the beautiful teak furniture and gorgeously decorated suites imbued with history, they’d fall in love immediately even before they stepped into the hotel. Part of excellent website design is to make prospects fall in love with your business even if they’ve never met you yet! But that’s not all. The website content or the words on the website needed to be as informative as possible. It helps that we can imagine ourselves as travellers. Most hotel websites never think from the viewpoint of their hotel guests. They don’t offer context nor content. When we write, we think about context as well as content. Context helps your website visitors/hotel guests find their bearings and orient themselves. As Penangites, we have no problem imagining landmarks, roads and signs in Penang. But if you’re coming from Hong Kong or Italy or Korea, you have no idea where this road is or how far your hotel is from the airport! (If you want to know what quality information in terms of context and content is, check out Singapore and Hong Kong tourism websites. These two countries are amazing when it comes to attracting tourists to return year after year.) As travellers, we need to know if we can easily get food, if taxis are available and how much especially if you’re coming from the airport, how far is the airport to the hotel, what you can do or see around your hotel vicinity or where the money-changer is! The hotel website needed to answer the most basic of questions while offering enough information without overwhelming anyone. If you’re a seasoned traveller, you never trust photos of hotel suites because wide-angle lens always makes suites look larger than they seem! Giving people sizes of rooms in meters or feet does nothing to help make decision-making faster. What does 32 square meter tell you about a room? Unless you can imagine 32 square meter of space, information like this just serves to confuse most people. We decided that it’s better to have content like “fits 3 adults comfortably” rather than 32 square metre room. We also gave distances in terms of minutes such as “2 minutes walk to the nearest convenience store” rather than “near to shops and malls”. We even timed ourselves walking from the hotel to the convenience store! That’s the level of research and work we do when we’re commissioned to design a website. Being clear with your website communication serves many purposes: the hotel gets fewer calls because your guests can self-serve themselves at your website. Also, little details help your guests make informed decisions. Specific information that serves your website visitors’ needs makes your hotel feel warmer, more human and indirectly, more credible.

The Results:

The redesigned website got the thumbs-up from Rose and her hotel staff. The website now looks more inviting, spacious, brighter and convincing. (We go to the extent of individually fine-tuning the colours of the photos so that the overall colours are brighter and lighter.) The first thing the hotel manager noticed is that she was getting a lot more enquiries from the website. In the past, her emails would take forever to send out and arrive. We introduced her to a faster method of retrieving, checking and replying her emails. The key amenities (all-day cafe, swimming pool and rooftop patio) are now highlighted prominently on the Homepage. Our goal is to always help clients accentuate their best (this is what marketing is about!). If you’re a hotel owner who wants guests to book directly at your website so you can save on the commissions and fees you pay out to third-party sites, consider working with us at Redbox Studio. We start with a discovery session to find out where your strengths are and what your hotel guests could be looking for. After this session, you can decide how and when to move forward with the development of your online marketing ecosystem which starts with a website of your own. If you are not ready yet to market yourself online, here’s how we can still help you:

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