Booking the Web

In a slow economy, businesses polish online presence.

Booking the Web
Few industries have been hit harder than the hospitality industry as belt-tightening corporations slash travel budgets and consumers cut back on travel plans because of fears of terrorism, job loss and even disease.

Faced with these pressures, a well-developed Web marketing channel is becoming more and more important to businesses such as hotels and cruise lines seeking to boost online reservation conversion rates and customer loyalty.

Developers Art Technology Group Inc. and SPSS Inc. are among the Web analytics vendors rolling out software designed to make hospitality companies Web sites more effective. ATG, of Cambridge, Mass., will an-nounce later this month the beta release of ATG Analytics, an application that offers new analytic capabilities for measuring the effectiveness of scenario-based marketing campaigns, officials said.

Chicago-based SPSS last month released Version 6 of its NetGenesis Web analytics application, which offers a redesigned data importer for improved performance, including better utilization of underlying hardware, SPSS officials said. Reports also run faster in this release, thanks to tuning and new aggregates for complex reports such as clickstreams.

Hyatt Corp. once got by with only a static "brochure" site. While the site could handle online reservations, it didnt recognize returning customers, nor did it prefill the reservation form, according to Tony Pecucci, director of electronic distribution and marketing for Hyatt, in Chicago. "We had no personalization, no scenarios, no marketing opportunities," Pecucci said.

To enhance its Web presence and capabilities, Hyatt deployed ATGs Scenario Personalization application around the middle of last year. In doing so, it formed a dialogue with prospective customers, travel agents and corporate travel planners. Visitors could register at the site, tell Hyatt their travel preferences and interests, and sign up for e-mail marketing offers. When users signed in to the site after registering, the site showed personalized information and offers.

"We can track successes and failures, what works and what doesnt, and make alterations as we go," Pecucci said.

Customer responses can be tracked as well as revenues produced and profitability of the offers, Pecucci said.

"At the end of the day, we can see what kind of reservations and booked business we got as a result of the personalization and marketing offers," Pecucci said.

With the scenario modeling technology in ATGs Scenario Server, Hyatt can model "if, then" scenarios, determining what to show or offer which customers based on what they click on at the site.

Offers that result in the highest conversion rates are then considered for advertising campaigns to attract more customers to the site.

Since deploying Scenario Personalization, Hyatt has seen a 20 percent uptick in its online registration. The company has also seen a 30 percent increase in gift certificate sales at the site. In addition, the company can gauge price sensitivity and compete better with discount travel sites such as Expedia Inc. and Orbitz LLC, Pecucci said.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has battled through many of the same competitive pressures as Hyatt, with last winters Norwalk Virus scare an additional threat. The Miami-based company, like Hyatt, has emphasized its Web sales channel.

Using an earlier version of SPSS NetGenesis software, Royal Caribbean can track how customers at its trade and consumer sites respond to promotions the cruise line runs and how far they advance through the booking process. Based on those responses, promotions can be tweaked to ensure a higher response, said Elizabeth Arno, senior business analyst for e-marketing at Royal Caribbean.

The company has also improved efficiencies in its registration process, with registration up 20 percent since deploying NetGenesis, Arno said. Web bookings are up, too, she said, though she didnt have any official numbers.

"I can track the bookings through the different phases of the purchase decisions, see how customers respond to promotions, to pricing, to the different cabins that are available and see where they drop off," Arno said.