Want a Good Night’s Sleep? Click Here

By Beacon Staff

This is the finale of my look at Flathead business websites, so let’s look at places to sleep around the Flathead – or more accurately, let’s look at their websites.

Again, we’ll skip the franchise/national chains since they are all going to be operating whatever web site infrastructure their corporate parent gives them.

This week, the news is much better. A good number of the independently owned hotels, motels and bed & breakfasts in the Flathead have a website, and quite a few are pretty good.

Ideally, a quality hotel website includes contact info, a map to your facility (something quite a few left out), extensive photos (and optionally, video), details about your rooms, amenities and staff, and most importantly, lets you make a reservation.

The big difference between independent hotel websites and the chains is the ability to make an instant reservation based on up to the minute availability info. People are impatient. Giving them (effectively) a paper form to fill out that doesn’t “know” about the availability of rooms on a certain date 9 months from now just doesn’t cut it these days.

A couple of hotel sites offered online reservations, but most didn’t do so without making you contact the hotels to confirm (or wait for a response). One Flathead B&B included a visual display of available dates for each room, a nice touch. That’s exactly the kind of interaction and ease of use that people want.

When I tried booking a room at one of the bigger independents, the system told me a room wasn’t available – but it didn’t offer suggestions for nearby facilities within their hotels, much less provide a list of close-by competitors whose quality and service are up to their standards.

Think about what’ll happen if you call one of these places to make a reservation. If they are booked, they’ll suggest an alternate facility. First, they’ll look for rooms in their hotels. Failing that, they’ll suggest competitors in the area if you ask them. So why wouldn’t your website reservation system do the same thing?

Sure, that’s a bit sophisticated, but so are online stores that suggest an alternate item when the one you wanted is on backorder or out of stock.

As always, there are exceptions and a few local places had excellent online reservations that were clearly real time and even suggested rooms based on the dates I entered for my stay.

The best sites (and 2 of them were near me here in Columbia Falls) included sharp photography of each room with room diagrams, explained the details of internet service and other amenities using photos – rather than just listing them in text form.

I didn’t see much in the way of helping you book other things on your trip, although some of that is limited to what those other businesses offer in the way of automated reservations. If I’m making a reservation at a hotel in the West Glacier area, it only makes sense to offer to make reservations at the Belton for dinner out on the porch. Good for your guests, good for the Belton – who will undoubtedly be pleased to return the favor and refer guests to you if they don’t have availability on a prospective guest’s preferred nights.

Several of the independent hotels were sophisticated enough to be using Google AdWords. Google AdWords are the context-sensitive ads you see on the right side (and the very top, sometimes) of a Google search results page.

One thing I didn’t find too much of was a personal touch. Only 1 site that I examined included photos of the owners, and told their story. What got them into the business? People want to hear these kinds of things – especially in a B&B or independent hotel/motel facility. Remember, one of the reasons they choose you over a chain is personality, service and a personal touch – so don’t forget to include them in your website.

Next week, we’ll go over what we’ve learned the last few weeks and discuss how to get your site up, running and working harder for your business.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him at [email protected].