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Successful web-based marketing

By Eric Hehl

Web-based mass marketing of tourism destinations in Asia is, essentially, about enabling the customer to decide how they want to receive your product offerings, making sure these needs are met and building a lasting relationship with them to keep your brand at the or consumers' minds.

Analysis of customer wants by monitoring of their responses to your electronic marketing mix, such as websites, EDMs [electronic direct mail], social media sites, RSS feeds or pay-per-click advertisements, enables the web-based marketer to adapt their hotel or hotel group's approach to prospective guests and continue/expand areas showing positive responses or starve off activities that do not.

What works for one campaign, does not necessarily work for another and in today's market you have to adapt to the customer because what worked last month may not work today

Once a potential customer has made initial contact it is important for the company to provide multiple methods to continue communication, whether through the website, e-mail, telephone, fax, etc.

Given the process today's consumers follow when making travel plans, it is to the destination's advantage to capture them early in the planning stage to make them aware of the range of attractions and amenities on offer and to stimulate direct communication at these critical stages.

This can provide the company with insight on how to expand or contract their touch points.

Some destination resorts are experimenting with social media as a destination marketing tool, while others have embraced it by focusing on their community's core needs and attributes. Social media sites are built with the same intention: to build ongoing relationships with visitors, stimulate traffic and trigger actions by consumers. For the larger resorts with multi-faceted business units, Social Media can effectively promote the entire resort and compliment the individual brands both vertically and horizontally.

There are potential pitfalls to web based tourism marketing and organisations need to be aware of general
best-practices.

A survey by an organisation called Connecting Campaigns in Australia of 7,000 visitors to digital media sites found that 70% of respondents said ads playing sound only automatically were not OK. Interstitials, although liked by many marketers, are loathed by nearly all prospective viewers.

What may be appropriate for Australia may not work in Thailand, and so on around the world and analysing responses to your collateral is essential and may reveal that your customers are more tolerant of marketing methods which are, generally, not acceptable elsewhere.

A-B tests with your e-marketing collateral can help identify more successful way to communicate with your various target markets.

Another example, placing 'links' pages on the website, can also be a double-edged sword.

Sites with reciprocal link pages (you link to my site, I'll link to yours) are often penalised for this "black hat" SEO tactic, as search engines may see this as little more than an attempt to build incoming links of little relevance to the actual content on the page or site. One-way (incoming) links are generally seen as positive, as they likely indicate other websites are linking to your website as it contains valuable content.

By contrast, "white hat" SEO tactics, such as optimising content properly for indexing by search engines, ensuring images are tagged with captions, and that links are descriptive of the content they are linking to and not simply 'click this link' or 'click here' are positively rewarded.

Search engines are constantly updating the methods by which they rank websites and the web marketer must be aware of these changes and ensure their sites are properly optimised.

Let's not forget the humble e-mail still holds its own in this age of Facebook etc. e-mail still enables marketers to track recipients' interests, regain lost customers by offering exclusive deals and more. For companies that integrate data they collect across their marketing mix, e-mail becomes a method to mass market to a segment of one, as e-mails can be tailored to each recipient based on their past history of interacting with the hotel or resort. Imagine: sending out 20,000
e-mails and each is automatically tailored to its recipient's unique interests.

Above all, at large integrated destination resorts, of which there are a number on Phuket and around Thailand with multiple hotels, holiday clubs, golf courses and other facilities, there must be consistency in how the offerings and services are presented and how they can be accessed by the customer. For example, if you are adding click-to-call capabilities to one hotel's website section, it should be added to the sections for all the hotels.

And finally Analytics packages should be used to measure and report on e-marketing activities. These could include unique views, referring websites, user clickstreams, stickiness, conversions, or how members of a Facebook or Twitter group are promoting your content for you.

Ultimately, however, it is not just about statistics, but about asking, "Are people accomplishing what they came to our site to accomplish?" Actions like successfully finding information that is helpful to their decision making process, checking availability and making reservations which are efficiently dealt with, and being updated on website changes or new promotions they have expressed interest in.

Understanding potential customers individual wants and making sure the destination resort both provides and monitors feedback from this information has become a 24-hour activity, but is the best way we can ensure success.

This Op-Ed piece originally appeared in the Bangkok Post. Published on May 24, 2010.
Forum discussions are available on the publisher's website

Eric Hehl is e-marketing manager at Laguna Resorts & Hotels, Phuket's largest tourism company.

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