The Online Marketing Version of a “No Vacancy” Sign

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Online Marketing No Vacancy by PunkToad

In a bygone era business owners tended to conform to known best practices, many of which happened also to be a common courtesy. Take, for example, the lowly ‘no vacancy’ sign. Seems simple enough, right? I mean, why would a hotel operator force a weary traveler to drive in, park the car, go to the front desk, and ask for a room when a simple roadside sign would let the traveler know up front that no room is available? Of course, current-day businesses have a penchant for asking “Well, what else can we sell a potential customer”, but I’ll save that for a future post.

In today’s online marketing climate we all too often depart from the best practices, standards, and common courtesies we previously afforded our fellow man. I am sure in at least some instances, the argument is that it’s a matter of finances, but that would be a scapegoat.

For the sake of context, it is 3 a.m. and I’ve been attempting to plan a family vacation for the past several evenings. I’ve found myself constantly frustrated by completely inept vacation planning and resort websites, and lest you think this was simply because I arrogantly KNOW that the company I work for could do better, let me assure you this is genuine frustration, resulting from fundamental omissions and an absence of common sense.

No Vacancy Neon SignLook, if I arrive at your hotel website, and you have ‘no vacancy’ for the time period I seek, please give me a sign—a quick and easy method of discovery—so that I do not waste my time or yours. No, I don’t want to call you or wait for an email response. You know what your availability is, and there is simply no excuse for not having an online representation of it in 2013. And while you’re at it, please indicate when your availability was last updated. One hotel operator made a point to tell me that they have been booked for over a year when I called him after visiting his website. I wanted to let him know that he had the whole year to update his website to indicate the lack of availability and save both him and me the time and hassle of discussing it. Having to wait for email responses and play phone tag meant my losing the ability to use a preferred airport and having to pay hundreds of dollars extra for airline tickets.

I couldn’t help but laugh when one of the last of the 25 or more sites I checked out—a hideous-looking site that must have been created back in the late 90’s—actually got it right. This small-time operator, Bob, who looked to be in his 60’s by the friendly picture on his site, clearly gets it. At the very top of his site it states in big, bold all-cap letters, “2013 BOOKED SOLID TO APRIL 5TH.” Thanks, Bob, I’m moving on.

The Online Marketing Version of a No Vacancy Sign

Ironically, many websites encouraged me to CALL NOW; so I did and immediately became disenchanted when I was greeted by an after-hours recording. But you just told me to call now and gave no qualifier or indication that you didn’t literally mean…now. I applaud the use of a call to action in this instance but must deduct points for execution. Best practices dictate that henceforth you may not use the CTA “call now” if in fact nobody’s going to answer my call at the time I make it.

One of the most common issues I have with these sites is the use of ridiculously horrible pictures to display the rooms and the property. Maybe I should say “imagery” instead of “pictures,” since many sites also attempted to put a floor-plan drawing of the rental online that might have been helpful if it had not been unreadable and therefore as bad as the pictures. Sadly, this problem is not limited to their websites, but has now infested newer and popular services like AirBNB and Tripadvisor. In a few cases, I was able to find better photography of the property on sites not run by the property itself.

What is truly sad is that just about any grade-school child who has a smartphone could take better, and more compelling, photography than what is depicted on these sites. Find a kid with an Instagram account, and it’s certain to represent your property better. Remember you are asking for hundreds, if not in many cases thousands, of dollars from people. Fix your photography.

In closing, I am left to wonder if the people creating or maintaining these sites have ever themselves planned a vacation. I’d similarly ask if they have used the Internet in the past decade, because it has been that long since some of these sites have been updated, let alone built.

Regardless, if you can’t adhere to best practices or standards, how about at least treating your visitors with some not-so-common courtesy?

(NOTE: This post has been sanitized with judicial editing for SFW readability. :) )

Header photo by PunkToad and the neon “no vacancy” photo by Taber Andrew Bain.

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