In today’s hyper-connected online society, what does it take to get a property’s website noticed — and used — by members, guests and prospective customers alike?
If your club or resort property is like most these days, your online presence is likely to include the following:
- Online reservation capabilities for everything from tee times to roomnights, and from the initial meeting with the staff wedding planner to joining the next tennis tournament
- A password-protected section so members can interact on forums, receive exclusive package offers, and even post photos
- PDFs of your menus, updated frequently and available for download
- Social media links to cross-promote the site on Facebook and Twitter
Chances are, as well, that a third party specializing in hospitality-themed websites designed your site. However, unlike most of the industry’s sites of the 2000s, you are probably
no longer beholden to an outside vendor when you want to make changes in copy or imagery for your site. Instead, you now have a content management system tool that lets members of your staff update the site whenever they want—and from wherever, as long as an Internet connection is available.
Many properties are now also taking advantage of a helpful expiration feature that’s built in to many of today’s sites—so that when your golf outing is over on Saturday, its description disappears from view online, as well.
But while these similarities are now shared by most club and resort websites, best practices continue to evolve. Here’s a look at three especially successful sites, and what they’re doing to set themselves apart from the crowd.
Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, Acme, Mich.
Winner of the 2010 Web Marketing Association 2010 Outstanding Website award
- Web provider: TravelClick Inc.
- Last major redesign: 2008; planning for next redesign in fiscal 2012
- Staff member primarily responsible for content: J. Mike Agostino, Public Relations Manager
- Biggest benefit to site: Great selling tool for phone reservationists talking with potential guests who are exploring the site online; great public relations tool and resource for journalists, too.
- Biggest challenge to site: Easy navigation while showcasing all of the property’s features
“The site’s function is a lot about what the property looks like, a description of each golf course [the resort has three), and a downloadable PDF of each scorecard,” say
s Grand Traverse’s Public Relations Manager, J. Mike Agostino. A link to the golf section takes visitors looking for available tee times to a third-party handler, he adds. Links are divided into available times for Grand Traverse members, resort guests, and golf-only guests. Another link from the home page takes the visitor to a third-party vendor to buy a gift card for the property.
But, Agostino is quick to point out, not every customer wants to simply point and click. “With groups, we can send a promo code to a group meeting planner, who can then share that with potential attendees,” he explains. “But we still have our 800 number posted prominently on the site. Some people still want to speak with a reservationist; it’s important for them to still have a conversation with a real-life person.”
Improved navigation was a priority for the 31-year-old resort in the most recent redesign of its site. Its web provider assessed the needs of its then-new client, provided template choices, and worked with the Grand Traverse team to modify the templates to suit their needs. Training for the new content management tool included a Web conferencing meeting, a training guide, and phone and e-mail support as needed, Agostino says.
Using the site to market weddings at the resort has “really come to the forefront the past couple years,” Agostino notes. Special Events Manager Rachelle Grockau oversees the content of that section, making sure there are plenty of on-site photos from previous weddings and other events, so couples can get a good idea of what they would see in-person during their visit.
If there’s a challenge with the site, Agostino says, it’s that there’s so much story to tell. Among its many amenities, Grand Traverse consists of 900 acres, 600 roomsuites/condos, 86,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a health club and a spa.
“We want to ensure we make it easy for the end user to find what they’re looking for,” he says.
In-house, the property maintains BarefootGrandTraverse.com, a companion website to its annual lifestyle magazine.
“We update specific areas of the site on a seasonal basis,” says Agostino. “The front-page story is what’s currently happening at the resort. Right now, it is touting our winter activities. Come April, I guarantee it will switch over to golf!”
The property just shifted its social media strategy a few months ago, he adds. “A vendor is helping us manage our content with Facebook and Twitter,” he explains. “We’re also in the process of creating a mobile app for the resort.”
- Web designer: Golf Course Web Design
- Web history: Initial site launched in 2001. Template has evolved since then — most recently, switching from solid background to gradient
- Staff member primarily responsible for content: Lana Goldstein, Marketing Director
- Biggest benefit to site: Reinforces the brand identity
- Biggest challenge to site: Keeping current on SEO and social media initiatives
- Approximate budget: $500/month, $6,000/year
Lana Goldstein, Marketing Director, notes that when Deer Creek Golf Club marked its 40th anniversary in January 2011, new urgency was created for updating news and events, special menus, videos and photos on the club’s website. For videos, she usually posts to a YouTube channel, and posts the link on the site itself.
About six years ago, Deer Creek piloted an initiative that has since served it quite well: free Internet membership.
“The site’s interface gathers the name, phone, address and state,” Goldstein says. In return, the members — all 10,000 of them, and counting — receive weekly coupons to use when they’re in town. There has even been some conversion, Goldstein says, of Internet members to full-fledged club membership.
Online tee-time reservations account for not quite half of all reservations, but Goldstein believes that will soon change, as the number is “growing each year.”
Goldstein updates the site weekly, but monitors the working links and often makes new posts in between the regular updates. She also solicits feedback from members.
“We get a lot of compliments on what we’ve done with [the site],” she says. “The comments are often the same: They like how the buttons and fonts are big, and that it’s easy to navigate.”
Winner of the Web Marketing Association 2010 Outstanding Achievement in Web Development award
- Web provider: Sabre Hospitality Solutions
- Last major redesign: late 2009; site debuted around 1999
- Staff membes primarily responsible for content: Kerry Andrews, Director of Marketing Communications, and Abby Pinter, Communications Coordinator
- Biggest benefit to site: More-informed customers know what they want when they call or reserve online
- Biggest challenge to site: The site does not currently book tee times
- Approximate budget: 3% to 5% of marketing budget
“A website is not only a living, breathing thing, but a front door for prospective guests,” says Kerry Andrews, Director of Marketing for the world-renowned Pinehurst Resort. “It’s important to maintain current standards, but also to ensure [the site is] fresh and makes sense to the user.”
It’s not enough to have your URL on all of your marketing collateral (although that should be a given). Making a website work to its fullest today also means taking consistent and effective steps to ensure that it ranks among the top results when guests, members or potential members type your property’s name into Google, Bing or any other search tool. A solid strategy for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will also ensure that searchers find your site as a top option when they don’t ask for you by name, but use related keywords — for example, when they only type in “golf” and your state.
J. Mike Agostino, Public Relations Manager for Grand Traverse Resort, Acme, Mich., says his team relies on vendor recommendations for effective SEO results. “Our web provider helps us have ‘organic’ keywords of text in our website, and recommends other SEO strategies for us,” he says. In addition, as Agostino makes updates to packages, menus, etc., he has made it a habit to embed keywords in the copy as much as possible, for a higher hit rate.
“SEO is an ongoing part of our program [with our vendor], so we’re constantly making sure we’re putting in meta data,” says Kerry Andrews, Director of Communications for North Carolina’s Pinehurst Resort. “We have the benefit of having a known brand, but we still want to appear when they search [generically] for ‘golf packages,’ ‘golf trip,’ or ‘award-winning spa’—and that makes SEO become important.”
Evolution is all well and good, Andrews adds, but after a while, so many layers on a legacy site can take its toll. Sometimes, it’s good to take it all down and start from scratch — which is what happened for Pinehurst in late 2009.
And not just Pinehurst.com, but also ShopPinehurst.com, the resort’s online gift shop; PinehurstResortRealty.com, its real estate site; and the golf academy’s online presence at Pinehurst.com/golf-schools/about-golf-academies. Pinehurst’s digital newsroom, PinehurstMedia.com, is maintained separately.
A template approach gave each of the sibling sites a similar look and feel.
One big change, Andrews notes, is the ability to retail individual-event ticket sales. “For example, we host a Jazz festival for which guests don’t necessarily stay the night,” she says. “That was handled through our guest services desk, but it’s now online, freeing up our staff for resort guests.”
Andrews says that she and Pinter work as a team to regularly audit the site. They also “ask everyone on the communication team to go through the site as if they’re a visitor.”
The redesign dedicated part of the site to weddings, a segment that Pinehurst only recently put focus on, Andrews notes. “We work with preferred photographers, put their work online, and then refer brides to them,” she explains. “It’s given us a wonderful showcase for our different wedding packages.”
In addition, the site offers what internal surveys have shown to be the most important information for meeting planners, such as meeting space specifications. Packages for the spa, which opened in 2005, are updated frequently as well.
Members are treated to frequent online updates on the redesign that is currently in progress for the famed Pinehurst No. 2 course, and can delve in slightly deeper on the password-protected site, PinehurstMembers.com.