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Online bookings proving to be big boon for hotels

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Your hotel business in a slump? Maybe you need to put it online says a local lodging official.

Lodges with online booking capabilities are seeing strong business this summer, said Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomcich. He said it’s surprising that only half of the hotels in town run Web sites where visitors can book a room immediately.

“I think it’s obvious why there’s such a discrepancy between those lodges doing very well and those possibly having the worst summer ever,” Tomcich said. “Half of our properties have online booking capabilities, and it’s very clear that that’s where all of our guests are shopping for inventory these days.”

Today’s travelers shop at every conceivable source, Tomcich said, including the Web. From their home computer, they expect to see photos of hotel rooms, view rates and packages, and ideally book a vacation on the spot if they’ve made up their minds.

It’s a very pronounced trend in travel, Tomcich said, and Stay Aspen Snowmass tries to provide as much technology for each hotel as possible. There’s a “tremendous opportunity” out there for lodges to develop online bookings on their own Web sites, he said.

One local lodge that can testify to Web success is the St. Moritz, where front desk manager Roger Haneman tracks the amount of bookings that come in both online and over the phone.

“Twelve percent of our bookings are directly from online bookings,” he said. “And I could not count the number of conversations where a person calls and says, `I am looking at your property on the Web and I have some questions.’ They wouldn’t have called if they didn’t see us online.”

Seeing the lodge online and then calling is what Haneman refers to as “indirect booking.” The category makes up about 4 percent of their total guests. But the direct booking that customers can do at the St. Moritz Web site is what really pushes its lodging numbers to the forefront.

“There are places that play it safe – who only use the Internet to advertise their rates, and they’re losing business to those that offer online booking,” Haneman said. “People want to do it now.”

He said there are many travelers who see the St. Moritz online and still want to talk to him over the phone, asking about rooms and rates. But many others are the opposite, he said.

“They don’t want to talk to anybody – they just want a cheap room. They want clean sheets and a mattress, and for them, the Internet is the way to go,” Haneman said. “It’s a highly effective shopping tool.”

At Aspen’s Skier’s Chalet, general managers Dan and Christine O’Callaghan haven’t had a Web site in the past and have depended on their listing at the Stay Aspen Snowmass Web site for online bookings. But that will change soon, Christine said.

“This winter we saw a huge increase in online booking through central reservations, so we’re currently having our own Web site designed,” she said. “There’s this do-it-yourself mentality, where people don’t have to make a call with a reservations agent. It was definitely a huge motivator to put money into a Web site.”

Tomcich said of the 41 lodges in Aspen, only 20 offer their own online booking system. At the last meeting of the Aspen Lodging Association, Tomcich told hotel officials that Stay Aspen Snowmass can help provide the technology for online bookings, so everyone can tap into the Internet as a resource.

“We actually probably lost out on a lot of business that we could have potentially had because we did not have that capability on our own,” O’Callaghan said. “We still had good business, but we knew we were missing out on potential business.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]


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