Hotel Websites: Domains and Hosting

I have been doing a lot of reading and researching into web design for hotels lately, preparing for a new site design for a client. There is certainly a lot of information out there, with many companies specializing in hotel web design. These companies include customized content management systems (CMS) to allow the designer/hotel owner to easily modify the site easily to keep the information up-to-date. The only problem is they generally cost well over $4,000. That price is reasonable if you have a large operation with steady occupancy, but what are the options for a smaller property who are looking to setup from scratch a website?

I thought I would write a short series of posts about the process, including some things that people should consider along the way. There are four different steps in order to produce a website:

  1. Domain name and hosting
  2. Website design (static or CMS-based)
  3. Content
  4. Promotion of site

The last three steps are the most involved, so I will start with the first step.

Domain Name

The domain name is the item most people are going to know without knowing the proper term for it. It is what you see in the address bar of your browser: Google.com, Apple.com, USA.gov, etc. If you have a website currently and only need to redesign it, you don’t need to be concerned about the domain name. If you are starting a new property, purchasing/registering a domain name is going to be something you want to do as soon as you decide on a name for your property.

If your property is going to operate under a flag (Best Western, Quality Inn, Ramada, etc), the brand management team will help you get a site up through the brand’s website. It is still important to setup your own website in addition to this branded page for a couple reasons. For one, you will be able to fully control the content on the site and modify it without having to wait on someone. Another reason, it will be much easier to tell people CoastCapriHotel.com instead of http://www.coasthotels.com/hotels/canada/bc/kelowna/coast_capri/overview.

A domain name is priced depending on the TLD, top level domain. That is the .com, .org, .biz part of the domain name. The cheapest ones (.com, .biz, .net, .us) will cost around $15.00 per year. Specialized ones (.ca, .nu, .bz, usually the country codes) are going to cost more, from $20.00 per year to $50.00 per year. You can register multiple domain names to protect your brand, and then have the extra ones redirect to your main website. I would suggest doing this if your hotel name is very general.

For example, Hotel Colorado can be reached at hotelcolorado.com or thehotelcolorado.com. But if you type in hotelcolorado.net, you get a property in Italy. Even worse, when you type in hotelcolorado.it (.it being the top level domain for Italy), you get a different property in Italy. Very confusing. Some of these issues are unavoidable if your property has been around a long time, or you are located in an area that shares a name with different areas in other parts of the world (Rome, NY vs Rome, Italy).

For the actual name, I would encourage you to register the main property name domain, and one that include your type of property, even if it isn’t part of your official name. The reason for this is to help search engines drive traffic to your site. People will search for “hotel colorado,” and sites with either of those terms in the domain are generally going to show up higher in the search rankings.

To register a domain, there are many services out there to use. The one service that I would not suggest is Go Daddy, as they tend to send non-stop emails about product enhancements. If you plan on registering a country-specific domain, you may have to investigate locally to find a solution as the registry companies I will suggest may not be able to handle them.

The two companies I suggest over the rest are HostGator and Hover. Both are reasonably priced, no hassling emails, and straight-forward to register a domain. Support is also available whenever you need it, in case you need to change where your domain is going to be directed to (more on that in a bit) or need to add another top level domain. Both services handle a large number of domains, so you can easily grab a .com, .biz, .net or .ca, .uk, .co, etc. HostGator is also a hosting site, so you can have your domain and website there. Hover is only a registry, so you will have to find a different hosting site.

Web-site Hosting

Having a domain name is a crucial step, but you won’t be able to see a website if you enter it into your web browser. You are most likely to receive a page from the registry company saying the website has not been constructed yet. In order to build a site, you are going to need to host it somewhere.

Like registry companies, there are countless hosting services available. Their prices and products are all going to vary, as are the support and the realiability of the services. For every hosting site that exists, there are probably 5 denouncing their reliability, so do be careful in which company you choose.

There are three different options to choose from: 1. Local company (an internet service provider, web design firm, your own computer) 2. International company (a large company with multiple servers in remote locations) 3. Free hosting (Wordpress.com being the main one)

With the free hosting, it may suit your needs, but they are generally restrictive. Some of the free services place ads on your website (a banner at the top and/or bottom) that may annoy your visitors. A professional designer will most likely be unable to work in that environment, as well, because it will be restrictive in what actions may be done.

The local companies and the international companies will generally offer the same services. There are some differences between the two. The local companies are likely to be a little pricier than the big companies, and the customer support may be a bit delayed depending on the size of the company. If you send a request in for help on a Friday, you may have to wait until Monday for a response. At the larger companies, this is not the case. They have dedicated support teams, plus huge knowledge bases on their sites or available elsewhere on the web to help you solve your issues.

Another potential drawback is where the local servers are located. When I worked in Whitehorse, Yukon, there was only one internet and phone connection serving the territory. If something happened to that line between Whitehorse and Edmonton (2,000 kilometers), all internet services would go down in Whitehorse - cable and cellular connections. This meant that any website that hosted on a local server would be unavailable to someone outside the territory. The downtimes also ranged from 3 hours to 2 days, which could mean lost business since the competitors’ websites were hosted outside of the city and could still be reached.

If the local company is helping you with some other services (designing the website, brochures, marketing campaigns), then I would suggest using them. But do be careful, and do some research if you are in a remote area about where the websites are being stored.

For the international companies, there are many to choose from. Here are the ones that I have read the most positive reviews about:

My preferred hosting company (and the one I use currently) is HostGator. Apart from the low prices offered on the site ($3.95 a month), I have received nothing but great support from them. They have a large knowledge base available for me to browse through, forums for support from users, or I can contact the support and get an answer quickly. Unlike Go Daddy (which I used previously), I never receive an email from HostGator apart from a renewal notice one month prior to the end date of the term.

The main draw for me is how much control I have with the site. I have full access to the file server, have one-click install for the popular CMS options (including Wordpress), can setup as many email accounts as I like, and includes some free Google Adword coupons. There is a free site builder available, as well, but if you choose to have a web designer assist you, giving them access to the site is simple without giving them the master account information.

There are plenty more positives about HostGator that I won’t list here, as this is getting fairly long as is. You can get in touch with me with me if you have any questions about HostGator.

In addition, if you go to their site and enter in this coupon: FSCONSULT2012

You will receive 25% off their services, plus I will assist you setting up a basic site for free (your logo, main page text, linking to your social media accounts).

After purchasing, contact me to make the arrangements.

The next post will be about choosing a style for the site and why I suggest people choose Wordpress over a static site.