Hyatt Plans Makeover for Online Properties

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Hyatt Hotels Corp.'s Internet properties are in for some housekeeping.

The Chicago-based hotel chain yesterday announced plans to overhaul the flagship and 100 Web sites worldwide, including 40 in North America. Hyatt also will fully integrate its GoldPassport loyalty program online to exploit the customer database better.

These efforts, along with a new technology platform, are being executed by Web design shop Critical Mass, Chicago. The goal is to better brand Hyatt online and drive more business to in a market where it competes with chains that have a bigger footprint and more properties.

"There's a risk that if they don't pull this together and they don't improve their efficiency and they don't have some of these systems knitted together, that they would be losing the scale wars with some of their competitors," said Jerry Johnston, CEO of Critical Mass.

Hyatt has 203 hotel properties worldwide, with functioning as the global super-site. Plans now call for a refurbished that caters to the Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency and Hyatt Resorts brands.

The new will be developed on a technology platform with enhancements such as database-driven marketing, remote authoring, keener tracking and analysis and beefed-up content management.

"The main effort of the new site is to facilitate greater personalization, particularly letting us incorporate database applications with Web site applications," said Tom O'Toole, senior vice president of marketing and information technology at Hyatt.

While Critical Mass will integrate Hyatt's systems, it also will give individual hotel brands greater control over online content and presentation.

"I think what's driving [these changes online] is just the need for more exposure in this particular space and the recognition that this is where the majority of your travel dollars are going," said John McLaughlin, account manager at Critical Mass.

Hyatt would not disclose the exact figure accounted by the Internet in total hotel bookings.

"As a percentage, just over 3 percent of our total business is booked through the Internet," O'Toole said. "But, I think, this is not indicative anymore of how people are using the Web to research."

He said certain individual Hyatt hotels even recorded 6 percent bookings via the Internet during key months.

The changes are aimed at business and upscale leisure travelers, vendors and travel professionals such as meeting and event planners. Many of these consumers are already represented by profiles in Hyatt's offline GoldPassport loyalty database, though not seamless with the online files.

"From a CRM perspective, you're building more engaging relationships with your customers because, let's face it, the travel industry is very, very dependent upon repeat use and loyalty, so obviously, you've got the issue of their frequency clubs and their GoldPassport program integrated into this, and they really need to pull this together," Johnston said.

Critical Mass, which is part of Rapp Collins' RappDigital Network, has until year's end to revamp Hyatt's online operations. It will work with Rapp Collins, which handles database applications and marketing communications for Hyatt.

By then, it will have had to streamline online bookings and make the task easier for consumers. The GoldPassport program will have to be thoroughly embedded online, allowing Internet consumers to book rooms using loyalty points and gift certificates.

In addition, Hyatt's online persona will have to do more to entice event and meeting planners to make mass bookings. Overall, the Hyatt sites and sub-sites will have to offer more relevant content with better navigation across the properties.

Doing it now is even more critical.

"They run the risk of falling behind competitively in a tight market, particularly now, where travel is a discretionary spending item, not unlike software and marketing, and tends to be somewhat variable in good times and bad times," Johnston said.

"They've got to make sure they're running this thing efficiently and effectively," he said, "because their competitors are getting bigger all the time."

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