SUMMING IT UP
• For clubs and resorts that seek to use Web sites as an extension of their marketing programs, staying updated and user-friendly are essential goals.
Is your online content provider enhancing your marketing approach, or holding you back?
It’s no longer enough to just have an online presence. Clubs and resorts need an engaging site that can be updated quickly and easily. But should a club bring its Web efforts in-house, or look to outside vendors?
Many clubs and resorts see their Web sites as an extension of their marketing programs, to be used primarily to extend their brands and market their services. For example, Tom Haas, Director of Marketing at Owl’s Nest Resort & Golf Club (www.owlsnestgolf.com) in Campton, N.H., says the Web has directly influenced his property’s print advertising decisions. By using an analytical tracking program, he can see where interested visitors are coming from, and plan mailings accordingly.
“When we opened in 1997, we used to do a lot of newspaper coupons,” Haas says. “But now we tend to use our E-mail Rewards program, where people can sign up for e-mail blasts on what’s going on at the course and enter into a monthly drawing for a round of golf with cart, or a $50 golf shop card.”
Haas points to the talents of Beverly Chappell, Owl’s Nest’s Web Administrator, as being largely responsible for the focus on electronic marketing.
“I met Beverly when I was president of the local Chamber of Commerce in 1998,” Haas recalls. “She owned her own Web business and had done some great work. She started working for us as a contractor, but became such an integral part of the team that we hired her on as a staffer within six months.
“Our marketing goal from the start was not just to advertise great golf,” he adds. “To have the ability to be accessible to our members and potential members, we had to get online.”
The Right Provider
On the other end of the spectrum from Owl’s Nest’s 400-member club is BrightStar Golf Group, which owns four Colorado clubs—The Pinery Country Club, Blackstone Country Club, The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa and The Club at Pradera—as well as Whitney Oaks Golf Club in Rocklin, Calif., and TPC Snoqualmie Ridge in Snoqualmie, Wash.
BrightStar uses one vendor to host and manage the corporate site (www.brightstargolf.com) as well as individual property sites, reports Brian Donahue, Golf Group Vice President. “We looked briefly at other vendors, but have grown attached to our current provider,” he says.
When BrightStar was looking for a new Web vendor, member communications and vendor access were at the top of its wish list. “The design elements were good, and the service package they offered was very good,” Donahue says. “We knew there would be some novelty to the process in the beginning, no matter which company we chose. But what was important was to keep [the site] as a useful tool after the ‘sizzle’ wore off.”
Linda Cormier, Director of Sales and Marketing for Tubac Golf Resort & Spa (www.tubacgolfresort.com) in Tubac, Ariz., agrees with those criteria, and adds some of her own. “We met with several vendors,” she recalls, noting that the one that landed the contract demonstrated “they were aware of the special needs of a resort, and they had hotel and resort experience.”
Keith Battaglia, Director of Sales and Marketing for Montauk Yacht Club, Resort & Marina (www.montaukyachtclub.com) in Montauk, N.Y., was not with the property when it chose its current Web provider four years ago. But in this case, the choice was an easy one: the provider was the preferred vendor of Montauk’s then-owner, Benchmark Hospitality. When Island Global Yachting (IGY) purchased the property a little over a year ago, officials liked what they saw in the Web presence, and extended the contract.
“What we really like is that the interaction is seamless with our booking agent,” Battaglia says. “Visitors can book their stay, and while they’re technically not on our site at that point, you wouldn’t know it.”
It also “plays well in the sandbox” with IGY’s corporate site, he adds. “We were able to add IGY marketing and link back and forth to the corporate site seamlessly,” Battaglia says.
Maintaining the Flow
BrightStar’s Donahue says he speaks with the senior-level management team for his Web provider at least every two weeks. At the property level, where the Web responsibility varies by property—the membership department, sales and marketing leaders and the activities director each may have a say—there is interaction with the Web provider at least once a week.
“They are terrific about listening to our ideas, and happy to explore how to make our business better,” Donahue says. “For example, we do lots of family events, so we’re launching a Kids’ Page inside the club’s site.”
Cormier contacts her Web team monthly. “Between myself and the front desk manager, we are constantly revisiting our site and making changes,” she says. In the interest of keeping the site fresh and for members to keep coming back, Cormier adds, Tubac has recently expanded its online wellness offerings and has discussed a blog for the future.
For Montauk YC, Lisa Morgano, IGY’s corporate Web manager in Miami, works directly with the Web provider on everything from tracking Web analytics to adding photos. “There’s a lot of building on the fly, and Lisa can do all of the text editing,” Battaglia explains. “If I need something up immediately, Lisa can literally update it in a matter of seconds.”
Having an in-house Web manager gives Owl’s Nest the freedom to react to change, Haas notes. “[Web Administrator] Beverly [Chappell] and I talk to each other on a daily basis, which gives us the opportunity to experiment with the site, even when something is time-sensitive,” he says. “For example, if I find that the outing next Thursday is going to be half the size as planned, I can call Beverly and she will deliver an e-mail blast to homeowners on-site, to members, and to attendees of the Boston Golf Show.”
In fact, Chappell has become a bit of a celebrity on the golf show circuit, Haas teases. “Whenever she sends an e-mail blast, she signs her name,” he says. “So at these shows, people come up to her and chat, because they feel like they know her. She really has a following!”
The real estate division of Owl’s Nest benefits from a password-protected portion of the site. Homeowners feel secure in exchanging ideas in the password-protected forum, Haas notes, because they don’t have to reveal their names or e-mail addresses, yet can still discuss topics that pertain to them. Sister golf course Stow Acres also uses Chappell in an advisory role, although its team does its own site updates. “They’re strictly a golf course, so their rates don’t change during the season,” Haas says. “That helps them keep an even keel.”
While sites in the industry have gradually evolved from mere electronic ads to become interactive and informative, mainstream parts of a property’s marketing approach, the fundamental objective remains the same: Attract the visitor, and make a sale.
“The Web site has to represent the club properly,” Donahue concludes. “It could be the only chance you get.”