Cozy Cottage Inn is a small property nestled in a verdant valley surrounded by mountains. Passed down through generations, it’s a happy family homestead that was built by hand in the early 1900s. After it was lovingly restored, the Cozy Cottage Inn opened its doors to guests. Upkeep had been expensive and the renovations even more so. The inn’s difficult financial times became dire when they received few bookings, despite the fact that their website had a decent visitor volume. The Cozy Cottage Inn was nestled at the edge of bankruptcy.

This is a fictitious story that is all too real, and very easy for hoteliers to imagine. The nightmare isn’t the back-breaking hours of hard work spent on a property passion project, but rather the thought that the business will fail. Where do properties like the Cozy Cottage Inn go wrong? Instead, let’s look at what might go right.

The Cozy Cottage Inn consulted with a website and content expert who redesigned their site with their unique story in mind. Enticing images and video, easy navigation, strong calls to action, a streamlined booking engine, thematic language, and consistent brand colors resulted in a compelling story. Combined with a social media presence and digital marketing, the guests came, told their friends, then came back again!

How does this story make you feel? While it’s only a story, can you relate and empathize with their stress? Do you feel good when you learn they were able to turn things around? Are you motivated to implement web design techniques to tell your hotel’s story to increase bookings like the Cozy Cottage Inn?

The hormone oxytocin is released when we can emphasize with the characters in a story. In the Harvard Business Review, Paul J. Zak, founding director of the Center of Neuroeconomics Studies, explains that “When you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered, start with a story of human struggle and eventual triumph. It will capture people’s hearts – by first attracting their brains.”

The Cozy Cottage Inn is a success story that’s not hard to imagine. While a website alone won’t save a business from bankruptcy, it’s a very important piece in the bookings puzzle that should not be overlooked.

In addition to compelling content that literally tells a story, there are five key elements of web design that are essential to convey your hotel’s story…and increase your bookings! Keep reading for tangible tips you can implement today.

But First, Define Your Brand Story

Before you can implement storytelling to your website, define what your story is. This doesn’t have to be complicated or long. In fact, the simpler the better. But it should be a story that includes soul, purpose, and emotion.

It’s not a story like the one this article began with! Unless your property has a very interesting personal or historical story that’s relevant to guests, it’s best to focus on the present and what experience your hotel offers that differentiates you from the crowd (your USP – unique selling proposition). Most importantly, it’s a story about your guest and the experience they can imagine for themself when they come to stay. The empathy a guest feels is for themself as the protagonist of their own adventure.

Here are a few examples of hotel stories that have been masterfully summarized into their brand slogans.

“A place sacred to your wellbeing.”

“Uncompromised luxury in the heart of Jackson Hole.”

“Their land, your adventure.” (for a safari park)

“Place of Miracles.”

“I’m here to breathe the scene of the sea.”

“Travel like an explorer. Stay like a local.”

In a snap, we have a sense of the experience that awaits us through feeling. That’s self-empathy in action, which also triggers oxytocin.

1. Thematic Brand Language

Of course written content is key in telling your brand’s story. It also falls under web design in terms of how much text you use (content density), slogans as design elements, and thematic branding.

Word Count

How many words you use on your website counts. Too many words and your message gets lost and nothing stands out. While not enough words are bad for your SEO. As a general rule, each page of your website should have no less than 300 words. So it’s a balance of appealing to your online audience on one hand and Google algorithms on the other.

Text As Design

How your text is formatted plays a huge role in its effectiveness. Large blocks of content are too dense for pleasant online reading. Text can also be used as design as headings, which serves to break up content as well as convey a quick message. Slogans are an important design element often used as part of or expansion on your logo so it’s content with a meaning that is aesthetically pleasing, too.

Branded Language

Use language that supports your branding and your hotel’s motto. If your hotel is about luxury then your language should be sumptuous; if you’re a casual motel then your language is relaxed; if you’re a modern and minimalist hotel, then your language is simple, straightforward, yet artistic.

For instance, if your motto is, “I’m here to breathe the scene of the sea,” use language that reflects the sea, expansiveness, and relaxation. When talking about your accommodation, instead of “Enjoy a large room with sea views and many amenities,” say something such as, “Go with the flow and unwind in a spacious room with expansive views and amenities appointed for your serene stay.” Where would you prefer to stay? Thematic language doesn’t just tell you the facts but rather makes you feel something, too, reinforcing an emotional connection with your guest. And adds more value in the process.

When it makes sense to do so, go for “you attitude” and write in the second person. Doing so inserts your guest into the experience and puts their needs first. This is all part of telling the story of your hotel with your guest at the center of it all.

2. Visuals: Pictures and Videos

Arguably the most important element in your hotel’s web design is the use of pictures and videos. The adage “a picture says a thousand words” is certainly true in selling your hotel. Imagine, then, how many words a video says? Using video on your website and social media can increase conversions by a whopping 80%!

When using visuals to tell your hotel’s story, remember:

  • It’s about quality not quantity: don’t overwhelm with visuals that can bog down your site speed. It’s better to create impact with a few select (and large) visuals.
  • Keep your visuals consistent with each other for bigger impact or risk a disjointed message.
  • Use visuals that back up your brand story. If your slogan is “I’m here to breathe the scene of the sea,” let’s see some ocean, please!

When using visuals on your hotel’s website, ask yourself: 

  • What problem do my guests have that my hotel can solve?
  • What unique characteristics does my hotel have that make me stand out from my competition?
  • How can those characteristics solve my guests’ problems?

Whether it’s video or imagery, make sure they answer these questions. When it comes to video especially, you can literally tell a story from beginning to end. Take guests on a journey that doesn’t necessarily show what problems a guest may have but provides the solution nonetheless. If your guests seek you out because they’re stressed, the answer to that is an escape to your hotel with its unique ocean views, for example.

Pro Tip: Consider adding icons to your web design that highlight amenities or initiatives. In addition to adding brand personality, they reinforce your content at a glance, especially for those simply scanning your website or for anyone where language is a barrier.

3. Brand Colors

Using consistent brand colors on your hotel’s website is common sense when it comes to branding. A consistent palette throughout creates cohesion, which in turn exudes trustworthiness versus a website that is all over the place.

From your brand palette, choose colors that support your brand story and evoke the feeling you want to convey. Going back to our example, “I’m here to breathe the scene of the sea,” if blue is in your brand palette, it would make sense to highlight that throughout to match the sea. Think about color, too, in the visuals you choose to highlight your hotel. But when it comes to Calls to Action—such as book buttons and email signups—choose a high contrast color that stands out.

This is more than aesthetics! Color psychology is very real and can impact customer mood, perception, and even behaviour. In fact, according to the study The Impact of Color Marketing, 90% of snap judgments made about products are based on color. As Help Scout outlines, color theory can get quite complicated, the main thing to remember is color cohesion. Don’t hesitate to lean heavily on your web designer for this!

4. Clear Navigation and CTAs

Anytime you create friction, you erode the customer experience and trust. For your website, friction looks like: slow loading times, time outs, irrelevant information, inability to find the information they need, inconsistencies (color, font, formatting), and lack of personalization. That is not the story you want to tell about your hotel!

Your website is essentially an extension of your front desk, where efficiency, courtesy, organization, and relevance are key to building trust for first-time guests and repeat bookings. From a high-level view of web design, this looks like fast page load, easy site navigation, clear calls to action, an intuitive online booking process, and uncluttered information that’s going to give the customer what they need, fast. And mobile-optimized, too, of course.

Along with online bookings, there are many software integrations that can reduce friction and generate customized content for personalized communication that can generate loyalty, delight, and service excellence. Imagine delivering personalized content based on a guest’s previous stay or browsing history?

Build It and They Will Come

Consider your website as a window to your hotel, where guests can not only peer in for an insider’s view, but insert themselves into your hotel’s story where they play a starring role. Your job is to create a story that your guest can’t wait to be a part of.

One final word of advice: There is not just one type of guest, of course, and you are called to appeal to several types of personas. Newlyweds will have different interests than families, for instance. However, you can remain consistent with your brand story as you highlight your broadly appealing unique selling proposition. Address your various guest personas within the relevant touchpoints. Highlight the romance in your room description for the honeymoon suite or break down the family-friendly offerings in a separate section.

Remember: Even with a web template, there are many elements of design to consider. A web designer can streamline and guide you through this process to help you build your brand story on your website for a story that goes straight to the heart.