A writer's guide to effective website copy for hotels

writing-blog-postWe’ve recently been covering how, as hotels, you can get your guests to do your marketing for you, but if your website (or ‘shop window’) is not up to scratch, all the marketing advice in the world won’t convert your visitors into bookings. Because this topic is just so extensive, we’ll tackle it in bite-size chunks, starting with the foundation of any good website: the copy.

As your prospective guests browse hotel websites, online travel agents and social media sites, they are bombarded with a slew of information about hotels, destinations, activities and restaurants. However, as varied and interesting as the world is (that’s why we travel, after all) so much of the content on hotel websites is uninformative, uninspiring, and unimaginative, and it leaves the travel-planner no more informed or inspired than he was when he started searching.

Thinking about your guest's path to purchase – what is the point of your website? Are you looking to inspire a traveller with not only your hotel but your location? Do you want to draw them in and engage them, or do you simply want to 'wow' and make booking as simple as possible? It could be one, or all three, but if the words you use don’t back it up, travellers will be left directionless.

Once you have decided what you would like your website to achieve, keep in mind these basic best practices to make sure that your copy doesn’t get lost in the quagmire of commonality that is modern travel writing.

1. Avoid clichés

Every second guesthouse you read about is “nestled” somewhere, hotels are always in “vibrant” cities, and the scenery around lodges is “breathtaking” so often it’s a wonder no one has suffocated.


Writing that has anything to do with hotels and travel seems to be especially vulnerable to over-used and subsequently empty words. These travel writing clichés, while not inherently objectionable, have been overused to the point where they mean nothing other than that your copywriter is lazy. A few other offenders include:

  • World-class
  • Something for everyone
  • Unspoilt
  • Must-see
  • Luxurious
  • Rich heritage

Don’t be lazy

Often it is laziness that leads to the use of clichés – you use the first word or phrase that comes to mind because you couldn’t be bothered to find a more suitable one. Don’t be lazy, scour your mind for the right words to describe your hotel as it really is (or instruct your copywriter to do so).

Being specific (which we will discuss later) will help you to avoid the sweeping statements that so often become clichés, as will remembering not to exaggerate or state the obvious. Read your copy and be ruthless with clichés. Get rid of them and replace them with something that will mean something to your prospective guests.

Beware the unnecessary adjective

Most of these clichés are adjectives, and one way to avoid them is to follow Mark Twain’s advice: “As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.” It might sound harsh, and you may feel that you are not doing your luxurious, world-class, boutique hotel nestled among breathtaking mountains justice when you leave out the fluff, but there are better ways to portray what makes your establishment special (see below).

As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out. – Mark Twain

Use the right words

That being said, sometimes a word that has become a cliché is the right word to describe your establishment. Don’t be afraid to use the right words because others have misused them, just make sure that you are confident that you have a good reason for using that particular word and that your copy is strong enough to support it.

2. Be specific

Not only will being specific help you to avoid the many mind-numbing clichés that infest travel copy like fleas, it will also help prospective guests understand what your hotel has to offer, what’s in it for them to stay at your hotel rather than any other, and therefore sell your hotel more effectively.

Not only is the Little Palm Island Resort & Spa website specific about the activies that are on offer, but it also explains what the individual activities entail

Avoid sweeping statements

For example, telling visitors to your website that you have “something for everyone” doesn’t really tell them much at all, and it also supposes that you know what everyone wants – you don’t. Rather tell prospective guests exactly what you offer. This will show people that you do have something they will enjoy, and it will also give prospective guests a clearer picture of what their holiday with you might look like, thereby enticing them to your hotel far more effectively than any meaningless sweeping statement could.

Keep up-to-date

Content that is specific should also be up-to-date. New activities will become available in your area, and others will inevitably shut down; you will frequently upgrade your premises and facilities; and fashions in food choices will wax and wane. If your content is specific, it will need to reflect these changes.

Know who you are writing for

Being specific in your writing also calls for you to know who you are writing for. Any business should have a clear picture of who their target market is (and should probably have some personas drawn up), and hospitality businesses are not exempt. If you know who you are writing for, you will find it much easier to anticipate what they need to know, what kinds of questions they will have that your website can answer, and what top selling points your hotel offers that they will be interested in.

The Maison Bertine website specifically appeals to couples looking for romance

3. Tell a story

While your content should be specific, it shouldn’t be dry – travel is an emotive experience, and you should seek to evoke the emotions in your readers that will sway them to visit your hotel. Stories, or narratives, are an excellent way to connect with people’s emotions. The narratives you employ in your hotel’s copy needn’t be stories in the traditional sense (although they certainly can be), they just need to take readers on an emotional and sensory journey.

Travel is an emotive experience – you should evoke the emotions in your readers that will sway them to visit your hotel

Your guest should be the star of your story

When you tell your prospective guest the story of your hotel, make sure that they can picture themselves at the centre of it. Like being specific, this requires you to know who your guest is, and it also requires you to be able to write as though you are speaking to a real person. Unless your target market is language scholars, use words that your guests hear and use in everyday conversation to help them immerse themselves in the story (this will also help you to avoid clichéd words like “wellness”).

christchurch_harbour_hotel.png Christchurch Harbour Hotel does a great job placing readers at the centre of the hotel's story.


Stimulate the senses

While you should strive to keep your writing easy to understand, free of superfluous adjectives and clichés, and in the right tone for your target audience, you should still be describing your property in a way that stimulates your reader’s senses and tempts them to your hotel.

There are so many marketing tactics to explore, such as video marketing, social media marketing, using social proof, and email segmentation (just to name a few) and the marketer’s arsenal just keeps growing. But, no matter how many fancy tactics you employ in your marketing mix, if your foundation, the website that all these tactics drive traffic to, falls flat, then it is unlikely that these efforts will result in the real-life visitors you deserve.

Shamwari Game Reserve lets copy and images work together to stimulate the user's senses

The most important thing to remember when writing content for your hotel’s website, social media, and other marketing material is to be genuine, not generic. Remember that you are speaking to real people, and that you are telling them about your unique brand, not describing every boutique hotel/resort/game lodge they have ever come across.