7 Building an online presence

Hospitality websites


Understand the process of building an online presence in hospitality


  1. Understand the role of web design in hospitality
  2. Become familiar with website structures
  3. Know the process of creating and maintaining a website


Since early 2000s, hospitality businesses realized the importance of having an online presence. Having an online presence allows them to obtain several advantages that were not possible before the Internet era. For example, they could reach out to consumers non-stop and promote products in clever and creative ways online. The online presence involves having a corporate website in addition to pages or profiles on multiple social media. Between the two main concepts, the online presence through the corporate website was found to be extremely important, as it represents a critical aspect of online promotion and distribution. Therefore, virtually all most hospitality business, especially larger ones, have created corporate websites and dedicated substantial resources to the design and maintenance of such websites.

A website is a collection of web documents, mostly web pages, that are linked to one another and offer information and facilitate various online tasks. While the typology of the website is quite vast, the subject of this section is represented by websites that are used for business purposes in the hospitality industry. While websites differ from one another based on the type of business and industry, it is important to recognize that they fulfill several important functions:



One of the most important functions of a website of a hospitality business is promotion. Today’s commercial environment is characterized by an increasing amount of information about various products and services that are available to consumers. It is difficult to cut through the clutter of corporate information, which is being constantly promoted toward consumers. Therefore, companies must find ways to reach out to the consumers with messages that are persuasive and that eventually lead consumers to develop or change attitudes and intentions to purchase.

Before the Internet era, businesses needed to rely on promotion services provided by media businesses, such as newspapers, magazines, or TV networks. To some extent, they still do. Once hospitality businesses were able to design their own websites, their level of control over the information and the way that information is being promoted changed considerably. Moreover, based on the principles of integrated marketing communications, the corporate website became the primary marketing tool of businesses. Businesses design a promotional strategy centered around the website and further adapt such strategy to fit the specifics of other online and offline promotional media.

Today, promotion serves as a critical important aspect of designing a website in any sub-industry of the hospitality industry. Regardless of industry, businesses rely increasingly on websites to establish their presence online and create a platform that displays information that will make the consumers interested in the company. This way, businesses build brand awareness, which is an instrumental step in consumer purchasing as consumers tend to purchase from brands that they are aware of. This is true for hotels, restaurants, food trucks, clubs, events, or other businesses that provide services within the broader hospitality industry.

The recent events affecting the hospitality industry have put more emphasis on the promotional function of the corporate website. For example, many restaurants that only had the minor online presence before the COVID-19 pandemic realized that the website is perhaps the most important promotional tool in the contactless world. Therefore, they have redeveloped the websites so that the customers can reach out to the company and order. Second, the fact that many consumers have smartphones that are always connected to the Internet creates an opportunity for every organization’s website to be accessible anytime anywhere. Third, most of today’s consumers expect some degree of customization of the products or services that they receive. The websites designed today allow for customization in the way products are being promoted and delivered, therefore increasing their usability. Moreover, the current labor shortage made numerous businesses reconsider their entire IT infrastructure, especially the website.



Distribution of products/services is another critical function of websites in hospitality. Distribution is a marketing function of a business that makes it possible for a product or service to be purchased by consumers. There is a distinction between distribution of physical goods and services. Physical goods actually travel from the place they are produced to the place where consumers purchase them. The network of companies and structures facilitating this travel is called a distribution channel. For example, a computer is being manufactured in a factory (for example, by Dell Computers), which then packs and ships it to a retailer company (for example, Best Buy). From the warehouse, the computer is sold in a physical store or online. Consumers either visit the store to buy the computer off the shelf or place an order online and the computer is shipped to their residence from the warehouse.

In contrast, distribution of services requires consumer to travel to the place where the service is being sold and consumed. For example, a hotel guest travels to a hotel, which is the place where the hotel services are sold and consumed. While not hospitality businesses sell online, the distribution function emerged as a fundamental aspect of web design, allowing companies to optimize their selling process and creating convenience for the consumer.

For a hospitality website to be able to fulfill the distribution function, it must be designed to sell products and services (generically called products). Thus, it must have: (1) a product catalog, (2) an ordering system, (3) a payment system, and (4) interfaces that facilitate the fulfillment process. The product catalog is generally set up differently on hotel websites vs. restaurant websites. For example, on hotel websites, the inventory is accessible through a search engine. The consumer can search inventory by inputting the check-in and check-out dates, and the system displays available inventory for those dates. Then, consumers can choose a product and proceed with the reservation/purchase. On restaurant websites, inventory is generally accessed through online menus, which feature all the restaurant’s offering. The payment system allows consumers to purchase the products. It connects the website with the payment getaway and provides consumers confirmation that the order has been paid.

The website also interfaces with the fulfillment systems. Fulfillment refers to the process of sending the product to the location where the consumer can actually use it. For example, a hotel website will communicate with the hotel’s PMS system that a booking for a particular room/night has been made so that the staff members have that information when the guest arrives. Moreover, a restaurant website will communicate with a restaurant’s systems so that the order is placed in production and delivery (dining room or to-go).

While most hotel websites have always had a distribution function, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many restaurants to redevelop their websites so that they incorporate distribution functions. Traditionally, restaurant websites were focused predominantly on promotion, on the assumption that most consumers would dine in, and only a few consumers would order over the phone and pick up the order directly from the restaurant. In the post-pandemic contactless world, having websites that facilitate distribution allows the restaurants to compete more directly with online food delivery systems (OFDS) like Uber Eats or DoorDash.

It is very important to recognize the online security aspect of distribution in hospitality. Many hospitality businesses, especially in foodservice, are small businesses, and often they do not have the resources necessary to employ specialized IT staff. As a result, their systems may sometimes be vulnerable to attacks. This is why it is important for businesses using online distribution and payments to adhere to the most current IT security standards, including PCI-DSS (Imperva, 2022). PCI-DSS is the acronym for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards and represents a set of security standards for all companies that utilize card payments (pcicomplianceguide, 2022). PCI-DSS compliance refers to adopting practices that make transactions secure (e.g., install firewalls, encrypting data, managing vulnerabilities). In addition, because websites utilize data provided by the consumers, they need to comply with the data privacy regulations. Privacy regulations are continuously changing, and business need to adopt the view that consumers’ data are assets that need to be protected (Wertz, 2021). Security and privacy are subjects of another section.


Corporate communications

Apart from the promotional and distribution functions, many websites serve as the primary corporate communication environment for businesses. Generally, the website is the place for publishing press releases, blogs, and general information about company, its funders, and the mission and vision of the business. Many businesses create sections of their websites on which they introduce their leadership team, provide their biographies, and create a general informational background that informs the public about the company. The level of complexity of corporate communications differs from one company to another depending on the size and complexity of the company itself; however, there are a few aspects that are critical for all companies.

First, the website provides insight into the mission and vision statements of the business. The vision reflects the future of the business and the mission explains how the business uses strategies to achieve its vision. Because generally such statements are fundamental to attracting and retaining consumers, mission and vision sections of websites also include promotional elements. Second, the website provides insight into the leadership team and the legacy of the business. Such information is relevant for consumers and the general public as it can help building trust in the business and its leaders. For businesses that are publicly traded, such information is even more critical, as it may influence the public’s views of the organization. Third, the website provides insight into non-business activities of the company. Many businesses shared their success with communities in the form of charity, activities, outreach, education, and so on. Such information is also important in shaping the public’s attitudes toward the business.


Management of loyalty programs

One of the important aspects of any business is retention of customers. The benefits of loyalty are well-known to hospitality businesses. To monetize consumer loyalty, many businesses designed loyalty programs. Research has found that loyal consumers have a higher impact on the businesses, especially if the businesses engage the consumer on the longer term. Loyal consumers tend to spend more money, resist promotional efforts from competing brands, and generally defend their favorite brands even when their favorite brands do not provide the best products or have service errors.

The concept of loyalty is especially critical for hotel and airline businesses. For example, the largest hotel chains have designed comprehensive loyalty programs, which offer rewards to consumers based on their consumption. Consumers’ management of their spending and fulfillment of benefits requires constant communication between a business and its consumers. The corporate websites provide the best tools for this information exchange. The websites provide the interface for loyal consumers to create accounts and utilize secure sections of the website to see the number of points that they have accrued, the history of their spending, and other potential information related to the loyalty program. Such interfaces are always connected with the other components of the commercial environment of a hotel business. For example, once consumers log into a corporate website based on their loyalty program credentials, they could have access to the reservation engine, utilize points directly for reservations, or purchase ancillary products. Moreover, there is an increased collaboration between credit card companies and hotel loyalty programs, which created opportunities for consumers to accrue benefits both from direct transactions on the hotels’ websites but also from credit card spending. A similar approach has been taken by the airline industry, in which consumer loyalty is even more advantageous due to industry consolidation and smaller number of competitors (relative to hotels).

The concept of loyalty is also becoming increasingly important for restaurants. The restaurant industry is very fragmented many restaurants operate as a single location, therefore being restricted geographically in terms of the number of consumers that could be loyal. Thus, the concept of loyalty in foodservice applies better to companies with large geographical footprints, such as chain restaurants (e.g., fast food, fast casual, pizza). In such situations, consumer loyalty is managed similarly to the hotel industry by using the corporate website of the chain. That website provides the interface for loyal consumers to access their profiles, while the large number of locations allow consumers to accrue points based on their consumption.

Smaller restaurants have also begun to focus on consumer loyalty. It is becoming increasingly common to see a loyalty section on almost all restaurant websites, even though such restaurants are not a part of a chain. Restaurants’ orientation towards loyalty in recent years has also been encouraged by the development of OFDS. Many restaurants have realized that engaging in a direct relationship with their loyal consumers would eventually encourage them to bypass the OFDS and order directly from the restaurant. Ordering directly from the restaurant is more profitable for the restaurant than ordering through an OFDS and developing a loyalty program for the restaurant could increase restaurants’ profits and consumers’ long-term retention.


Staff-oriented features

The website features described above apply mostly to consumers or users outside of the company. However, the corporate website of a hospitality business often includes features that are designed for staff members. Such features include training programs, employee profiles, and communication portals that convey internal marketing messages. Such features are important because they help all the information that is relevant to the business to converge into one platform, therefore improving communication efficiency within the business. One important additional benefit of this approach is that the informational content can be updated easily and be customized for different groups of staff members.

In the past, many businesses had created intranets for internal communications. Intranets represent networks that are only available to the staff members. Intranets allow staff members to communicate with one another and access resources that are shared within the organization. Many businesses have changed their approach to internal communications, and instead use sections of their website to fulfill such communication tasks.

Having sections of the corporate website dedicated to staff members is an important element of the corporate culture. It can boost staff morale, increase engagement, and ultimately retention and productivity. Generally, such portals offer access to training programs, certifications, benefits, and overall give the staff member a sense of how they are doing in their day-to-day activities. Such sections can be also linked to company calendars, event schedules, or other activities designed to enhance the corporate culture and create a nurturing work environment.




A commercial website is designed to sell products. While it carries a promotional component, its main role is to persuade the consumers to buy. For this, the entire structure of the website is designed to emphasize two aspects: (1) the information needed for the consumer to make a purchasing decision, and (2) the mechanisms that allow consumers to go through the steps necessary to complete a purchase. The two aspects cannot be separated. Together, they create the environment in which the transactions are initiated and completed on websites.

A commercial page is start with a landing (or home) page. A landing pages is generally the first page that users access when they first “land” on the website. They can arrive at this page by typing the URL (or web address) of that website into a browser’s search field, or by being redirected to that website from an online search or a link. The landing page is probably the most important page of the entire website because it represents the portal for users to access all the other pages of the website. All the other pages of the website are linked to the landing page, and users can navigate from this page to all the other pages or sections and typically return to this page with a single click or tap.

There is abundant research describing consumers’ motivations to stay or abandon their visit to a website upon accessing the landing page. The general consensus is that the consumers are guided by first impressions to stay or not stay on a landing page. Specifically, it takes consumers only a few seconds to decide whether they should stay or leave the website altogether. Therefore, it is very important for web designers to create landing pages that are enticing, presenting information in the most direct way, have clear navigation cues, have information that is organized in a way that the consumers can easily access.

Because the landing page serves a dual purpose – promotional and transactional – it features persuasive information and the mechanism that leads to transaction completion. For example, a hotel website will show pictures of the various amenities, locations, or activities of the property, especially including pictures of actual consumers that enjoy being there. A restaurant may include pictures of several dishes, or a picture of the dining room that includes consumers that enjoy their experience in the restaurant. These pictorial elements represent calls for action and can trigger the consumer to pursue a purchasing sequence. Therefore, such pictures, and the associated copy text, must be professionally developed so that they reflect the reality of that particular business.

In addition to pictorial or textual elements, the landing page includes the transactional mechanism. For example, for a hotel it may include the purchasing interface in the form of several fields that consumers can use to input the dates of their stay. For a restaurant, this mechanism can include links from pictures or descriptions of dishes, or the totally separate “BEGIN YOUR ORDER” interface that starts with a blank order and allows consumers to add items to their order.

Apart from these two features, the landing page has links to multiple other pages that feature a variety of separate content. These are not necessarily essential in the transaction, but can enhance the informational background that is necessary for consumers to make their decisions to engage in a transaction. For example, a hotel website may have a section called “Things to Do”, where consumers are provided information about potential activities at the destination or at that property. Also, hotel websites may have sections dedicated to specific services on the property, such as spa services, retail, and so on. Similarly, restaurants can have pages dedicated to specific dishes, or specific types of meals (lunch, dinner, special events).

However, one important element that should be present on landing pages and be clearly linked to all of the other pages of the website is the contact information. It is important to remember that commercial corporate websites are the main portal for communication between the company and the consumers, and therefore providing a clear section with contact information is extremely important. Moreover, the company can enhance the informational background by providing links to the company’s social media pages. This is common in today’s interconnected world because the corporate website represents the main element of a company’s online presence, but the online presence always includes other elements that are outside but linked to the corporate website. For example, the corporate website should feature links to the company’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages. This way, the consumers engage with the company outside of the website, but in environments that may prefer more of use more frequently.



By definition, promotional web sites are designed to promote the business that they represent. Therefore, their structure is slightly different than those of commercial websites. The differences stem from the fact that promotional websites do not need to have a purchase or payment interface. Therefore, they are generally not designed with the same restrictions and compliance rules as commercial websites. Instead, their focus is on creating an informational background for the consumers to be interested in a business and its products. The focus is to persuade the consumers to change their mind regarding the business in its products. Traditionally, such websites focus on building awareness about the brand, and eventually driving traffic into the actual store of the business or to other locations online where the products can be purchased.

Promotional websites are common among organizations that do not necessarily seek to sell a specific product. For example, each destination in the U.S. has a website that promotes the destination to any potential traveler. These websites exist to persuade travelers to visit the destination regardless of where they stay, eat, or what events they engage in when at the destination. Other websites are designed to promote events. In this case, the main purpose of the website is to provide accurate information about the event, so that participants can easy to find what they need when attending the events. Moreover, such event websites are especially crucial before the event, because they help the participants plan their participation to the event and visit to the destination.



Because the design of websites is highly creative activity, the way web sites are designed can take a variety of forms. However, websites include a few structural elements, which together guide the user to the task that was set up for that particular website (persuasion, promotion, purchase).

Web pages

A website is a collection of web pages. The web pages are linked to one another in a way that makes sense for the informational content provided on those pages. Theoretically, there is an unlimited number of pages that can be linked together to form a website. Practically, the web design and development practice has demonstrated that for business purposes there are only a few types of web pages that are generally linked together to create a website. This is important for the hospitality industry because the industry itself is very diverse, which makes businesses design their websites in ways that are emphasizing the informational background necessary to promote or commercialize products.

Perhaps the most important of all the web pages is the landing page (also referred to as the home or index page). This is the place where the consumers or users access the website. All the other pages of the website are linked to this page in ways that are easy to use. The landing page should provide suggestive information about where to find the rest of the useful information on the other web pages. Therefore, the design of this web page is critical for the success of the entire website.

Other websites provide ways for users to engage with the company even in the absence of actually purchasing a product right away on the website. For example, restaurant websites include pages where consumers can make reservations or obtain information about the menu.

Finally, regardless of the type of business organization, many hospitality websites have a web page that allows the users to engage with your organization as part of the rewards program. While rewards programs are more common for hotel companies, the restaurants are catching up on this logic. One other common aspect of restaurant business is collecting emails or other contact information for potential customers to be engaged by e-mail marketing.


A typical structure of a web page includes several elements that are present on most designs.

Headers and footers: These are regions of a web page located at the top and the bottom of the page respectively, and they remain the same regardless of which page the user navigates to within the website. These sections summarize the home page as they contain promotional information (such as logos and contact information) and links to other sections or pages of the website. TheA header contains the logo (typically located on the upper left side), the title of the web page (typically located in the center), and some other important commercial or promotional information such as shopping tools or profile log in (for example, for rewards programs). Very importantly, the header provides navigational menus, allowing users to access the other sections or pages. The footer generally includes links to contact information, availability, social media redirect links, and copyright information.

Body: Generally, the body of the web is divided into multiple columns. Commonly, there are three columns, with the center column used for the primary content. Sometimes, the left column provides menus for navigation, banner ads, or other promotional or informational content. The layout of the body of the web page may differ quite substantially from business to business and may include a variety of layouts that contain pictures, paragraphs, links, action buttons, navigational cues, and so on. This is done to present information in the most persuasive way to the user. Persuasion online is extremely important because the user has only the information to interact when facing a decision to purchase.

Links: perhaps one of the most important elements of a website is represented by links. The links allow users to navigate directly to other locations on the website or outside of the website anywhere on the web. Links are used internally on the website for navigation and can be attached to multiple elements within the website such as images, buttons, or words. It is important for a website to contain links that are suggestive because users will intensify their searches if they receive cues that the information that they are looking for is seemingly accessible using a specific link.

Images: another important element website is represented by images. Images add to the informational content and therefore increase the value of a website. However, using images can enhance a website that can also decrease the value of it, if the images are not appropriately selected or not aligned with the rest of the information presented on the website. Another important aspect of using images on the website is the intellectual property related to the website. It is common for hospitality products to be displayed as pictures on websites because the use of images takes away the intangibility of some of the products. For example, it is common to see pictures of various dishes or restaurants or the amenities at a hotel. However, it is extremely important to understand the limits of utilization of images online, due to the regulations in intellectual property. This is because it is costly for hospitality organizations to hire professional photographers to take outstanding, customized, or processed images of their products or amenities. Instead, it is very common to use stock images found online. Such images are also supposed to align with the overall marketing strategy of the business. One important trend in recent years is to show people enjoying the products of the hospitality business instead of just showing static pictures of various products or amenities. If carefully chosen, the images enhance the information of value of the website and make it seem that the user is among the people who would really enjoy the products of the business. Sometimes, web designers use images to create an emotional appeal, attempting to connect the users through emotion with the website. For this to happen, the type of image should relate to the target audience.



To create a functional website, it needs to be designed, developed, tested, and published. There are two important phases of this project: design and development. Each phase requires the work of professionals that are specialized in design, development, and other adjacent areas.

Web design

The design phase takes place through collaboration between representatives of the company that will be featured on the website and web designers. A web designer is a professional who makes decisions about the content that should appear on the website, the format of the website, and all the other design and marketing-related decisions. The web designer decides how the website would eventually look like and what will it do. A web designer should have extensive knowledge of graphic design (for example, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator), user interface and user experience (UI and UX) design, front-end web development (for example, HTML, CSS, JavaScript language skills), marketing knowledge, and a good understanding of the online environment (for example, search engine optimization, data privacy) (betterteam, 2022).

Responsive design

Responsive design has evolved from the need to handle web content that is being visualized on devices having multiple screen sizes. This in turn was caused by the mass adoption of mobile devices, which are characterized by various screen sizes/resolutions. Responsive design represents a set of design principles that allow the content of web pages to re-shape based on the resolution of the screen on which it is accessed, making it look good on any device. For example, websites that are developed for high resolution desktop screens adapt to smaller screens not by proportionally shrinking content, but rather by rearranging the elements of the web page when the user is accessing the website using a smaller screen device. This principle allows web content to be displayed clearly and accurately without distortion on devices with all sorts of screen sizes, making it easily visible for users.

Responsive design works by creating a single set of code for multiple devices, letting the code adapt the way content is displayed based on the screen resolution of any user’s device. One of the most important advantage of using responsive design is that there is no need to design multiple websites for multiple screen resolutions, creating a single visual experience for the user. Instead, only one website needs to be developed with responsive design properties, making it easier for users to find the website using search engine algorithms, reducing the time necessary to maintain the site, and especially allowing users with mobile devices to take advantage of fully well-developed websites (designmodo, 2022). Another important aspect of responsive design is prioritization of content. By rearranging the elements of a website based on the resolution of the screen, more content is accessible by the users without navigation (Schade, 2014).


Web development

Once the concept of the website is designed, the project moves to the development team, which then creates the website and all the related structures for the website to exist. Given the multitude of types and range of complexity of the websites used in hospitality, it is possible that the size of the design and development team vary considerably. For example, simple websites could rely on a single freelance designer/developer professional, who does everything from the design to the publication of the website. In contrast, large, comprehensive websites involve teams of numerous IT professionals with various responsibilities.

Web developers are IT professionals that are responsible for building the website based on the concept created by the web designer. These professionals should have excellent knowledge of programming because they design the actual structure and content of the website (Barraclough, 2022). Their goal is to create a website that runs smoothly, is secure, and fulfills all the design needs that were decided by the web designer. There can be three types of developers. Back-end developers use programming languages (Java, SQL) to build the part of the website that communicates with the server and databases and is not seen by the user. Front-end developers are in charge of programming website aspects (for example, forms) that the users of the website interact with. Finally, full-stack developers are generally experts in both front-end and back-end development. Once the website is developed, it is published online and becomes accessible to the users.


Website hosting and maintenance

Web hosting refers to the process of finding a secure place online for the content of a website (Pavlovic, 2020), from which the users of a website can access it. The content of the website includes the web pages, images, videos, database, and other elements that constitute the website, and is generally located (or hosted) on web servers. Web servers allow website developers to create a secure, efficient, and effective online presence by reducing the need to store web content locally. Each web server has an online address. A common way to identify servers (and other devices connected to networks) is by using IP addresses. They represent unique sequences of characters that traditionally take a format like this: (with four numbers ranging from 0 to 255). The four-number standard (called IPv4) is currently changing to a new standard (called IPv6), which includes 8 numbers represented in hexadecimal notation separated by colons, which accommodates more possible addresses.

Once the website is hosted on a web server, the users need a way to access the website. To access the website, the users need to access the IP address of the web server. Since it is difficult for users to remember an IP address as a string of numbers, the concept of domain name becomes important. A domain name is a list of words that is associated with a numeric IP address. For example, the domain name “uh.edu” may be associated with the IP address: Users who type “uh.edu” in a search field of a web browser will be directed to the IP address associated to that specific domain name and will access the web content located on the server with the address

In hospitality, domain names are generally represented by the brand of the business, which is called the “second level domain”, followed by the extension “.com” representing the “top-level domain” for a commercial website (cloudfare, 2022). Common hospitality domain names are Hilton.com, Marriott.com, hotels.com. Web hosting of any website requires the registration of a domain. Domain names can be “registered” with registrar companies such as GoDaddy.com for a period of time (cloudfare, 2022), after which the registration is either renewed or expires.

Once the domain name is registered, the website is being published on the web server. The users can now use its content. At the same time, websites must undergo regular maintenance. Maintaining the website should ensure that the website retains its design attributes and runs without error. For example, aspects such as web page load time, web security, forms, 404 errors (page not found) should be regularly checked (Sajid, 2021).

There are many aspects of web design that are continuously evolving. For hospitality businesses, it is critical to pay attention to the trends and be able to adapt their websites to capture their users’ attention. Moreover, it is imperative to remain focused on the way consumers interact with the website through their devices so that any changes in such interactions are promptly addressed through web design to optimize engagement.



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Information technology in hospitality Copyright © by Cristian Morosan, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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