Changes in how consumers book and plan their travel have altered how successful marketers engage with their guests. The integration of review and rating forums, reduced spending capacities and elevated communication expectations are playing a significant role in how guests decide where and how to book their next trip. These trends are evolving as users become more active in the online space, and now leisure travelers rely on online tools and Web properties to assist their purchase process.

According to eMarketer, in May 2009, 34 percent of leisure travelers visited search engines first to start their planning and booking process.

Only 7 percent of these travel planners visit individual hotel Web sites as their first stop.

On average, people visit a minimum of three Web sites before booking a trip or making a reservation.

For marketers in the casino hotel industry these behavior trends are significant when planning effective online strategies to increase reservations and reach occupancy goals. While these statistics could imply that guests are fragmented across the Internet, leaving marketers at a disadvantage, it actually creates a world of opportunity to carve out a profitable niche for your property.

Reading ratings and reviews is an important step on the potential guest’s path to making a reservation. Even more than stand-alone hotels and casinos, guests are looking for a complete package to satisfy their gambling, entertainment, dining and sleeping needs in one location. A good review about one of these components could encourage potential guests to book with a property.

The opposite scenario is also possible, but unflattering reviews provide a unique opportunity to cultivate relationships with engaged (albeit disgruntled) guests. The instinct to be weary of review forums is valid, but marketers can use them to their advantage by being transparent with their potential and past guests. If uncomplimentary reviews surface, consider them an opportunity to re-market your property to guests who care enough to post a comment. Especially if the conversation is hosted on your Web site these candid discussions will be a draw for guests to your site. They will see your property as honest and will be more likely to be open in return.

Aggregators like Expedia and function much like the travel agencies of the past. They make planning and booking a trip easy and offer travelers assurance that they are getting the best deal. Aggregators play a significant role in reserving and planning a trip because they simplify the comparison process. While aggregators might siphon traffic from hotel and casino Web sites in the beginning, they lack the unique content and interaction that guests crave before making their final decision. In short, even if users go to an aggregator this does not mean that they will book there. Casino hotels have the distinct advantage of being able to brand and promote their properties from a more holistic perspective than aggregators and booking agents. Guest make their decisions on several factors - one of which is the price that aggregators provide - but marketers can use their Web sites to capture users further down the consideration funnel and drive online reservations.

One method to capture this traffic is search-engine optimization. Search engines are, by and large, where guests initiate their online purchase decisions. For example, after they visit an online booking agent they will likely return to their favorite search engine to conduct further research. Make sure guests can find you at search engines to capture this traffic. Investigate the keywords that drive your conversions (not just traffic) to optimize your initiatives and make sure everything is running as efficiently as possible. Emphasize the amenities that mean the most to your guests, and invest in content that will garner top rankings for these words.

To augment your SEO efforts use paid search-engine marketing to capture users as they progress down the conversion process. The use of paid search and SEO is a powerful combination because it reinforces your authority for queried keywords. It signifies to potential guest that your property relates to their keywords, which boosts your click-through rates.

Once guests book and visit your property make sure you have a solid program to retain them as future guests. Social media and e-mail are innately built for customer-retention marketing because they require little engagement commitment while reinforcing your brand.  Depending on other campaigns, use your CRM outlets to cross-promote events that entice guests back to your property. It also helps to build profiles and personas around guests to add personalized touches as much as possible.

The good news for casino hotel marketers is that guests engage with brands online and have a predictable conversion process. The key is to decipher and track how your particular guests engage with properties during their consideration process and use it to your advantage. .