Facebook’s Nearby allows users to use their mobile device to see what hotels are near them at any particular time.
MENLO PARK, California—Whether hoteliers greatly anticipate or desperately fear the day social giant Facebook ramps up its hotel industry presence, it’s clear that day has come.
The company hired a “head of travel” to provide more cohesion to the various teams focused on travel, and, while it’s still unclear how Facebook will monetize its hotel presence, plans are in place to begin partnering with the industry more closely.
In an interview with HotelNewsNow.com, Lee McCabe, newly appointed head of travel for Facebook’s global vertical marketing team, said his initial goal is to provide “far more clarity” to the hotel industry on the company’s plans and to teach hoteliers how they can benefit from Facebook’s powerful reach.
McCabe, former senior director of market management at Expedia, said Facebook thus far hasn’t done a good job with communication.
“We haven’t communicated exactly what (hoteliers) do to work with Facebook,” he said. “We already work well with all the major brands, and my part is to make it easy for independents, too. I want to make sure we start off well.”
Until now, Facebook hasn’t had an executive focused on “tying it all together about what Facebook should mean for travel,” McCabe said. “There’s been no internal direction.”
“My goals and challenges are offering clarity in distilling the message,” he continued. “When I was at Expedia, always hearing Facebook speak at events, it was always a generic message. I want to go out there with a travel-specific message. Not just growth but exactly what it means to travel.”
McCabe isn’t ready to unveil any long-term plans just yet. Asked whether Facebook will eventually sell hotel rooms, McCabe said the company “hasn’t got that far yet.”
“We need (the current) products to work as best as they can, and that’s our emphasis now,” he said. “Once we’re at that stage, we can think about monetization.”
Facebook recently rolled out two new products that have the potential to greatly affect hotel traffic: Graph Search and Nearby. Nearby already is available for all Facebook mobile users and Graph Search is being tested with a select group of users. Both products remain in beta testing.
“They’re game changers,” McCabe said of the two product additions. “Graph Search and Nearby are going to be huge for hotels. Already they’re pretty good, and they’re a long way off from their potential.”
Nearby is a tool that allows users to use their mobile device to see what hotels are near them at any particular time; the application also will serve up comments and recommendations from Facebook friends who have stayed at those particular hotels.
Graph Search operates on the same concept—when a Facebook user does a search within Facebook, the search results will return friend comments and recommendations.
McCabe said neither of the products will scrape the Web nor include reviews or ratings from external sites. Rather the value lies in having results from those in a users’ network.
“Nearby is the best example of the convergence of social, mobile and location—or SoLoMo—by far, especially as the booking window falls and people are looking more and more last minute,” he said.
“We’ve gone from a world of wisdom of one to wisdom of algorithm to wisdom of clouds,” he continued. “Social offers the wisdom of friends.”
As far as how hoteliers can ensure their properties appear in the newest Facebook tools, McCabe said at this point it’s rather simple. There is no cost, and the first step is to ensure the hotel has a Facebook page. Nearby and Graph Search will pull information from that page.
“Just make sure you’re providing a compelling experience,” he said. “Make sure the page sells the hotel as well as it can. Treat your Facebook page just like an (online travel agency) page.”
Whether Facebook will institute a booking engine and begin transacting hotel rooms or shipping users off to a supplier or third party remains to be seen, McCabe said. The company is “still working that out,” he said. For now, Facebook is employing a click-to-call strategy.
“My message to hoteliers is to keep it simple,” he said. “It’s not as complicated as people make it out to be. Concentrate on the things you’ve been doing well for 20 or 30 years: branding, promotions and sales conversions.”