LONDON—Social media and user-generated reviews were a significant theme throughout every sector of the travel industry at this years’ World Travel Market.
In the seminar “Reputation, Reputation, Reputation - How to manage and respond to what is being said about your hotel online,” hoteliers were warned to ignore their online reputation at their own peril.
Chairperson Pamela Carvell, VP of the Hotel Marketing Association, introduced the topic by emphasizing that “10 billon dollars per annum of the travel business is being influenced by consumer-generated content.
“Word of mouth is now both global and immediate, which presents a major challenge for anyone working anywhere in hospitality,” she said.
Carvell highlighted a World Travel Market report in which, of 1,000 holiday travel planners, 36% took advice from social media sites before making a reservation. Of those, 66% consulted TripAdvisor, 24% YouTube and 17% Twitter. Carvell, and indeed the other panellists, thought other evidence would indicate figures to be much higher.
“What is very, very interesting for us all is that 35% of social media users then changed their intended hotel as a result of their research,” she said.
The way in which potential guests choose and book a hotel has changed beyond recognition and it’s clear social media is playing a huge role.
Panellist Karen Plumb, EMEA Commercial Director of TripAdvisor, pointed to some of the numbers involved: TripAdvisor now has more than 40 million unique users a month, which equates to 5 million unique users a day.
“We operate in 24 countries in 16 languages and it puts every property in front of a truly global audience,” she said. Plumb emphasized that marketing budgets no longer hold much weight in the user-generated arena.
“TripAdvisor is a great leveller–it means that individual properties, bed and breakfasts, can compete against the chain properties, as it’s all about the online reputation of the property and how it is perceived by travellers,” she said.
The need to respond
Morris Sim from Brand Karma, a provider of media solutions aimed at hoteliers and accommodation providers, highlighted the need to manage the overall online brand as much as possible.
“The presence of your brand is fragmented across multiple sites, some of which you have control over and some of which you don’t,” Sim said. “It’s an interesting thought process to think—how does a consumer get to know your brand first? What is the first site they go to? If the most recent review happens to be a negative one you could have potentially lost a sale there if you have not addressed the comment.
‘It’s very important to have a comprehensive view about how your brand is being talked about and shared online; Increasingly the studies are suggesting that this is really a very influencing factor on purchasing decision and there needs to be a process and a set of resources dedicated towards managing your online reputation.”
Heiko Figge, managing director of Guoman & Thistle Hotels, maintained hoteliers need to take changes in hotel selection very seriously, even if only a small percentage provide online feedback.
|Crowd at the World Travel Market.
“In my organization, we have 9,500 rooms in the U.K. or thereabouts. If I look at the month of July we had somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million room nights with us,” Figge said. “In total terms in the entire organization, we had 186 pieces of feedback out of 150 million stays. It may only be a small proportion of feedback that we get at the moment, but we actually take this very seriously. We employ our own people that monitor our websites and we do respond in a constructive way.”
TripAdvisors’ Owner Centre launched in 2009, but only 200,000 hotels registered from some 450,000 properties reviewed on the site. The free service includes guidelines of how to respond, how to comment directly below a review and also e-mails members as soon as a review has been posted, closing that potentially harmful gap between review and response. Research has indicated that hotels that do respond are ultimately ranked higher.
By 2012 there’s going to be an estimated 150 million contributors of user-generated content. As Plumb said, don’t ignore them.
“Thank the best, acknowledge the worst,” she said. “A constructive response to a bad review, if it is written in the right way, can actually serve as a selling tool for the property and can actually show that the hotel is acknowledging them and taking action and taking customer services from seriously. It can demonstrate the stance of the property and become a selling tool in its own right.”