Airbnb makes a habit of asking guests want they want and delivering. Hoteliers have to do the same to get guests talking via social media.
Where does Airbnb get off? Seriously. During the Christmas holiday, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky used Twitter to engage in a lengthy dialogue with customers about where Airbnb might be heading as a company. Why should you care? Well, because that conversation started with a simple question from Chesky: “If @Airbnb could launch anything in 2017, what would it be?”
Wait a minute … Airbnb asks for feedback, listens to guests, and shapes its service around what its guests actually want? How dare they? After all, as hospitality operators and marketers, didn’t that used to be our job?
Now, given this column’s focus, it’s fair to ask what any of this has to do with digital. Sure, it’s Airbnb and yes, Chesky used Twitter to enable the conversation, but that’s not why it should be important to you. After all, it’s no secret that digital has permanently changed the way your guests interact with brands and businesses.
What is important are the results of that change—and how you must respond.
What Chesky and his team recognize is that customer experience is the new marketing. Everything depends on the quality of the interactions your guests experience at every step of their journey. Why? Simple. Your guests carry a printing press in their pocket—oh, and a full-HD video camera and a production studio and a broadcast network, too. And they use these tools to share every element of their experience with their friends, family, fans and followers across social networks.
A 100-room hotel running at 60% occupancy with 1.4 guests per room hosts roughly 31,000 guests per year. And with an average of 200 connections on Facebook alone, those guests have the potential to reach an audience of over 6.1 million people. Even if these numbers wildly overstate your guests’ social media activity and only 10% of those guests actually bother to say something about their stay—nevermind what it says about their experience at your hotel if only 10% of your customers feel it’s worth talking about—that’s still over half a million opportunities for potential guests to hear about you each year. Imagine the stories they might hear.
This is equally true for “traditional” ratings and reviews seen on TripAdvisor and online travel agencies. I won’t spend much time on this topic; you live with this reality every day. But it’s worth noting that a recent TrustYou study found “guests are 3.9 times more likely to book the hotel with the highest average review score when price is equal” and, even better, that “76% of travelers said they were willing to pay more for a hotel with higher review scores.” My real-world experience with properties all around the globe suggests this is true in practice as well as in theory.
Increasingly, marketing is less about telling your brand’s story and is instead about ensuring your guests have a great story to tell on your behalf. Flip.to and Fuel Travel recently found word of mouth was the second-most influential factor in your guest’s decision-making process. What do you suppose your guests say about you?
None of this happens without digital. Before the internet, your guests maybe could tell a few friends about their travels—or bore them to tears with slides from their trip. But now they’re constantly connected with an engaged audience who want to listen. Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter work hard to ensure only the folks who want to see the messages your guests share actually do. And, yes, you have to make certain the rest of your digital platform reinforces those messages once your guests’ friends and family are ready to hear more. That’s crucial. But it all starts with how they’re finding out about you in the first place.
Customer experience is the new marketing. Airbnb gets it, which is why their CEO spent his Christmas holiday talking, and listening, to customers. The question now is: How do you plan to spend your next holiday? Or, for that matter, every other day this year?
Tim Peter helps hotels and resorts put digital to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs designed to increase sales and revenues. An expert in e-commerce, digital strategy, and marketing execution, Tim focuses on influencing customer behavior and delivering business results for companies worldwide. Prior to founding hospitality digital marketing strategy consulting firm Tim Peter & Associates in 2011, Tim led the world’s largest hotel franchisor and the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm in using digital to help hotels and resorts around the globe drive billions of dollars in revenue. He can be reached at timpeter.com/hotelmarketing or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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