Yep, I’m old and more than a little technologically challenged. But, I recognize and fully appreciate the massive changes technology—specifically the Internet—has brought to the hotel industry. The Web has, in effect, become the primary way hotel customers—group and transient, business and leisure—source their hotels, make their choices, book their rooms and provide their post-trip feedback.
My fear, however, is the widespread acceptance of the cult of social media as the one, true and absolutely most cost-effective way to market the industry and individual hotels and brands. I fear Facebook (you can substitute Twitter, Instagram or any other social media site) may someday replace the basics of hospitality: the experience, joy, anticipation—even sensuality—hotel guests should feel when they step into your property. And selling that experience is best done face to face not via a Facebook post. The battle for market share needs to be a personal crusade by everyone in a hotel’s organization—not one waged just through TripAdvisor.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, the PR folks at a leading economy hotel chain asked me to tag along as the company’s executives fanned out across the country for a property-level sales blitz. On the morning of the first day of the blitz, we met the GM of one of the properties in the lobby of her hotel. The plan was for the GM to accompany the two executives from brand headquarters and me as we all cold-called 10 to 12 businesses in the area. It wasn’t even pure sales, more of a drop-by to introduce the hotel and leave a few brochures and boxes of cookies. To my shock, the GM said she wasn’t comfortable making the calls and begged off from the day’s activities.
Her reaction was wrong then, well before the Internet became the marketing weapon it has become. But it is just as wrong or even more so today in the era of social media marketing. Hotels (or brands or owners or management companies) can’t sell themselves behind a Twitter account. Sometimes it takes the GM or the sales manager or the owner to be the face of the hotel, meeting and greeting potential prospects, long-time customers and new faces as they enter the door.
Put another way, strong social media marketing is a powerful tool that is here to stay. But for hotels to be successful, their social media strategies must be backed by even stronger levels of personal hospitality throughout the sales, marketing and on-property experiences. The hotel industry feared the rise of online travel agencies would eventually commoditize the business. That hasn’t happened so far, but over-reliance on social media instead of personal hospitality could create the commoditization we all feared OTAs would bring.
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