Maintaining a consistent brand image has never been more difficult for hotels. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Wikipedia are among the most visited sites in the world, and all subsist on user-generated content that can hack away at a hotel’s hard-won image. Meanwhile, new mobile apps are making it ever easier for customers to share their opinions with others. This month, the iPhone app, Tello, has come out of beta, allowing users to quickly rate local businesses, primarily those in the service sector. Add in Yelp, TripAdvisor and the like – and suddenly a company’s online reputation is at the mercy of anyone with an Internet connection.
Online reviews and customer feedback are affecting bottom lines all over the country, as word-of-mouth has become a prime motivator for customer behavior. At least one survey, conducted in the UK among 2,000 consumers, found that 39% use TripAdvisor as part of their research before booking a trip. A recent MSNBC poll showed that 86% of travelers use online review sites for hotel accommodations. It’s no wonder then that hotels are tracking, responding to, and, in some cases, soliciting reviews for, TripAdvisor and other online review sites.
As a hospitality consulting company that provides mystery shopping services for hotels across the world, Coyle Hospitality focuses on the guest experience. Can the prevalence of online reviewing sites and applications that make consumer reviewing easier enhance the guest experience if servers and bellman are constantly on their toes? It may, but hotels can’t look the other way when it comes to maintaining and protecting their online reps. And judging from a recent TripAdvisor survey of 1,000 hotel and lodging owners, more than a quarter plan to launch programs to engage guests via mobile (another 27% said they had similar strategies last year and plan to continue them in 2011) and 72% plan to respond to online reviews, whether positive or negative.
Keeping track and monitoring social media mentions and exposure is getting easier for hotels. This roundup of social media monitoring tools gives a sense of just how important monitoring online reps has become for hotels. Tools like Revinate, ReviewPro and Chatter Guard help hotels more easily and efficiently keep track of what’s being said about them.
But hoteliers are not necessarily taking the power of online hotel review sites lying down. After TripAdvisor blocked its reviews from being accessed on Google Places, Hospitality eBusiness Strategies, an internet hospitality consultant, suggested that hotels should make strides to “level the digital playing field” by promoting reviews on other consumer-generated sites like Frommers, Yelp or Rand McNally. Also, it advised hotels to add guest satisfaction surveys to their own homepages. By including customer reviews on their own sites, hotels are keeping the guest engaged with their hotel. Positive reviews should also be used on other channels like Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, and consumer-generated content should be added to a property’s profile, this hospitality consultant advised.
One thing is certain: a traveler’s willingness to stay at a hotel is, and will continue to be, affected by the reviews of others, so employing customer-centric strategies to address and engage with these consumers is essential for preserving brand integrity.