News for the Hospitality Executive
|November 5, 2008 - Online peer reviews, the most visible
part of the Web 2.0 phenomenon, have become a tidal wave of whispers, replacing
word of mouth with (as one travel industry solution, the Avalon BUZZ Report
calls it) 'word of mouse'.
The success is driven by a consumer's desire to connect to the truth of a hotel's reputation. Research shows 75% of consumers believe companies lie in advertising, and only 27% trust so-called 'experts'. Travelers are eager to learn if reputation equals reality and are seeking ways around corporate 'bluff'.
The democratization of information has changed the face of credibility. In 2004, only 20% of consumers claimed to trust 'a person like me', by 2006 that figure had grown to a staggering 68%. In fact, a 2007 study showed 70 % of hotel shoppers preferred traveler reviews to professional reviews and up to 88% of those reading them said online guest reviews impact their decisions. Despite all the chatter that reviews are posted by competitors and are false, it is clear consumers still believe in the medium.
All this is not new to the business traveler, after all Flyer Talk has been around since 1998, well before the Web 2.0 hype. The change comes in the increasing level of transparency now available, one that puts everyone's dirty laundry at a traveler's fingertips. As more consumers demand 'objective' information (and one study says up to 91% want reviews), more companies will strive to create networks where users 'share a story', such as Sheraton's Global Neighborhood. Companies like Best Western have entered the sphere with a sponsored blog, 'On the Go With Amy', targeted at family travel. Likewise, sites like TripAdvisor.com, already boasting 7 million registered members and 30 million unique visitors per month, will continue to grow.
Every brand has loyal advocates, but increasing numbers of business travelers are faced with similar brands, identical pricing and identical benefits. Elizabeth Wilson, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Sheraton Mission Valley in San Diego puts it this way, 'We have every major brand in our back yard. We find the climate for business travel to be increasingly competitive.' In response, Wilson analyzes page placement and rates in conjunction with traveler reviews. Her goal is to see the value perception a consumer may have on a site, not just the rate. She suggests hoteliers mashup the disparate concepts of rate, placement and reviews to understand the risks in the marketplace. She supplements rate shopping tools with an automated web 2.0 shopping tool, the Avalon BUZZ Report (www.avalonreport.com). Her own management of these factors in tandem has shown beneficial results in market share. Additionally, staying abreast of traveler reviews allows her to encourage the staff push for more user content, the logical response to the wild card of reviews, the only factor she cannot negotiate or control. She also posts the traveler review summary report in operational departments and educates her sales team on perceptions of competitors based on results of automated searches.
Wilson's point of view is the new paradigm of competitively managing her hotel's virtual image at point of sale. This new school of thought acknowledges the power of brands and pricing, but does not ignore the transparencies of Web 2.0. It strives to balance all critical factors that motivate a consumer's decision, not just pricing. Blogging, widgets, and RSS feeds may create opportunities for greater engagement with the consumer and convert some to brand advocates, but one may also count on increased ease of research on the web and growing customer sophistication that may provide a counterbalance. In 2007, 43% of travelers claimed they went to only one site for travel research. That number was 28% by 2008 and the more tech-savvy a consumer becomes, the more likely she is to surf multiple sites.
Perhaps Elizabeth Wilson said it best, 'It's easy to think negotiated
rates and branding will bring you all the business you need, but both of
these factors just get your foot in the door. I know other competitors
have been invited in too. We don't ignore our advantages, but we won't
risk losing a guest by assuming his loyalty is stronger than his curiosity.'
|Also See:||Destination Hotels & Resorts Tackles Web 2.0 with Avalon BUZZ Report / October 2008|
|OUTRIGGER HOTELS Takes Control of Web 2.0 by Selecting Avalon BUZZ Report, the Leading Hotel Solution / August 2008|
|Dolce International Selects Avalon BUZZ Report© to Track Traveler Reviews / June 2008|
|Avalon Report Partners with EZYield.com; Synergistic new partnership allows EZYield.com users to monitor Web 2.0 sites and track online Consumer Generated Content / June 2008|
|Keeping Your Management Team Upbeat / April 2008|
|Six Ways Web 2.0 Helps In a Weak Economy / April 2008|
|LUXE HOTELS Selects Avalon BUZZ Report, the Leading Web 2.0 Solution / March 2008|
|Travel 2.0 -- So Many Sites, So Little Time; Monitoring the ‘Reviewsphere’ is overwhelming: focus on key sites is the solution / February 2008|
|Interstate Hotels & Resorts Partnering with Avalon Report for Travel 2.0 Solutions / November 2007|
|Sunstone Hotels Selects Avalon Report for a Greater Competitive Advantage / June 2007|