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The Wild West – Consumers and Hoteliers Try to Cope
in the Era of Social Media

By Rob Rush
March 2011

Used to be when you wanted to learn a little something about a destination you were planning to visit or a hotel you were considering staying at you’d simply talk to a couple of friends who hopefully knew something, scan the local newspaper’s travel section, or check a AAA or Mobil ratings guidebook. It was spotty at best, but it was the way we gathered information prior to the advent of the Internet and online travel ratings. Today we’re all just a couple of clicks away from more information than we can really process effectively. To add to the confusion, much of the information on one site may be in direct conflict with another about the same destination, hotel, or restaurant. What to do as a consumer/traveler and as a hotelier?

As a consumer, when it comes to my own personal and business travel, I’m a big reader so I tend to collect as much information as I can in advance of a trip. I then process it all through my own filter that’s been fine-tuned by prior experience, both good and bad, with a particular Website or online rating/recommendation, and place my bet. It’s a lot of work because there are so many sites and resources available to you; Trip Advisor, Yelp, TravelPost, Oyster, Raveable, Conde Nast, Frommers, and on and on. And some Websites don’t just address hotel reviews. There’s a site called that rates the hotel reservation Websites only, not the hotels. There’s another site called that profiles the size, configuration, layout and furnishings of individual hotel rooms at a specific hotel. Each offering has a little different approach and methodology. Many hoteliers and consumers dispute the reviews due to fraudulent submissions, which at present appears difficult to prevent. Recently the CEO of the British Hospitality Association announced that European hotels would seek governmental regulation of rating sites, which have the power to damage business with unwarranted criticism (as well as enhance it with effusive praise). If you like, you can even spend an afternoon perusing Websites that report on bedbug infestation by city and by hotel. Like I said, it’s a touch of the Wild West. It’s funny, but with all of that information to consider, I find I still like to reach out to someone I know to validate my thinking if I can. Point is, as a consumer, all of this information does put us in a better position today to inform ourselves and minimize defects, which is a good thing.

It’s a different story for hoteliers who need to distinguish their properties and make a living in this rapidly-evolving environment. Hotels and management are struggling to find their place in this new world. Many hotels now have full-time employees dedicated to scraping all of the information they can find about their hotel on Trip Advisor, Bizzy, Pegshot, Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, etc., summarizing same for the staff, and perhaps responding to guests as needed. Reputation is at stake for both the individual hotel and the brand, so it matters. This challenge has spawned a whole new industry…social media management services like Revinate and Circos’s Brand Karma among others. These services have features that include alerting hotel managers when a posted review scores below a preset rating threshold, setting up workflows so that, for example, a housekeeping complaint can be routed to a housekeeper, and creating Twitter searches to monitor, for example, tweets about wine-country weddings. It also enables the hotel to compare its buzz and ratings/reputation versus competitors in its local market. Because many travelers don’t scroll beyond the first ten or so recommendations on sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp, building up a mass of positive reviews helps to get heads in beds.

Perhaps I’m a little “old school,” but I really believe that if a hotel and its staff fanatically focuses on the experiential elements that matter most to a guest today and probably always will (e.g., cleanliness, friendliness, a comfortable bed, a warm welcome, gracious service, getting online efficiently and preferably at no cost, etc.) they’ll be able to maintain and enhance their reputation and grow their business. In the end, the Internet is simply an amalgamation of word-of-mouth recommendations, which is always the best way to grow your brand and your business.

Reprinted courtesy of LRA Worldwide’s The Loyalty Leader:

About the Author
Rob co-founded LRA Worldwide, Inc. and is the Company's President and CEO. Rob has led LRA to its current position as the leading business services consultancy and researcher in the rapidly-growing field of Customer Experience Management. Rob has been a driving force in transferring LRA's Customer Experience Management expertise honed in the hospitality and leisure sectors to other industries where customer experience is a central element of an effective corporate branding and growth strategy. He brings valuable insight into the management of business services organizations and entrepreneurial companies.


Zachary Conen
Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing

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