The following is a post from Kristen Poillon, TIG Global Manager of Sales Operations
As anyone in the industry knows, social media has emerged as a marketing powerhouse, changing the way consumers are consuming, and marketers are…well…marketing to those consumers. For the travel industry, one of the biggest social movements to date has been the adoption of online consumer travel reviews and the weight that they now carry in the eyes of the consumer at the most critical stage in the buying funnel. This shift has kicked the canned marketing pitch to the curb, likening its appeal to that of the clichéd used car salesman’s approach. Today’s consumers are smart, savvy, and vociferous in their opinions, and the online space has provided a vehicle for those opinions to be heard. The most important element to this equation is that they have, in essence, become your marketing voice.
According to a PhoCusWright study released today titled ‘Social Media in Travel: Traffic & Activity,’ on average, 8% of unique visitors to OTAs purchased travel from an OTA in 2009; however, 16% of all unique visitors to OTA hotel review pages purchased travel. This would mean that the shoppers who visited the hotel review pages were twice as likely to convert.
This certainly begs the question as to whether these shoppers had already done their homework and were more predisposed to book already, or on the contrary, if their conversion and purchase decision was directly influenced by the power of peer reviews. While it is hard to finitely determine an answer, research of anecdotal evidence found in the reviews themselves suggests the former. But no matter how you look at it, it is evident that there is an influential connection between reviews and the decision to buy. This accounts for the majority of OTAs recent clamoring to take control of this trend and implement a built-in review element to their sites to encourage seamless conversion from the research phase to the booking pages on their site.
No doubt it can be a nerve wracking thought to imagine the success of your brand lying in someone else’s hands, and this uptick of OTA review sites pose a challenge to the hotel marketer that is trying to steer away from OTAs and drive conversion on their own site. The best cure is to embrace the social aspect of your brand and nurture it in a positive direction. To achieve this goal, it is imperative to follow a few simple concepts:
1. Monitor your brand. It is important to focus on both travel review sites and OTA sites to ensure that you have your finger on the pulse of your customers in a variety of forums. This will enable you to resolve issues as they come up to avoid PR disasters that could potentially harm both your reputation and your revenue.
2. Don’t take reviews lightly. While it may be easy to blow off a bad review, or chalk it up to an overly finicky customer, you should never underestimate the power of the spoken word. As these stats suggest, people are not only listening, but they are making critical buying decisions based on what the masses are saying, as they are fully aware that the average Joe has no stake in the success of your brand and will tell it like it is.
3. Reply, Reply, Reply. Bad reviews are inevitable, but don’t allow them to steer your brand down a rocky path. Take the time to review those review sites on a regular basis to nip misgivings about your property, or brand, in the bud. It will not only appease the disgruntled travelers, but it will also win you a sense of appreciation from the millions of visitors that are likely to see your response. It sends a clear message that you truly care.
4. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. If there is one thing for certain about online travel reviews, it is that you cannot filter or control how they are written or where they appear. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and they will surely voice them, especially on matters that concern their valuable free time and eat up a chunk of their discretionary spending. Travelers will post in multiple online venues and there is nothing to stop that fact. So instead, view the positive side. Work with faulty reviews to find a resolution and fix issues you may not have ever heard about otherwise, had you been using a traditional marketing message. People have always talked, just in private circles that are beyond your earshot. Think of your reviews as sitting in on a research meeting. Use what beneficial information you have learned to improve your customer service and make up for your short comings to earn their loyalty.
5. Monitor Constantly. This is all good in theory, but monitoring travel review sites will take time and effort to maintain. Be sure to develop a strategy for monitoring on a regular basis, whether it be through an on-site point person, a group of designated employees, or choosing to seek out a professional service that does the work for you and washes your hands of the dirty work. Here at TIG Global, we have a whole team dedicated to keeping an eagle eye on our clients’ reviews in the online and social media space, along with a streamlined service (HotelProtect) that monitors your brand name 24/7 to maintain control over each hotel or destination’s marketing message. Go with whichever method works best for you, but just make sure you choose a strategy because the reviews will always be present, and it’s up to you to decide if you will be active in the online conversation.
Do you have a story about combating a bad review, or reaping the benefits of an excellent review? Sound off in the comments section!
Interested in ramping up your social strategy? TIG Global offers a full suite of interactive marketing tools to get you noticed. Click here to learn more, send us an email, or give us a call at 301-841-4700.