Reputation and the travel booker

TripAdvisor made itself a fearsome name in the travel industry by capturing, analysing and sharing views and opinions from travellers about hotels. Most leisure travel bookers who shop online visit TripAdvisor before making a final decision on their hotel of choice.

Whether it is right or wrong, biased or unbiased, poorly monitored or otherwise is less relevant – the fact is that TripAdvisor matters and so do reviews and stories of customers on any popular third-party websites like Booking.com and Expedia. Exactly how does it matter?

It matters in

  • The quality of the hotel customers – well-reviewed hotels helps prospects develop and set the correct expectations from the hotel. This leads to a better fit. Equally the connections with social media websites like Facebook allow prospects to discover the opinions of their peers ie attracting a customer segment that shares similar views and achieving a better fit with your hotel product and service offering. In turn, this leads to more positive reviews
  • The volume of bookings – there is evidence that many online bookers will not book a property that doesn’t have any reviews. Equally a well-reviewed hotel across multiple websites including Trip Advisor and OTAs is likely to drive more bookings
  • Adding trust in the online jungle – professional responses online to guest reviews allow hotels to stand out. Bookers equate the online response to what they are likely to experience while they are at the hotel. So, if a response appears bog standard, bookers will be led to believe that they will get bog standard responses to their requests while at the hotel. If a response to a complaint is responded to with an attack on the guest, this could worry prospects about the treatment they are likely to receive should something go wrong. And equally, if there is no response to reviews, it may equate to a hotel that is not listening and therefore not responsive to customer feedback

Research by PhocusWright, a global travel market research organisation a few years ago found:

  • 50% of global travellers do not book a room until they have read peer reviews online.
  • 62% agreed that seeing the hotel’s response to reviews generally influenced them positively to booking at that hotel.
  • 87% of survey participants agreed that an appropriate management response to a bad review improved their impression of the hotel.

Have there been many changes – if so what are they?

The evolution of online reputation management systems and scorecards have added a level of sophistication to how online reviews can be managed proactively. There have also been studies which have shown the influence of reputation scores on not only the volume of bookings but also the ability of a hotel to achieve a higher Average Daily Rate (ADR).

A Cornell University study that worked with ReviewPRO’s Global Review Index (an online reputation management system) and STR (hotel market data and benchmarking company) found that a

  • 1-percent increase in a hotel’s online reputation score leads up to a 0.89-percent increase in price as measured by the hotel’s average daily rate (ADR).
  • Similarly, this 1-percent increase in reputation also leads to an occupancy increase of up to 0.54 percent.
  • Finally, this 1-percent reputation improvement leads up to a 1.42-percent increase in revenue per available room (RevPAR).

What are some of the challenges and opportunities in the area?

The most obvious challenge is to have an overview of the review websites and the content that is being published about your hotel. It takes time, resources and skills to monitor and respond to reviews in a professional manner. It is not a “pure marketing” function in that there are overlaps with hotel operations.

Choosing the right technology solution can also be a challenge with a variety of choices that include ReviewPro, Customer Alliance, Revinate among other. Smaller hotels may find the costs a prohibitive factor sometimes.

Even with the right technology, identifying a key person to manage online reviews and being responsible for reputation management is critical and finding the right person can be challenging at the best of times.

In such instances, options include outsourcing to specialist agencies that provide reputation management as a service.

Equally, the actual product and service element that your hotel represents is probably the most important challenge as well as opportunity. Providing fabulous service combined with positioning and pricing that matches the product on offer will continue to be the foundation for achieving the type of reputation that drives bookings at the right prices.

How well are you managing your reputation now?  

If you are looking at the bigger picture, you could start with using the Net Promoter Score (NPS). It is one of the most widely used and trusted tools worldwide to gauge customer satisfaction and how likely a customer is likely to recommend your hotel to their colleagues, friends or family.

If you are attempting a Do it yourself (DIY) model, here are some areas that should be looked at. It will provide you with a sense of which areas require the most attention.

  • Number of websites to be monitored
  • Total number of reviews this year v’s Total number of reviews last year
  • Response rate to all reviews
  • Response rate to positive reviews, neutral reviews and bad reviews
  • Best rated features and worst rated features
  • Ratio of positive responses to overall responses this year versus last year

What actions can you take and what can it look like?

When it comes to making choices about hotel destinations, travellers are deeply and increasingly invested in online reviews. At the same time, hotel brands seeking consumer bookings have invested time and human resources in managing and developing the online review space well.

At a broader level, here are key areas to consider while planning a wholesome approach to reputation management.

  • Plan your reputation strategy and objectives – what is your hotel looking to achieve. How will you measure it and what you will do with it.
  • Identify the key players and stakeholders and break down the roles and responsibilities, how it will be monitored and responded to and what follow up actions are required
  • Establish ways to monitor and the scope. It is easy to get overwhelmed.
  • Identify if a technology-driven solution is appropriate for your hotel to manage the process and deploy it
  • Use insights from customer reviews to enhance product and service offerings

And here are some tactical steps that you could be doing right now:

  • Online listings and presence: Scour the internet to identify and list websites where your hotel is listed with or without you knowing it. This could be social media sites, online travel agencies, search engines or online review sites.
  • Identify where your core guests are visible and participate actively. Prioritise those websites.
  • Share the positive reviews widely and especially where your guest “hang out” on social media

Best practices for hotels

  • Online efforts to manage a hotel’s reputation should supplement but not replace, onsite efforts to improve product and service delivery
  • Focus on offline service for online results – it is all too easy to get overwhelmed by online reviews and its impact that hotels miss out on not only responding but also making real changes in their onsite operations
  • All responses should be answered ideally with an individual tone – whether they are positive, neutral or bad
  • Ensure that OTA website reviews are attended and responded to where possible

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