The traditional word of mouth among your customers has moved to the Internet with dramatic consequences: New websites keep appearing where users are able to rate and review the hotels they have stayed in. Whether the hoteliers like it or not, it’s not important, the impact on the sector is too great to be ignored and it is not a just a fad: the phenomenon has only just begun. It’s high time for you to learn all about it.
“I shared the bathroom with a huge cockroach.” This was the way a user at TripAdvisor.com reviewed his stay in a three star hotel in Barcelona. Many people looking for information about this hotel will read the reviews. How would you react?
According to all studies, word of mouth is one of the most effective information sources for consumers. It is perceived as the most trusted source, it does not come from the advertiser and it is based on a real experience, making it very attractive.
If you provide a good service, you will know that many of your clients stayed in your hotel because someone recommended it to them. Satisfied customers have always been a great way of promoting a hotel. When they return home, they recommend it to friends and family who are very likely to become new customers.
THE INTERNET HAS REVOLUTIONIZED THE WORD OF MOUTH
Before the Internet, word of mouth was just that a message transmitted orally and privately, now the Internet has given consumers a voice and its impact reaches everybody or at least those you are interested in.
Increasingly users, especially Americans, rate, review and comment types of products or brands on sites like planetfeedback.com, consumer-revenge.com or complaints.com. Do not think that this something that will not affect your hotel or that it has not yet got to the Spanish market. The Spanish are also joining the trend.
A new marketing term has been coined to describe this type of information controlled by consumers: CGM (Consumer Generated Media). This includes forums, chats, review sites as well as personal sites and blogs.
The number and influence of these sites is growing and that attracts the attention of the Internet search engines than will then display any basic information about a hotel.
In the same way that the tourism sector leads the way in Internet sales, it is now also being the first to be affected by this great revolution in the market: Hotels are losing control of what information about them is on the public domain. We must think again about using traditional marketing. Consumers are more credible than advertisers and at this moment it is consumers who’ve got the winning hand.
YOU COMPETITIVENESS IS AT STAKE
Travel websites and hotel brokers are starting to include user reviews. They know it is invaluable information and a way to differentiate products. Venere.com has long being using them. Expedia.com and HotelSearch.com since December, and all of them will end up showing them.
The main forum is TripAdvisor.com. It contains over a million comments about 140,000 hotels. Now also publishes photos that accompany their users’ reviews. Other specialized sites are VirtualTourist.com or Fodors.com.
Hotel guests are asked to score several aspects of the hotel, turning their opinions, which are by definition subjective, into quantifiable data that can be managed, collected and compared. It is possible that the public reputation of a hotel will become a key factor that will influence its competitiveness, together with the classical “location and price.”
WHAT YOU COULD DO
Follow closely what is being said about your hotel and your competition. It is a source of free information on the real needs of your customers, as expressed by them. If your hotel uses printed satisfaction questionnaires, why would you not also be interested for those on the Internet?
If a negative review is based on false information and you can demonstrate it, ask for this entry to be withdrawn.
TripAdvisor does not check that anybody who publishes a review has really stayed in the hotel, unless the hotel complaints about one of the reviews. Then they look into it. You should also respond to negative comments; they will publish your response. It’s not just acceptable but consumers tend to appreciate it.
Bruno Chiaruttini, director of sales and marketing at the Majestic Hotel, answers personally the negative reviews on TripAdvisor. They are published after each review. According to Mr. Chiaruttini, he receives emails from customers who have seen his answers and value them greatly.
The website of a hotel or chain can also promote dialogue platforms with customers. A bold and pioneering initiative is that of Apsis Hotels, whose official website publishes uncensored comments. They appear when prospective customers search for a room.
Have you already started to look for reviews about you? Maybe you cannot control everything but you will be informed and will find ways to take part. For those of us who believed in the power of the Internet from the beginning these are the best news: Customers will know which hotels provide the best service and quality and the market itself will be the one to single out the worst ones. It is quite a challenge but a great opportunity at the same time.