The gradual rise of social networking and customer review sites such as TripAdvisor, has led to the advent of the ‘citizen journalist’ where guest opinions are now in the public domain, a group of leading hoteliers were told last night. (Tues 23 March).

Hotel internet bookers were ‘promiscuous consumers’ often visiting six or seven websites to check reviews and prices, before making a decision, according to Lee Rainford of Laterooms.com.

Quoting several recent studies, Nic Ray of Quirk Marketing Agency told the audience that 78% of people surveyed* said they trusted recommendations made by other people. In contrast only 40% of people surveyed in an advertising study, trusted the opinions of company CEO’s. **

The speakers were attending a Hotel Marketing Association meeting in London, which was addressing the topic about how hoteliers could manage their online brand reputation.

Lee Rainford said that customer reviews would never be scientific and they could not be expected to measure performance in the same way as other measurement tools. However 85% of the reviews posted on Laterooms.com were positive.

“Having access to these reviews is very beneficial for hoteliers. They should view them as valuable feedback and share both positive and negative comments with staff to improve customer service, “he said.

Guillaume Thevenot of TripAdvisor said the onus was on hoteliers to present their property in the best possible light. They should take up opportunities to write a description of their property and provide photos and videos. Hoteliers should also monitor sites regularly and respond to reviews by ‘thanking the best and providing an explanation to the worst.”

He said that hoteliers who engaged with people by proactively inviting them to post reviews and responded to negative comments by improving customer service, were frequently the recipients of the most positive reviews.

Calum Russell of easyHotel.com said: “We firmly believe in using social media in a positive way and as a platform to communicate with our customers.”

Traditiionally it was impossible for hotels like easyHotel to compete with the traditional hotel star rating system as they were providing such a different product. However websites likeTripAdvisor were enabling them to compete on a level playing field with four and five star properties.

Quirk’s Nic Ray concluded by saying: “Social media is a fantastic marketing tool and a much cheaper way of getting feedback than more traditional research routes”

However hoteliers needed to be honest by using photos of the actual rooms that were available, not the best and most expensive, on the various sites.

The HMA is the official industry group of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and its members comprise sales and marketing specialists and operators of both independent and chain hotels.

* Source Edelman Trust Barometer Study 2010
** Source Nielson Trust in Advertising Report

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