by Alan Campbell, Featured Contributor
NO SOONER does the hospitality industry get used to the Internet and World Wide Web to drum up business for them, then comes along the social media craze to add a new wrinkle to the maze of networks and programs broadcasting whatever one wants for the world, figuratively and literally, to hear, read, and see.
The social media I am talking about is encompassed in those ubiquitous squares, rectangles, and circles you see on just about any business website: Facebook, Twitter, Bebo, LinkedIn, etc. Click on one of them and instantly you are transported to opinions about how the business fared in the eyes of the guest, client, or buyer, from the good, to the bad, to the ugly. Talk about laying it all out for the rest of the world to read, hear, see, and, perhaps, heed! And the business being uplifted or slammed can do nothing about it; they have no control whatsoever as to what truths or lies are being written about them.
Come on, Hotel Guy, haven’t guests been posting their stay reviews on hotel websites for years? Yes, that’s true, but all those postings are controlled by the hotels’ hired web gurus; they approve/disapprove of every posting. Plus, the vast majority of all online hotel bookings are not done through the hotel website but through middle booking websites, such as Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, Travelocity, and a host of others, and for most of us, we choose the least expensive rate that fits our lifestyle without going further. For those of us that travel a lot and live out of our suitcases, we know that we can get a much better hotel rate through a booking agency rather than through the hotel directly—the same applies to airline and car rental agencies.
The hospitality industry, for the most part, has embraced, sometimes through tight jaws and gritted teeth, the good and bad reviews. For the good reviews, they know they are doing something that is pleasing to guests, and for the bad reviews, they know that, if the complaint is merited, they know what needs changing. Every good hotel provides its guests a “How did we do” feedback postcard that the guest can fill out and drop at the front desk or mail. Only a few people ever read the feedback on that card and, I feel quite sure, that many hotels throw the cards away without ever reading them; probably still do, for those that still offer them. Hoteliers cannot throw away any comments satisfied and dissatisfied customers made to their friends, and the world, on whatever social media network used.
From The Waldorf Astoria and The Plaza Hotel in New York to Red Roof Inns and Motel 6 wherever you go, you can follow each one or all of them on Facebook, Bebo, LinkedIn, or Twitter, or any of dozens of other social networks in as many a variety of languages. The top 15 social networks, with Facebook having 900 million+ customers alone, total more than 4.168 billion customers.
Can you afford to ignore such a potential database of guests, customers, clients, or buyers?
In a New York Times article by Julia Weed, “Hotels Turn to Social Media to Connect with Travelers” (April 18, 2011), she writes that “Hotels have begun offering bookings through Facebook and smartphone apps, and they hope the convenience and direct contact will lure back travelers who have been turning to online travel agencies.”
She goes on to state that the “Trump Hotel Collection has been offering Facebook reservations for around six months, and Ivanka Trump, executive vice president for development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization, even has a booking widget on her personal Facebook page. Ms. Trump said her company had an advantage in social media because ‘we are a personality-driven brand.’ She added, ‘When I tweet out a hotel special, a million people see it.’ Once guests have made reservations through Facebook, Ms. Trump said a hotel “attaché” contacted them to complete a “dossier” of their personal preferences, like the newspapers they wanted delivered, in-room amenities they required or particular room temperatures.” Now that’s personalized customer service almost to the nth degree!
Not all agree, though, as is obvious by a Gulliver article, “Booking hotels via Facebook” (The Economist, April 27, 2011), “This is crazy. People who use online travel agencies clearly don’t crave “direct contact,” and I can’t imagine a Facebook or smartphone app that could make booking a hotel room more convenient than Kayak and Orbitz already do. The online agencies’ share of bookings continues to increase every year. They’re a fact of life—especially for young people who have never known a world without them. Social media aren’t going to stop that shift.”
Websites that can do what the Starwood Hotels and Trump Hotel Collection can do cost money; maybe too much to make it cost-effective for most hotels except for the larger chains and luxury hotels. After all, the only real reason for offering such a service in the first place is to cut out the travel agency booking commissions. Sure, the hotel may tout better, more personalized customer service as its main reason, but we all know that’s pure sweet talk, as all personalized customer service comes at a cost to the customer.
In my opinion, the real importance of social media at the hotel level is in its human equivalent of “word of mouth” advertisement; all free, and available worldwide. Now that’s power! If hotels can tie in to that, they then have the ability to speak to the individual, whether person, company, organization, or other group entity and offer individualized packages to the benefit of all—something that travel agencies, online or local travel agency cannot offer, unless by prior arrangement with the individual hotel.
I once said that the social media would be as great as revenue management, was I wrong?
Most hotel guests worldwide probably booked their hotel through a local or online travel agency; their primary criteria being cost for their living style level. In the United States, I would guess that a goodly portion of all motel rooms are walk-ins off the road looking for a night’s lodging, while at the same time, I would guess that hotels get most of their clientele through reservations, rather than walk-in traffic, and, I would further guess that that the more luxurious the motel, the more reservations they are apt to make, as opposed to relying on walk-in traffic.
Why do I state the obvious? Because name brands that gain a reputation for cost and service get the business, and the more business you get, the more profit you make, and so forth and so on. In order to remain competitive, you need to analyze and evaluate the importance that a social media website can do to improve your competitiveness and your bottom line.