What's Your Hotel's Reputation Management Strategy?
The reality of public involvement in traveler reviews has dramatically altered the way customer loyalty and satisfaction must be compared at the property level. It is no longer acceptable to measure satisfaction and team performance based on a closed-loop model of customer feedback alone, namely the traditional hotel comment card. Guest comments are now public, as are quality ratings, and failing to apply team accountability for public commentary, or failing to measure against your competitive set, are like ignoring rate positioning in a crowded marketplace.
Beyond the closed loop
The fear inherent in this change is understandable. Hotels are accustomed to quiet, private complaints. For years, complaints have come by letter, phone call or other private interaction, including a ‘closed loop’ comment card. The Internet has unmasked the truth behind reputation and brand. It has put public scrutiny to work on private business matters. Hotels, for which brand and word of mouth drive sales, are grappling with the end of the quiet complaint model.
Fanning the fires of this change is the amazing credibility afforded hotel web reviews by potential guests, the highest credibility in the consumer arena. In fact, 88% of those reading them say reviews contribute to their ultimate hotel selection. Additionally, review users consider what they read to be almost twice as important as brand or reputation in their decision. As consumers become more web savvy, and as the economy drives them to more comparison shopping, the visible quality measurement provided by consumer feedback and ratings will increase in influence.
In June, Hitwise announced that almost 30% of traffic to OTA’s came from other OTA sites. This statistic bears out what many already knew, that consumers are driven to increasing levels of comparison by economic pressure. Their goal is to find the best value within their price range. While location and rate still lead the shopping goals, what objective measurement exists to determine the subjective perception of quality? For the almost 66% of US guests now reading reviews, the traveler rating and written traveler review, namely UGC or user generated content, constitute a public wall of comments from which quality may be determined.
Public comment cards
The measurement public comment cards allow, for individual consumers, group meeting planners and others, makes awareness of competitive positioning essential. While there is already a high adoption rate for reviews by the individual traveler, many meeting planners now use traveler reviews to learn about hotel reputations. Hotels are quickly learning bad comments may prevent them from ever being considered for group business. Likewise, the growth of OTA’s as a corporate platform for travel aggregates the influence of these reviews to negotiated rates. In fact, even OTA’s use review sites to help set star ratings for hotels being marketed on their pages. As every hotelier knows, star ratings translate into Average Daily Rate (ADR) as a key element of the perception of quality.
Consider Trip Advisor as an example of the new public reality of hotel comments that has shattered the quiet complaint model. Trip Advisor boasts 32 million unique visitors per month, 10 million members and houses 20 million reviews and opinions on 400,000 hotels and attractions in 7 countries (US, UK, Germany, Japan, India, Italy and Spain). They are not alone in influence. Hotels.com has 1 million reviews, Priceline.com delivers Zagat reviews in addition to their own and the new search engine by Microsoft, Bing, targeted to give Google a run for it’s money, delivers reviews from TravelPost when a hotel is searched.
According to Trip Advisor, 57% of consumers will not book a hotel unless they have read reviews. Other source statistics put the total influence from 42% to 66%, but one trend is clear: the amount of consumers relying on reviews is growing. With Jupiter Research confirming that consumers using these reviews consider them more important than brand or reputation the public comments housed on third party sites have become a major player in the buying decision. The public comment card has usurped reputation and brand as the defining measurement of quality for the growing number of review readers. Consumers are still brand aware, and may rely on specific brands for personal association, but they are using reviews to see if brand reputation is reality at a particular property. If these reviews do not bear out their emotional attachment with the brand, they will stay elsewhere. In fact, Reuters (reporting on an April, 2009 study by Synovate Research) indicated 17% of all travelers globally select hotels primarily on reviews. That percentage is much higher in Japan and the US, countries with more web reliance.
The automation solution- Reputation Management made simple
Virtually every hotel considers online reviews important to their reputation, yet the majority have not yet adopted automated monitoring tools. Many monitor as time allows or through Trip Advisor alerts for reviews. Additionally, hotels that monitor manually rarely compare their results to the competitive set, leaving the complete sphere of influence mostly blank in their marketplace analysis.
Constraints within the hotel sector do not always allow for leadership in tech tools. Limited margins of profit often prevent management from pursuing trends that are not perceived as proven paths to revenue. It is no surprise that automated monitoring of traveler reviews is in its infancy while the phenomenon of consumer reliance on UGC is well established. This perceived reality exists in tandem with another reality: the credibility of reviews among consumers is highest in the hotel sector, a truth that indicates reviews directly impact revenue.
Hotels consider monitoring rate and position on OTA’s essential and commonly subscribe to monitoring tools that provide this service. Most hotels are familiar with the conveniences of technology in business analytics and show the willingness to invest in automated monitoring of important data when the return is proven. It seems illogical, then, to bypass investment in automated analytics for something influencing up to 66% of the traveling public, something that is seen by those readers to be more important than brand, website or advertising.
Reputation management solution must pass a few key tests:
Is it timely?
Solutions that deliver results every 30 days do not recognize the urgency of the web. Receiving a report weekly or monthly, or checking each site monthly via manual audit, means reviews may quietly do damage for weeks without response or internal action.
Is the solution affordable?
Paying a disproportionate amount of revenue for an automated tool is not wise, especially in this economy. While each hotel will determine that formula, a 1-3 room night cost monthly seems the average. Another formula would be to calculate hours used to monitor manually and the opportunity costs of what could be accomplished with the efficiency of technology, particularly where revenue generating team members are involved in the process.
Are the most essential point of sale sites delivered?
Key to any monitoring system is drilling down where buying decisions are made. If your system does not monitor the critical sites for web revenue, namely Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Hotels.com and Orbitz, it may not be as helpful as one might need. Monitoring other key commentary sites, like Trip Advisor or TravelPost (Kayak’s review arm—now delivered as review content for hotels by Bing, the new Microsoft search engine), is important because of their penetration into the sales cycle.
Is your performance measured against your competitors?
This is critical because it’s how consumers view reviews. No one scans down a list of hotels on Expedia without noticing the Traveler Opinion score or the star ratings (influenced by these scores). Knowing how your ‘market share of satisfaction’ compares to your competitors is as critical for operations as ‘market share of revenue’ is to sales and revenue management. Armed with this information, capital dollars, training dollars and staff focus may be more easily brought to bear on quality results.
Does the system provide enabling and supportive tools?
An automated tool should make it easier to analyze data, make it easier to discuss in meetings with intuitive graphics, make responding to reviews (internally and externally) more streamlined, and should offer excellent support for users. Ultimately, an automated monitoring tool should assist in focusing the service culture of the property.
Advice from experts
Many consultants and hospitality experts are now concluding that automated monitoring of reviews is an essential weapon for a good defense and an aggressive marketing offense. Take, for example, JRPG Hospitality Consulting, LLC., a firm founded by industry veterans Julie Reigle and Pam Grayboff. With backgrounds that include senior positions at independent hotels, worldwide brands and major management companies, Reigle and Grayboff are uniquely positioned to evaluate hotel needs for tools and automation with a keen marketing eye. Their consultancy focuses on hotel operations and new development.
JRPG recommends the Avalon Buzz Report () after extensive review of major automated solutions. Reigle and Grayboff do so without remuneration. The two state JRPG Hospitality Consulting (), spends considerable time researching prominent, customer centric players in sales and marketing technology solutions for today's hotels, including booking engines for web sites, web site development, Web 2.0 implementation, and automated monitoring tools. Their research focus is to understand each company’s competencies. “We seek to learn if that vendor's product is viable for every size and category of hotel, whether independent or branded, resort or airport, as our business works with all types. Understanding forward thinking technology is essential to one of our core strategic goals, to provide the best solution for each hotel, owner or management company. Toward that end, we partner with creative and environmentally friendly third party vendors. Our partners were selected without compensation or incentive to us and our decisions were based solely on the merits of their products,” says Julie Reigle, a partner in the company.
Pam Grayboff continues by indicating their company’s market research leads them to recommend adoption of an automated guest review monitoring tool. “In today’s environment, we’ve seen hotels that are receiving 10-15 reviews daily on-line, at multiple sites, versus just one or two guest comment cards at the front desk, or through their brand's email program,” notes Grayboff. “We all know the resources to monitor comments on the property level have become more scarce due to our current operating environment. This makes automation the smart move so the staff may continue to focus on customer service.” She points out that products, like the Avalon Buzz Report, help hotels track the “very influential and informative” online Consumer Generated Content. “The tool we recommend does so at one place, instead of at each individual site, and Avalon Buzz Report is easy to use and quick to access. Its summaries and visual dashboards let the hotel zero in on need areas and recognize its advantages in customer service over the competitive set,” concludes Grayboff.
Certainly, failure to monitor traveler reviews is a disadvantage that loses hotels business daily. Likewise, failing to compare against the competition, is burying one’s head in the sand. Closed loop comment systems may measure guest satisfaction in one sense, may even provide departmental diagnostics, but ignoring the public measure of such satisfaction represented by online reviews(or expecting your advertising or brand to overcome it) is like the old laughable question: who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?
About JRPG Hospitality Consulting, LLC
JRPG Hospitality Consulting, LLC is an owner and manager's solution for lagging performance in today's challenging economic cycle. Our advantage stems from 53 combined years of hospitality industry expertise within luxury, upper upscale and select service segments, including all hotel types from resorts, to boutiques to convention hotels. We can navigate the path to improvement in an independent realm or branded world while understanding the dynamics of franchise, brand managed and third party management structures. Our vision is to partner and consult regularly with creative and environmentally friendly vendors and providers of hospitality solutions. Our association with these partners allows us to stay current with emerging applications and services to provide the appropriate recommendations. It is our nature to integrate collaboration and integrity in every client and vendor interaction. For more information about JRPG Hospitality Consulting, LLC email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: .
About Avalon Buzz Report© | Avalon Buzz Report, the industry’s leader in monitoring on-line guest reviews and ratings, provides the most proven on-demand solution for hotels and resorts in all segments. Avalon Buzz Report© tracks influential guest feedback results from the top travel related sites, charting market share of guest satisfaction, competitive set value positioning, user generated feedback and photos. Hotels from every major brand and independent hotels alike trust Avalon Buzz Report to deliver intuitive, real-time, dashboard-driven reports tracking on-line guest experiences that impact their revenue stream. For more information about the Avalon Buzz Report, visit: , or, to request a demonstration of the service, visit: Follow us; or become our Fan on Facebook, search: Avalon Buzz Report