Industry Update
Opinion Article21 March 2016

Who Must Own Reputation Management in Any Hotel

By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners

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Be honest: the 900 pound gorilla in hotel booking has become TripAdvisor.

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In some hotels - not all - Yelp also plays an important role in the success (or lack) of f&b.

And then there are the comments on Facebook and Twitter, the images posted to Instagram and Pinterest. All help shape the hotel's reputation.

Reputation is decisive in determining a hotel's success in the marketplace.

Question: who in your organization is in charge of the efforts to maximize performance on those new media reputation measurement channels?

The true answer in most hotels is nobody. How scary is that?

Probably various people - many people in some hotels - have responsibility for various parts of the effort. Usually an assistant to the GM or a pr executive - rarely the GM him/herself - posts responses to a selection of the comments. Probably an assistant GM monitors posts for customer service issues that can be addressed in real time (if that's not happening at your hotel, start doing it). Somebody in marketing or sales is mulling how to harness TripAdvisor as a booking engine, at what cost. Maybe that person, maybe somebody else, is in charge of the property's TripAdvisor Business Listing (and you do have that paid upgrade, right?). Etc.

What is lacking is overall responsibility. Who has set the hotel's goals on TripAdvisor, Yelp and the rest? Usually nobody, or the goals are borrowed from third party advisory services.

That is not good enough. Not when it is emphatic - undeniable - that TripAdvisor performance strongly impacts how much a hotel can charge for its rooms, a finding of a Cornell study of TripAdvisor's impact.

The impacts of the other venues are less clear - but there definitely are impacts.

That is why this is such a crucial topic.

Just as there is a head of f&b, a head of rooms, oftentimes an executive tasked with managing meetings, there needs to be a chief reputation officer where the TripAdvisor buck stops.

Note: whoever is in charge of reputation needs to have wide influence on operations because, in the vast majority of cases, the hits on reputation have their origin in operations failings. Food is served at the wrong temperature, a concierge is rude, housekeeping is tardy and sloppy - right there are the primary themes of many hotels' negative comments on TripAdvisor and Facebook and all, obviously, are rooted in operational miscues.

The big reputational plusses - the glowing writeups - also have their roots in operations and a concern has got to be how to get more of those winning moments.

Understand that but know my vote for who needs to be in charge of reputation management is the senior public relations executive and my logic is simple: PR has always fundamentally been about reputation management. The words weren't used way back when but since PR emerged as a discipline it has focused on shaping an organization's image - that is, reputation - with its publics.

What PR is adept at is knowing the real state of an organization's reputation. We don't go off the deep end over one bad write up, nor do we go over the moon because of one glowing comment. We know proportionality and have the knowhow to see elements of reputation in the appropriate context.

PR also is good at using what leverage is available to uplift an organization's reputation. That is what PR's prime mission has been for 50+ years.

What's different now is that instead of focusing on leading media, the focus is on online, crowdsourced review sites as well as social media channels.

Does PR have the clout to effectively manage a hotel's reputation across multiple channels - and that means getting the ear and respect of the frontline staff who are key to shaping a hotel's rep?

Good question but the answer is plain: PR has the clout as soon as the GM, or corporate HQ, gives PR the clout.

Put PR in charge, empower it to get results, and then let the buck stop there.

Another question that always comes up in this discussion is, do we need a third party reputation management consulting service? That - really - is up to you and your budget. For one hotel, probably that is overkill. How long does it take to sift through a day's feeds on TripAdvisor, Facebook, etc. and also comments on key competitors? 15 minutes?

Personally I like the hands on empowerment that comes with sifting through the primary source materials, rather than depending on another's summary.

But whatever works in your hotel is what works.

The main to-do is: appoint a chief reputation officer and my vote is make that person the PR head.

Babs Harrison

Babs Harrison is managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners, a boutique public relations/marketing consultancy for select luxury resorts, hotels, and spas. Harrison has 25 years of experience in hospitality and has worked with leading brands in the US and internationally .

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