Last week, I was invited to join TripAdvisor on a panel debate at the HSMAI conference in London. As this was my first invite to participate at such a conference I did approach it with slight trepidation and wondered what angle my other debating colleagues would take. I also wondered, if I was invited by TripAdvisor, did I, therefore, have to support their review site or was I added to the panel to stir up the hornets nest?
The timing of the debate couldn’t have actually been better as three days prior it was reported by The Independent that the government was considering removing its funding and support of the traditional star-rating system and replacing it with ratings from review websites such as TripAdvisor. So I had my angle, I knew what direct revenue we had generated from TripAdvisor and I went armed with the improving scores that we had seen on TripAdvisor since our General Managers had been encouraged to respond to and monitor their own hotel position on the site. Easy!
And the result of the debate? I decided to sit on the fence but my government story did cause a stir in the room. It’s true that TripAdvisor isn’t going to go away and whilst incorrect, defamatory or exaggerated reviews can damage a hotel’s reputation, as long as you have trained and mentored your team to respond professionally, accurately and with emotion, that can do a lot to repair a potentially damaging review. Obviously, at QHotels we want to try and avoid any bad reviews and deal with any complicated situations before the guest leaves the hotel but that’s not always possible, so we now actively encourage guests to leave reviews through our post-stay follow-up e-mail. Furthermore, TripAdvisor monthly scores are part of each hotels’ monthly reporting so that we make sure the focus is always maintained.
So, if the government do remove their support and websites such as TripAdvisor determine the star ratings of the future, we want to make sure that we’re all five-star!
Read the overview of my panel experience here.
Director of Marketing Services
Last year I tasked my marketing team to investigate the benefits of resourcing and concentrating on social media as a new revenue channel. I’m sure many other hotel companies have experienced, as we did last year, a growth in commission payments to online third party booking agents and raising our direct awareness and presence over as many direct online channels as possible has become a key part of our business strategy. They came back with some really interesting findings and insights from various industry experts, which led us to ask is social media simply a tool for engagement or can it be used to drive direct revenue? And does our typical leisure customer actually use social media channels to influence their decision and how?
Then they shared with me an insightful presentation that was given at last year’s FIA annual conference at Cheltenham Racecourse which was given by Sue Antiss from Promote and highlighted that 2 out of 3 people use social media of some kind, whether it be on Facebook, asking a question on a forum or reviewing a product online and out of this came the suggestion that we create a regular blog with thoughts, views and news from across the group and I thought I’d kick this off.
Ironically, when the marketing team try to show me what we are doing on Twitter and Facebook amongst other social media initiatives, the IT firewall has blocked me getting into any of those sites from my office. Now they are trying to encourage me to download a mobile app for my Blackberry so that I can check on here instead. One step at a time please….
But this has led us to really look at how we engage with all of our virtual guests, especially through websites such as TripAdvisor which influences so many trip choices. I was delighted to see that many of our own general managers respond directly to reviews, both bad and good and it creates a foundation on which we can improve our service and interaction with future guests. Can we drive direct revenue from social media yet? That’s still for us to see and test but I’ll certainly keep you posted.
That’s all for now folks.