TripAdvisor was launched in 2000—the very early days of online commerce and social media. Since then, there have been plenty of opportunities for the site to lose traction and fade into obscurity.
Of course, it has done nothing of the sort. A 2014 study by UK-based LJ Research singled out TripAdvisor as the most recognised online travel brand in the world, with Expedia and booking.com in second and third place. Only one in ten respondents did not recognize TripAdvisor, which also led the field in brand trust and actual usage.
No wonder hospitality players are interested in how they look through the lens of TripAdvisor.
There are a whole lot of eyeballs on those reviews (around 350 million unique visits per month, according to TripAdvisor) and their effect on bookings and reputation management is real. Hotels know they must court good reviews, respond to criticism, and drive up aggregate scores (which are signified by up to five green dots) if they want to stay on top of their reputations and maximize bookings.
The issue here is not that hoteliers are focusing their efforts on TripAdvisor (because they should be), but that too much focus is often placed on this one platform. In the process, other vital channels for cultivating reviews and responding to criticism are neglected.
Two of the most interesting are Yelp and Google. Compared to TripAdvisor, these feel more utilitarian (like a phonebook), and generating positive buzz on these channels is worth the salt. Google now has a dedicated hotel search function with reviews from Google+, and if you search Google Maps for hotels in a given locality, you’ll immediately see a star rating and an average price. The prices and reviews shown there are pulled from both Google and Zagat (a restaurant review portal).
Yelp is another broad platform where users voraciously review everything from lawn care services to healthcare providers. Restaurant reviews are big as well, and the number of hotel reviews on Yelp is on the rise.
Both Google and Yelp can be powerful allies to the enterprising hotelier, especially since the information they provide is more likely to reach people in the course of other browsing activities.
This brings us to another oft-neglected portal: Your hotel’s own web site. More guests are compelled to book directly with hotels these days, so long as the reservation portal looks and feels clean. People still using third-party platforms to gather information and read reviews, but direct bookings have growing appeal. People may feel that their reservations are more likely to ‘stick’ and result in the lowest price.
Whatever the reasons, large numbers of travelers are taking a multifaceted approach to booking. First, they seek information on popular travel sites. Then they look into the hotel’s booking portal and decide whether that’s worth using.
Given this trend, the prudent strategy for hotels is two-fold. First, managers and owners should cultivate their reputations on several OTAs and directories (including TripAdvisor, Expedia, Travelocity, Hotwire, Booking.com, Google+, Yelp, and any local directories that appear to be active). Second, properties should improve their own web portals with a view toward making the reservations clean and functional. Guaranteeing the lowest price is now a common tactic, and we know that more direct bookings translate to closer interaction between hotels and guests, as well as higher profit margins.
Don’t think this means you need to spend hours visiting all the top OTAs and information directories just to make sure everything is in order. Enterprising software companies have already built tools to make things easier. ReviewPro is a reputation management tool with free and paid options for hoteliers. It rounds up your online reputation and allows you to manage it from a single platform. Bespoke solutions are available too, and if you have the cash, a dedicated consultancy can take most of the reputation work off your hands. Assuming, of course, that your fundamental services are sound.
The real lesson appearing here is that we have to continually expand our thinking about how people gather information about hotels and how they book. TripAdvisor may eventually fall into obscurity like other juggernauts of the past. For all we know, booking trends will be unrecognisable ten years from now. But hotels can’t afford to wait and see. If they want a bigger share of the bookings, they must understand the game as it’s being played now, and do their best to play it well.
And what if you don’t have time to do all this? Well, at the end of the day, the best way to promote your hotel is (still) to operate a good one. If you ensure that your guests leave satisfied and all expectations are met or exceeded, they will do much of the promotion for you. It would be good to know where it happens though, wouldn’t it?
For further industry insight, please follow the links below.