The Upside and Pitfalls of User Reviews on Your Own Website

By Rob Kall President, Bookt LLC | May 10, 2012

Online travel reviews are nothing new; they have existed in one way or another for over 10 years and many of the most popular travel sites allow users to post reviews. In fact, sites without user reviews may become less common over the next few years, as consumers rely more heavily on others' experiences before making a decision.

So here is a question for you: if you are not displaying your customers' experiences on your property's site, what's holding you back? I know, you're probably thinking: 'but what if I have a bad review on my site?' and it's a valid concern because at some point, no matter how good your hotel is, someone somewhere will have something negative to say. You can't be all things to everyone all of the time. Let's explain and analyze the pros and cons of posting consumers' reviews of your property on your own website.

Why are Reviews Popular?

We humans are social beings and our behavior is, to a very large extent, influenced by other people's actions and opinions. We also want to make an impact in some way and be influencers of others' actions, so it makes perfect sense that we would spend time writing reviews - and especially if our experience has drawn out passionately positive or negative feelings. According to Market Metrix Hospitality Index, approximately 10% of hotel guests post reviews about their experiences. For some, it is a way to vent about their less than stellar experience at a property. For others, it's a way to spread the word of a special experience. Either way, these reviews provide important information that potential guests will trust and value, and of course, influence their booking decisions.

The Transparency Revolution

Transparency and accountability - you hear those words everywhere and through the miracle of today's technology, transparent information is more available than ever. That said, in the eyes of consumers, not being transparent can equate to being shady and unresponsive. You know that saying 'honesty pays'? In the case of online reviews, this is very true. Being upfront and honest translates to more trust and eventually more sales.

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Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.