Social Media: Meeting the Guest (More than) Halfway
By Rohit Verma Founding Provost, VinUniversity and Professor, School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University, VinUniversity & Cornell University | May 29, 2011
Co-authored by Glenn Withiam, Executive Editor, Cornell Hospitality Quarterly
Social media are here to stay, and hospitality industry operators and executives must find ways to engage their guests via social media, even if the specific applications change over time. Social media offer a tremendous opportunity for staying in greater touch with customers, strengthening brands, and improving sales. The key is to respond appropriately to guest comments and requests in social media forums, that is, to meet the guest at least halfway.
A study recently conducted by the Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) examined the current preferences and usage of the internet and social media for travel searches by some 2,830 business and leisure guests in the United States. Going forward, the study should be expanded beyond U.S. borders, but we believe that this gives a reasonable representation of customers' general use of social media. If you would like to read the study for yourself, it's available at no charge from the CHR (chr.cornell.edu): "How Travelers Use Online and Social Media Channels to Make Hotel-choice Decisions," by Laura McCarthy, Debra Stock, and Rohit Verma.
One key finding stood out. The study found a dividing line between the way business travelers search for hotels and the leisure travelers' search. Business travelers are most likely to choose a hotel that is recommended they their company. Beyond that, however, many of business travelers use search engines or online travel agents for their hotel search. Leisure travelers said that personal recommendations from friends and families is still their chief source of information, followed by travel-related websites, search engines, and OTAs.
Looking at those findings, you may be wondering what happened to social media. The answer seems to be that once both business and leisure travelers have gathered information about potential hotels, both groups of travelers use the internet and social media to make a booking decision. This includes visiting the brand website, OTAs, and TripAdvisor. Late in the decision process, the respondents tended to land on the brand websites or go to an OTA, where they can book their room.
As you can see, even though corporate recommendations figure strongly in business travelers' information gathering, and though leisure travelers still listen to their family and friends, the internet figures heavily in travelers' booking decisions. The use of social media for information gathering and booking decisions can only expand. At the same time, the hotel industry's presence on the social media presents at best a mixed picture. Speaking at the 2010 Cornell Hospitality Research Summit (CHRS), Peter O'Connor, professor of information systems management at the Essec Business School, highlighted both the danger and opportunity inherent in social media. As a starting point, O'Connor pointed out that people are always talking about the hotel industry-an assertion supported by the Cornell study that we just discussed. Much of that conversation has moved to the internet, and he estimates that well over two-thirds of internet content will be created by consumers and users within the next three years.