How to Shine Online: Best Practices for Hotels Looking to Win Customers Doing Pre-travel Research

By Michelle Wohl VP of Marketing & Client Services, Revinate | December 23, 2012

Today, we have more access to real-time travel information than ever before. Are you curious about where to stay on your next trip to New York? Your network on Twitter, Facebook or Quora will likely have an opinion to share within the minute. Do you want to ensure that the hotel you're considering will be just right for your romantic weekend? Thousands of reviews for any hotel are available on TripAdvisor, Expedia or dozens of other review sites and OTAs. Want to discuss the pros and cons of one hotel versus another with travel experts? All you have to do is log on to TripAdvisor forums, Flyer Talk or hundreds of other forums to get ideas and advice.

With so many places online for consumers to share lodging information, hotels are quickly realizing that they must be aware of everything that is being said about them as just one highly visible bad review can cost the hotel a booking. And the flip side is that a series of great reviews can mean increased awareness and sales. But staying on top of everything that is being said online can present a problem for busy hoteliers since manual searches are time consuming and usually don't yield comprehensive results. The first step to ensuring a great online reputation and shining online is to know where people are talking you.

Luckily, software services exist to help hoteliers aggregate all reviews and social media mentions. These solutions act as a firehose, listening for all mentions of your hotel name and bringing everything together into a single dashboard. When evaluating ORM (online reputation management) vendors look for a solution tailored specifically to the hospitality industry as there are very specific sources of data that you will need, such as TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Priceline etc. Many horizontal ORM solutions don't monitor travel-specific review sites. Given the importance of TripAdvisor in consumers' purchase decisions, it's also important that a vendor has a licensing relationship with TripAdvisor, and, if you are a full-service hotel, a solution for both hotels and restaurants.

While ORM solutions typcially cost less than a few hundred dollars a month, if you're not ready to invest in a paid solution, there are some free services that you can use, although you won't have the convenience of single-source monitoring. To capture mentions on blog, video and news sites, you can create a google alert by going to http://www.google.com/alerts. You will need to create separate alerts for your hotel name, your restaurants and anything else you want to monitor. To monitor mentions on Twitter, you can use TweetDeck or, if you are often away from your computer, set up mobile alerts using a free service like IFTTT.com. You might also think about creating mobile alerts for foursquare so you know immediately when someone checks into your venue. Finally, to monitor your online reviews on TripAdvisor and the OTAs, you will need to claim your venue and request email alerts, if offered by the site.

Once you begin to understand all the places where your hotel is being talked about, you need to have an action plan for managing your online reputation. Let's begin with TripAdvisor, the biggest online review site.

Research has shown that people want to read reviews before they book travel. If you, as a hotelier, don't provide them with the ability to read reviews on your own site, they will likely bounce to a review site, like TripAdvisor, to read reviews. If you aren't providing fresh reviews on your site via a review widget or manual process, you need to ensure that when your prospects leave your site to check out your reviews, you are able to maintain their interest in your property. Some things that might throw them off include poor photos, a bad ranking on TripAdvisor, and bad reviews.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.