Online reputation management is not a new concept – one of the first major online review sites, Epinions, went live back in 1999. Epinions provided a platform for anyone to post any opinion about a product or service for anyone and everyone in the world to see. Seventeen years later, there are now literally hundreds of sites that do what Epinions did, and many of them have been created specifically for the hospitality industry, making online reputation management more important than ever.
What is online reputation management?
Online reputation management (ORM) is firstly, managing your hotel’s online brand in relation to reviews, ratings or even just mentions (both positive and negative) in the online space. Secondly, once you have a view of how your brand is portrayed, you can then see how this impacts your business and develop strategies to optimise or maintain it.
Whether it’s something you actively manage or not, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a brand without a reputation online. The rise of shared user generated content means that you can just about find an opinion, rating or review on anything.
Why does ORM matter in the hospitality industry?
According to TripAdvisor1 “More than 90% of business representatives rated online traveler reviews, repeat business and increased direct bookings as the three most important factors to the future of their business.”
It is no surprise that the internet is hugely influential in people’s travel decisions – travellers can’t amble down the high street and compare various hotels as they would mobile phones or shoes, and not everyone knows someone personally who has travelled to wherever they plan to vacation. The internet is the most convenient way of exploring the globe from home, and weighing up the opinions of other travellers:
- 65% of leisure travellers turn to the internet to research their holidays, even before they know where they will be travelling2
- when travellers start actually planning their trips, 74% of them use the internet2
- almost 38% of people booking hotels say that positive online reviews are an incentive to stay at an independent hotel3
- 59% of British holidaymakers say that review websites and online forums are the most influential resource when they make travel plans4
Research by Cornell University5 puts a concrete transactional number on the influence of online reviews in a research paper that states:
“if a hotel increases its review scores by 1 point on a 5-point scale (e.g., from 3.3 to 4.3), the hotel can increase its price by 11.2 percent and still maintain the same occupancy or market share.”
What can a hotelier hope to achieve with an effective ORM strategy in place?
Successful ORM can benefit a business in a number of ways:
Improved marketing strategies and materials
For hotels and other hospitality businesses, a satisfied guest’s review becomes a valuable marketing commodity. Reviews are a form of “social proof”, which heavily influences people’s behaviour and decision-making.
Successful online reputation management not only allows hoteliers to track these positive reviews, but it also means disseminating and sharing positive feedback as widely as possible. Positive feedback should be shared across multiple social networks, and displayed on an establishment’s own website.
More informed operations planning
While online reputation management is, by its very nature, performed in a virtual space, remember that the only sure-fire way to get more positive reviews is to improve your offerings and delight guests. Monitoring online feedback and using it to understand your guest’s experiences can provide valuable insights that can be used to inform your operational decisions.
As Tarek Aboudib, general manager of Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort in the UAE states:
“Guests experience your hotel in ways that you, as a manager, may not be able to experience it and therefore you can be blindsided on certain things.”
Online guest feedback can help managers of hospitality businesses to get inside the minds of their guests, and discover what the most critical issues are in their operations from the guest’s point of view.
Useful competitive intelligence
Your competitors are probably monitoring their online reputations, and yours as well, and using the insights they uncover to improve their operations and market their businesses more successfully. In order to stay competitive in the hospitality sphere, you need to keep up with, and preferably surpass, your competition.
Monitoring online reviews of your own establishment and those of your competitors will enable you to find out where you have a competitive advantage, and what you should be promoting in your marketing materials. Online reviews of your competitors will also expose their strengths and weaknesses, and by comparing your own scores to theirs, you can discover where your hotel needs to improve in order to get more bookings, more satisfied guests, more good reviews, and therefore even more bookings.
How can hoteliers use technology to help with ORM?
The pace at which information online is updated is astounding. For instance, TripAdvisor has stated that they receive 230 new reviews of businesses every minute, and TripAdvisor is just one of the many sites where customers can post reviews.
Luckily, this communication doesn’t have to be one-way, and managers are often afforded the opportunity to respond to guest comments online – and doing so should be an integral part of your ORM strategy. In 2015, more than 60% of TripAdvisor users said that they would be more likely to stay at a hotel that has posted polite and professional management responses to reviews instead of at a similar hotel that doesn’t respond to reviews6. Communication is key in relationships, and your relationship with your guests is no exception.
Because responding to reviews has become so vital in online reputation management, technology providers for the hospitality industry have developed software that crawls the internet and notifies hoteliers of reviews posted on review sites and online travel agent listings. This allows hoteliers to respond promptly to positive and negative reviews. Sentiment analysis software can also automatically work out whether a review mostly positive or negative, allowing busy hoteliers to prioritise which reviews they respond to.
Software that collects and aggregates review scores from multiple online sources is also useful for hoteliers who take their online reputations seriously. This software can help hoteliers to track their average online review scores, as well as scores in specific areas (such as service, cleanliness, food and beverage, etc.) and make adjustments to their operations where necessary. The same software can also gather information about your competitions’ online reputations and help you to surpass them.
- TripAdvisor: “TripBarometer Travel Trends 2016”
- Think with Google: “The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision”
- Skift/SiteMinder: “Independent Hotels and Online Strategies” (2015)
- Deloitte: “Travel Consumer 2015: Engaging the empowered holidaymaker”
- Cornell University: “The Impact of Social Media on Lodging Performance” (2012)
- TripAdvisor: “How to add Management Responses to TripAdvisor Traveler Reviews”