How are the top hotel brands innovating in social media?

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A recent report has ranked the digital performance of 52 global hotel brands. The latest L2 Hotels Digital IQ Index rated brands according to the performance of their sites and use of digital marketing, mobile and social media.

The top 20 brands:

1. Four Seasons =10. St. Regis
2. Hilton Worldwide 12. Renaissance
3. Marriott International =13. JW Marriott
4. Hyatt =13. Omni
5. The Ritz Carlton 15. Le Méridien
6. Intercontinental =16. Mandarin Oriental
7. Westin =16. MGM Resorts
8. Sheraton =16. Radisson
9. W Hotels =16. Sofitel
=10. Fairmont 20. Jumeirah

How hotel brands are using social media

Keeping things local

Hotel social media strategies

The study notes that 95% of the brands have both global and property Facebook pages, increasing from 73% in 2011. Twitter saw an increase from 56% to 70%. Taking a property-centric approach allows for a higher degree of relevant content to be shared and thus keep an engaged audience. An additional benefit of property-level presence comes in terms of immediate customer service and local expertise.

One brand which has been innovative for adding value with local knowledge is the The Ritz-Carlton, who have taken advantage of Foursquare to share tips from the concierge staff at 75 properties.

User reviews

Only 17% of the indexed brands offer on-site ratings and reviews. The report suggests that these sites send 39% less traffic to online-travel-agents, indicating increased confidence from customers, and presumably a lower need to navigate away to other pages for research.

Two noteworthy example of sites that feature reviews are Starwood and Four Seasons. Starwood have opted to create their own, independent reviews site, which requires a reservation code to ensure authenticity. By taking reviews in-house, the brand is able to monitor and respond to customer comments in a controlled environment.

Four Seasons have taken a different approach. Nine of the indexed brand sites link to TripAdvisor, but the Four Seasons has gone beyond by integrating reviews directly on their property pages, allowing customers to see them at a glance and without having to navigate away from the Four Seasons site.

Emerging social platforms

How hotels use new social media platforms

As for new social platforms, Google+ and Foursquare are the most popular, and offer clear value for SEO and local representation.

The visually rich nature of travel content means that there is clear scope for further use of sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr. The Four Seasons and Hotel Indigo are noted as pioneering Pinterest brands. I would expect to see further use of Instagram, yet again the Four Seasons are leading the way with property-specific accounts. I expect to see more brands joining Instagram, especially following its acquisition by Facebook which demonstrates the importance of images in social media.

Moving on from TripAdvisor: How Expedia plans to make travel more social

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Often hailed as the top travel review aggregation site, TripAdvisor launched as an independent company on December 20th 2011 after separating from parent travel booking company Expedia.

With almost 1 in every 4 UK holidaymakers using Tripadvisor to research their holiday before booking, the success of TripAdvisor is undeniable in terms of SEO value, word-of-mouth and trusted reviews. And the valuation of TripAdvisor at nearly $4bn is testament to its success as a social travel site, highlighting the value of social media for the travel industry.

Although Expedia no longer has the main social arm of their business, this doesn’t mean they’re abandoning social media altogether; quiet the opposite in fact.

In a recent article in Businessweek, Expedia highlighted how it hopes to use the power of  social media to re-design the way people shop for their holidays by incorporating transactions into a marketplace driven by social networks.

With people trusting their friends’ opinions more than that of a company, Expedia is trying to emulate in the travel industry what Amazon has done in the consumer space with regards to personalisation and recommendations.

Expedia’s goal is to make planning the entire trip - from flights to hotel to transportation, to restaurant selections and amusement park tickets - an integrated shopping experience.

For example, say your family is planning a trip to Mexico. After booking flights, your hotel search would incorporate friends’ views on particular properties. If someone from your family had been to a particular restaurant, you’d get their recommendation or caution. And all those Facebook photos that people post after a trip? Expedia want to mine those to help consumers make decisions about their own travels, just as TripAdvisor does with hotel shots its users submit.

In essence, this means your friends, family and social network connections become the equivalent of the traditional ‘bricks-and-mortar‘ travel agent, providing both timely advice and warnings about certain elements of your holiday.

Expedia also plan to harness the power of blogging more effectively too. Expanded posts on travel adventures, supplemented with user reviews and comments, might draw in more travellers. And while they aren’t looking to add a roster of bloggers to its payroll, the company is likely to fund trips for bloggers it deems influential. They they would then use the bloggers’ videos, photos, and writing on the Expedia site, without influencing content.

So what can other travel brands learn from Expedia? Given that there’s ever-growing research to support the fact that social media impacts holiday choices, travel and leisure brands need to think about their social media strategy and how effective it is at actually delivering value to their company. Still in its infancy, Expedia is really only focusing on two key areas of social media - customer ratings and reviews and influencer marketing through their proposed blogger programme. Travel and leisure brands would do well to follow Expedia’s example and to focus efforts on the specific areas of social media give real business benefits.

1 in 4 UK consumers use Tripadvisor before they book their holiday

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sunset-in-manda-beach
Image by un punto in movimento via Flickr

In the last year, almost 1 in every 4 UK holidaymakers used Tripadvisor to research their holiday before they booked. Given the plurality of information now out there - online and offline - for people to research and get advice on their travel choices, this number is very high. One in four UK consumers are using the same source to get information that influences what is usually a significant purchase. And this source is generated by other consumers, it is a classic online community.

The research, from WTM’s 2010 Industry Report, found that 36% of UK consumers used some kind of social media to research locations, hotels, airlines and other purchases or decisions before booking a holiday. Of these consumers two-thirds used Tripadvisor, by far the most popular source of information, reviews or advice. A much smaller proportion (34% of all those who used social media to do research) used Facebook and even smaller proportions used YouTube (231%) or Twitter (17%). That over a third of all consumers are going to social media before booking their holidays indicates its increasing importance as a resource that informs and influences consumer decisions. That two-thirds of all of these (so 24% of all consumers) are using Tripadvisor shows the importance of that channel.

Tripadvisor is a classic online community. Consumers read reviews and information from others. They connect with people based on content and a common need, question, interest or concern. For example people who are interested in hotels in Paris can connect through the reviews - some writing them and some reading them. This is not a space where people become friends, and in most cases people don’t care who has written the reviews, they just care about the content. This makes Tripadvisor very scalable and is the reason more and more users are turning to it for information. For every piece of information that is added, any users who are interested in that content could benefit.

And more than just using these sites as an information source, consumers are making real decisions on the basis of them. The same research found that when a users researched their holiday choices in social media, less than half then went on to book their original choices. 35% decided to change their choice of hotel, 15% changed their travel agent or tour operator, and 12% decided to visit a different country altogether.

Holidays are typically an expensive purchase and one consumers think about and research before booking. This study shows that an increasingly large number are turning to social media to help them with this research, and most of them are turning to one site - Tripadvisor. And those that do this research are likely to change their plans and original travel decisions.

How social media is changing the way we travel

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A train passing through the central station of...

Image via Wikipedia

I am about to embark on a trip alone across Europe overland - mainly by train. It’s almost 15 years since I last made a similar trip. Many things have changes over this period - I’m older, have travelled a lot more and am now more likely to stay in hotels than camp rough - but the biggest change is the way that social media is helping me do things I could never do back then. On that first trip, I had no mobile phone and not even an email address. Now I have many tools at my disposal to help plan and do more.

1. Planning the trip

Then: 15 years ago my only planning tool were two big books - a set of European train timetables that I had to pour over to check if I could get from one place to another, and a Western European guidebook. I couldn’t find out anything about the journeys I might take except for when the trains would be, and I risked falling into the trap of only going to places in the guidebook. I could only plan, not book, and I put my faith in some timetables and 0ne guidebook.

Now: I have bought some guidebooks - but only for cities that I am planning to spend a lot of time in. My main planning tools this time have been online - a mix of more traditional tools (including the fantastic European train directory at The Man in Seat Sixty-One) to reviews sites (such as Tripadvisor), individual forums and blogs about certain destinations and even Twitter and Flickr. I’ve been able to research the different options, discover places I would never have found about in guidebooks and even check things such as what the overnight trains I am getting look like, what people say about them on Twitter and use these user reviews and images to decide when I want to travel in a seat, when in a couchette and when it is worth paying extra for a sleeper compartment.

2. Keeping people informed

Then: Without a mobile phone or email address the only way I could keep people informed was by finding a public phone box and calling home. I had an unwritten agreement that I would call home every five days to let people know where I was. I had left a rough plan with them and that was it. I don’t know, but I imagine there were some worried moments when I missed my planned call as I had to choose between queuing for a phone at a station in Rome and jumping on the train that evening to Sicily (I chose the latter!).

Now: This is an area of real change. Not only do I have a plan that some people can see on TripIt, but social media and mobile internet means I can inform individuals but also anybody who is interested in what I am doing, seeing and experiencing. And where I am. Twitter will let me update people in real time, tell them where I am and even share photos of what I am doing and seeing (if you’re interested you can follow me @mattrhodes). Foursquare is a great tool to allow me to quickly and easily share exactly where I am - the hotel, restaurant, station or beach I am on. People back home will know what I am doing and will be able to share the experiences I am having.

3. Keeping myself entertained

Then: On long train journeys and overnight you need ways to keep yourself entertained and distracted. Back then I had a MiniDisc player and a set of compilations I’d put together before I went. I had some books and then had to rely on meeting people who knew of things to do and things that were on in the destinations I visited. Or I had to rely on myself stumbling upon them - which once found me in a hard rock festival in Hungary…

Now: I’m still taking a lot of books, but rather than making my own compilations I am taking Spotify - and am crowd-sourcing a playlist so I can hear things I wouldn’t normally listen to. If you want to add some tracks to my list find it here: Make Matt a holiday playlist. I can use Twitter to find out what is on in destinations and what people think of them.

So what does this mean for the travel industry?

Social media is changing the way we travel. The way we plan, the way we book, the way we act when we are travelling and the way we report on it (in real-time and after the event). We are using review sites to book hotels and events. We are using Twitter and Flickr to find out what people really think of places we are going to or things we are going to do. We are using these same tools to report, often in real time, on what we are experiencing.

In this environment those in the travel industry need to take social media seriously, and find ways to make it work hard for them and their brand. They should be listening to what people are saying about them, their destinations and services and about their competitors. They should be identifying their advocates and dealing with those who are less positive about them online. They should use their experience and expertise to add real value to the discussions and debates in social media. And they should capitalise on the real-time discussions and reviews to showcase what people think of them, and also to start to service people in social media.

We’ve blogged before about how the travel industry can use social media and it is one of the industries where social media can make a real impact on a brand and a business. Right now, I am just grateful for the way social media has made planning and reporting on my travels much easier than 15 years ago - follow me to find out what I think of the places I visit!

One in three UK holidaymakers write online reviews

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Holiday heavenAccording to a recent report in Travel Mole, the travel and tourism industry is facing a social media revolution.

The Social Travel Report, carried out by independent media agency Total Media, has found that almost 70% of consumers surveyed use the internet to book their holidays, compared to 23% by phone and just 8% in-store with travel agents.

Those seeking to go away on a break trust complete strangers more than recommendations from the travel industry itself, and most British holidaymakers see the internet as an extension of the word-of-mouth recommendations they receive from friends and family.

Online reviews on social networking sites like Facebook,  or travel websites like TripAdvisor, are now more influential than brochures, advertising, travel supplements and travel agents. And travellers are willing to write reviews, as well as be influenced by them - almost one in every three UK holidaymakers over the age of 16 has written an online review.

Perhaps surprising to some, it is a slightly older generation of consumers who are leading the travel social media revolution. 16-24 year olds are the most likely age group to visit a travel agent, while 74% of the 35-44 year olds who were surveyed use travel websites to book their holiday online.

So in order to regain lost ground, it seems that the more traditional travel and tourism operators need to become more social. Aside from developing a sustainable social media strategy, perhaps a more general message in this age of increased online conversation and heightened word-of-mouth is to engage with customers, not advertise to them.  Share things that would be of interest, encourage them to review your products and offerings, and interact with them online on a regular basis. By bonding with customers through social media, rather then bombarding them with information and sales messages, perhaps more traditional travel operators can enjoy the success of some of their online counterparts.

  • Death of the travel brochure as holidaymakers opt for online reviews (telegraph.co.uk)
  • Online Reputation Management in the Hotel Industry (blogs.praized.com)
  • Facebook and Twitter Change Travel Trends (travelinsurance.org)