• Hotels remaining unsociable

There's nowt so sociable as hotel folk, as is only right and proper in an industry where hospitality is the business.

A report from Travelclick, however, has found that social media remains one area where hotels are unwilling to socialise, with a quarter of hotels failing to utilise any of the available channels. The study is the latest in a series which has underlined the ongoing reticence of hotels to trust their businesses to the virtual environment, costing them custom.

Travelclick found that only 20% of the poll's respondents cited using Twitter, 10% cited using Groupon or other forms of online couponing, and 8% used FourSquare promotions.  Facebook was by far the most preferred social media channel for hoteliers, with 65% of respondents using it to increase bookings and revenue. 

"Instead of running cost-efficient promotions on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook, hotels are electing to increase their advertising spend through online advertisements (57%) and paid search advertising (20%)," said Jonathan Cherins, chief marketing officer of TravelClick, "It's important that hotels don't rely solely on advertising to increase bookings.  Hoteliers should be incorporating a mix of online marketing, GDS media as well as social media in order touch their key audiences."

The hotel sector was made wary of the internet when its lack of speed acknowledging that it was here to stay led to a loss of power to the OTAs. Those times are now past and many of the larger operators have taken a firm line with third parties, while independents have used them to their own advantage, building a bigger profile online than their physical size may imply.

Rate continues to be a key driver for consumers in decision making, but social media's influence is growing. For hotels, the popular image of social media is that it is closer to a long-term relationship-building project rather than a revenue driver, something that is not prioritised in a downturn. However, social media can be used to dispose of spare capacity, avoiding the need to use OTAs and keeping the process within the power of the operator.

When social media started to come to the fore, it was largely dismissed by businesses as another fad which would blow itself out before long. For sites such as FourSquare, which has failed to live up to its initial potential, this appears to have been true and avoiding it could prove to have been a wise move. However, not to have a wider social media policy at all is a mistake.

The latest demon from the internet has been TripAdvisor but, as has been seen by many hotels on the site, the best defence has been a positive social media policy. Some hotel companies have undergone a rapid education and have been able to use social media to improve and personalise customers' experiences, further enhancing the service culture at the core of the business.

Hotels and the wider travel sector stand to gain more from social media exposure than almost any other type of business, given the strength of word of mouth in making purchasing decisions. According to the latest L2 Digital IQ Index for Travel, social media was a "significant" source of traffic for 78% of travel websites.

In addition, the study said "for 90% of sites, social media [is] a top destination site after visiting their site (accounting for 11% of downstream traffic overall)". Consumers research their travel extensively online, both for ideas to make the initial decision and then to confirm their choice, particularly when it comes to searching out deals.

 

HA Perspective: While the role and scope of the internet has changed much since it started to grow in popularity, what has remained true since the inception of Amazon is that users believe the web will find them a bargain.

The era when social media was thought to be just for the kids and not for serious grown-ups has long passed, as a check on the latest lavish valuations of Facebook can attest. For many executives, the information that comes to them via their Blackberry is as credible as any they receive face-to-face.

The danger remains that social media policies, for those that have them, continue to be led by the younger members of an operator's team, those who have been using the systems themselves for longest.

While it is essential to have a strong knowledge in the area, particularly when it comes to staying abreast of the latest innovations, it is time for top executives ask what they want social media to do for them in terms of hard business opportunities. Now that CEOs are past having their PAs print out their emails for them, social media needs to start at the top.

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