Consumers trust and use online review sites less since 2013, according to a study produced by BDRC Continental.
The report pointed to an increased reliance on recommendations from friends, as the role of social media in booking looked likely to increase.
BDRC Continental’s Holiday Trends 2014 found that, of the around 1,000 adults questioned in January, the proportion stating that they trusted the accuracy of online review sites had dropped to 45% in 2014, from 52% in 2013. This, author Jon Young, director at BDRC Continental, concluded: “May be as the review sites seek to monetise their visitor numbers by adding bookings to reviews”.
The decline in trust in review sites was mirrored by a drop in holiday-makers who used review sites for most or all of the holidays they took (33% compared to 41% in 2013).
Respondents were asked what prompted their interest in a destination for their upcoming holiday in 2014. ‘Previous experience of a destination’ was the strongest driver, with 47% of responses, while, with 24%, peer endorsement was the second most important prompt. Recommendation from friends was a stronger reason amongst younger age groups, amongst whom, Young said: “social influence and higher use of social networking sites has a stronger influence on their decision making”.
Holidaymakers were most likely to use social networking sites whilst on their trips, with 17% using them to find out what others were doing. Telling people about their holiday and sharing photos was done by 11%. In line with review use pre-holiday, there was a slight decline in the proportion who posted a review or comment on a review site after the holiday. However, there were increases in the proportion who posted about their holidays on social networking sites and uploaded holiday photos or videos to a social media site.
Social media was still the dominant channel for influencing holiday decisions, but this has dropped a little since 2013. Reviews sites such as TripAdvisor made up the largest portion of social media influence (17%), although this has declined from 20% last year. Young said: “Conversely, there has been a slight rise in the influence of hotel and resort websites.”
The report came out as JD Power released its inaugural report into hotel loyalty programmes, which found that Marriott International’s Marriott Rewards scheme was ranked highest amongst rewards/loyalty programmes.
The study found that account maintenance/management and ease of redeeming points/miles were the two most heavily weighted factors in determining loyalty/rewards programme satisfaction; together, they account for nearly half of the overall index weight (45%).
In line with the findings of BDRC Continental, recommendation of friends and family also played an important role in loyalty/rewards programme selection. When asked why they chose one particular loyalty/rewards programme over another, 19% of customers cited recommendation of a friend or family member as the reason.
“While many hotels focus on advertising and marketing to create awareness of their loyalty programmes, there is no better recruiting tool than word of mouth,” said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power. “We find that 43% of customers learn about a particular loyalty programme from a hotel employee at the point of check-in or check-out. This is significantly higher than the next most frequent source of awareness, which is the hotel brand website at 25%.”
According to Garlick, “Since referrals by hotel staff are so effective in fostering programme awareness among customers, hotels have a tremendous opportunity to recruit guests into their loyalty programmes by training staff to highlight key advantages of participating in their particular programmes.”
HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: Tim Sander, head of hotel brand monitoring services at BDRC Continental, put it best when he told Hotel Analyst: “The most important point for hotels is that they need to provide an experience that triggers a recommendation.”
There are nuances within this. They could also, he said: “during stays, encourage guests to post or talk about any experience at the property – if they compliment the waiting staff, for example. As we increasingly live in a real-time environment, that becomes increasingly important and that’s what social media platforms can be exploited for”.
Guests can be encouraged further, of course. Some Starwood Hotels & Resorts site offer extra reward points to guests who check-in to hotels on Facebook and FourSquare (the digital check-in, not the version with credit cards).
But are loyalty schemes a great enough lure for consumers? Sanders said: “They have become increasingly important to leisure travellers – that’s where we’ve seen an increase in membership uptake. Increasingly these schemes are marketed to leisure travellers, but there is a challenge in making them attractive to those who don’t travel as much as business travellers.
He added: “Younger travellers coming into the market are more drawn to loyalty schemes and to the idea of getting a better deal. A challenge will remain for chains to make a programme which is attractive to the leisure market.” Sander pointed to schemes such as that run by Hotels.com, which offers a free night’s stay for every 10 booked, describing them as “simpler and more attractive than points-based systems”.
Hotels are in the position, more so that the OTAs, of having guests where they want them – sleeping over. They need to find a way to convince guests to tell their friends and the way to do this may not be complex social media policies, but letting all members of staff know where to send guests to report excellent service to their friends. Oh, and having the excellent service to begin with.