by WEX Travel
Today’s traveler is seeking an experience and they’re out there looking for it. Whether they’re preparing to explore the delights of a new city, to traverse uncharted terrains, or relax poolside, they’ve got a vision in mind and usually a budget to meet. They’ve got expectations and throughout their trip-planning process, they’re looking for what’s going to meet these expectations. So why shouldn’t they turn to other travelers—those who have “been there, done that”—to help guide them?
The Power of Traveler-Generated Content
There’s no doubt that travel brand, industry thought-leader, and travel agency content is useful to the average trip planner. For instance, consider someone who’s shopping around for anniversary weekend accommodations: they find a hotel with a romantic look and feel offering an agreeable price-point. The pictures on the website look beautiful and there are plenty of dining options nearby. But they ask themselves, “Is it really all it’s cracked up to be?”
According to Phocuswright research, online travel reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor (59%) influence travel more than vacation pictures and videos posted on social media networks (54%), videos on YouTube (31%), ads or posts sponsored by travel companies and social networks (16%) and travel blogs (11%).
Browsing guest reviews can help answer that question and even tip the scales toward a purchase decision. It’s not unlike performing a job candidate reference-check. Guest reviews tell prospective guests what they can expect to experience. They often go deeper than reporting on comfortable beds and soft linens, by giving insights into how well a hotel property, in this example, addressed an actual guest’s needs, solved problems, or went above-and-beyond to make them feel welcome. That’s some pretty powerful marketing fodder for the hotel, isn’t it?
Exactly. When a travel supplier is listed on one or more travel review sites (e.g. TripAdvisor.com, Booking.com, Travelocity.com), they can collect valuable market intelligence from reviews of their product/service and those of their competitors. They can turn to these reviews as a source for market research to inform strategy, boost customer service efforts and enhance their marketing and public relations. Here’s why:
- Inform Strategy
Reviews give details into real travelers’ experiences with brands and indicate what’s important to their customers, helping refine the brand’s value proposition. They also help travel suppliers discover what is—and what isn’t—working, so action can be taken to make improvements. In Cornell Study Demonstrates ROI of Social Media and Reviews, TripAdvisor offers several takeaways for businesses leveraging reviews. These include:
- Monitor your reviews to see how you’re doing
- Learn from previous guest feedback, and
- Make the necessary operational changes
And what about listing on review sites in the first place? Customers are already there—so it’s a good idea to get into the game to remain relevant (and drive sales). In fact, more than half of those surveyed in TravelWeekly.com’s 2015 Consumer Trends study said they used a travel review site in the past year, with nearly all of those respondents reporting that the review sites had at least some influence on their travel decisions. What’s more, TravelZoo survey respondents from Canada, China, the UK, and the US say review sites have the most influence on their final booking decision.
- Boost Customer Service Efforts
To get good reviews—reviews that can impact topline results—brands need to deliver exceptional experiences. As discussed in Business Travel News’ 2016 Hotel Survey report, online reviews are spurring an increase in service initiatives to get people to share these experiences. “When you please a customer,” they say, “you’re encouraging them to talk about us on social media, talk about us to their friends, to return to one of our hotels the next time they have an opportunity.” As long as people have a forum to share their praise and complaints, travel suppliers have good reason to put their best foot forward.
- Enhance Marketing and Public Relations
It’s easy to see how a good review is akin to “good press,” as everyone appreciates a thumbs-up. But even less-than friendly reviews offer travel suppliers with opportunities to promote brand loyalty, build relationships, and ensure future business. Negative reviews happen, but how brands respond to them can make a big impression on readers, existing and potential customers alike. A less-than-stellar public review that’s addressed professionally, thoughtfully and in the best interest of the customer helps position the brand as customer-centric and solutions-oriented, qualities valued by travelers today.
Travelers today have multiple influencers, from friends and family and their wider social networks to guidebooks and OTA and brand websites. But traveler review sites, serving up traveler-submitted content reporting on the real deal, are becoming a more important part of the standard travel booking process. For travel suppliers, the magic word is “influence.” Customers’ feedback is influencing where a customer spends their money, making it imperative that suppliers pay attention to what is being said—and do their best to make the most of it.