OperationsMarketingBetter Online Engagement

Better Online Engagement

When making booking decisions, guests are looking at up to 11 online review sites. This is fundamentally changing the dynamics of loyalty, says Kristin Muhlner, CEO of newBrandAnalytics. Here’s why direct engagement is imperative and how hoteliers can effectively mine review data to boost performance.

Engaging guests online is an important way to create an authentic brand voice. And guests are attracted to hotels when they see management responding to online reviews. Muhlner says a 1 percent increase in engagement and connection with online reviewers can result in an 11 to 25 percent increase in overall sentiment for the hotel.

So what sites should hoteliers pay attention to? TripAdvisor continues to be the top online source for information, outpacing other review sites and OTAs. Content on the site is up about 60 percent year-over-year, Muhlner says. Second in line is Twitter, where hospitality-related commentary has grown more than 250 percent year-over-year. “It’s becoming an incredibly rich-source of real-time information about guest experience in hotels,” she says. This creates an opportunity for general managers to engage with guests immediately and quickly neutralize potentially negative experiences.

A lot of activity is also happening on online travel sites like Hotels.com, Expedia, and Booking.com now that they have review capability. Meanwhile, only a small percentage of content is coming from social networks like Facebook, Foursquare, and Yelp. “We really think the action is migrating to the OTAs and Twitter,” Muhlner says. “If a hotelier’s social marketing strategy is built around developing Facebook followers, that’s probably the wrong thing to focus on right now because that’s not where the eyeballs are.”

It’s also important to note that two-thirds of online reviews are written by travelers ages 35 to 65. “That’s really a target demographic,” Muhlner says, “and you can’t ignore who’s talking.”

Many hoteliers focus on the star ratings of reviews and TripAdvisor rankings when they should be looking more closely at the content itself, Muhlner says. A study from University of Pennsylvania shows that guests are far more influenced by review content than they are by star rating or price. According to an analysis done by newBrandAnalytics, 29 percent of five-star reviews included one negative comment and 72 percent of one-star reviews included a positive comment. “You really have to get deeply into the content itself in order to understand what’s going on in the hotels or to mine data effectively,” she says. This is all free, unsolicted information on the Web.

On average, about 34 percent of review content is about service. Guestrooms and facilities also make up a big piece of the pie at 19 percent and 13 percent respectively. What hoteliers and operators are often surprised by is that food and beverage content is about 14 percent of the overall distribution. “There’s a misperception that there’s no impact of the food and beverage experience on the hotel experience,” Muhlner says. “That’s not the case.”

It’s also important to look at what guests are saying about the experience and what drives the indication that they will return to the hotel or recommend it to someone else. “This is all free, unsolicited information on the Web,” Muhlner says. “And when a guest indicates that they’ll come back or that they’re going to recommend the hotel to a friend, that’s the strongest indication of loyalty that you can get short of them literally booking a second time on the spot.”

A small shift in overall sentiment can impact customer loyalty, Mulhner says. For instance, a 10 percent increase in a hotel’s service score—determined by aggregated review content rated by sentiment from highly positive to highly negative—yields a 41.9 percent increase in loyalty. “The implication here is that some subtle shifts in investments in those things that matter most to the guests are going to have dramatic impact on what they’re going to say about you online and what that ultimately is going to mean in terms of revenue.”