In preparing for an upcoming vacation, I was struck by how social media has changed the way I approach trip planning. While I still turn to hotel websites to book a room, I increasingly research hotels on sites such as TripAdvisor before making a booking. These sites create niche communities of travelers to particular destinations and provide a platform to discuss not just the hotel but also nearby attractions and local customs. For example, how far of a walk the hotel is from the city centre, or whether there are family friendly restaurants nearby. On TripAdvisor, reviews can even be filtered into categories such as families, business travelers and couples.
From a social media perspective however, TripAdvisor presents an interesting challenge to those in the hotel business. By letting travellers post their own photos, owners and operators lose control over how their business is portrayed online. A good example of this is the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. The photos posted by hotel management are very polished and professional; showing off the hotel’s best aspects and rooms: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g155004-d182974-Reviews-Fairmont_Chateau_Laurier-Ottawa_Ontario.html#photos
The photos posted by travellers are generally favourable and highlight positive aspects of the hotel such as its beautiful lobby, however the photos also show a much more dated hotel and standard hotel rooms. http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g155004-d182974-Reviews-Fairmont_Chateau_Laurier-Ottawa_Ontario.html#photos
After reading the attached article: http://www.twistimage.com/blog/archives/business-transformation-from-marketers-to-makers/ I began to notice the different ways in which individual hotels engage with negative reviewers on TripAdvisor and the impact this has on how I view their establishment.
Going back to the Chateau Laurier, management at the Chateau Laurier respond to negative reviews with a simple boilerplate response. http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g155004-d182974-Reviews-Fairmont_Chateau_Laurier-Ottawa_Ontario.html#REVIEWS This means that negative reviews can be responded to quickly but it also means that the interactions lack the human element Mitch Joel talks about in the above article and fail to connect with potential guests.
The Westin in Ottawa however takes a completely different approach http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g155004-d185620-Reviews-The_Westin_Ottawa-Ottawa_Ontario.html#REVIEWS The hotel’s general manager responds to specific concerns raised in the reviews. This not only provides a human element to the interaction but also allows the hotel to tell a bit of their side of the story. For example, a person who complains about the AC in their room not working when in fact the hotel offered to transfer the guest to a different room but they declined.
I admit that I am more inclined to discount negative reviews when I see that hotel management has taken the concerns noted seriously and if necessary, explained what steps they are taking to correct the problem. It is a reminder that in a competitive business environment such as the hotel business a personal touch and paying attention to social media sites are very important and well worth the time and effort.