“More than one-third of consumers will not book a hotel room without reading reviews first.”
-Late Rooms, 2012
As a hotelier, whether it is a large hotel chain that you are managing or a one-employee tourist attraction, it is all the result of the benefits reaped from favorable traveler reviews and or the sting of the occasional negative review.
The revolution in digital media has changed the way consumers shop for travel and hotel bookings. It has democratized the way people share their opinions online. Today, consumers are empowered due to the access that they have to a wide span of products and tools that allow them to search and compare varied flights and hotels instantly.
A research made by Deloitte in 2012 highlights the following points.
- 59% of holidaymakers say they compare prices online.
- 42% of holidaymakers used review websites while planning their holiday.
- Traveler reviews are becoming more important as 59% consumers say that review sites have the most influence on their booking decisions.
- one- third of traveler posted a travel-related review on review websites and 16% posted or discussed their holiday experiences on social media.
For travelers, the opportunity to check the quality of service and analyze whether it will meet their expectations is limited, especially if they have not experienced the hotel or holiday destination. Hence, the internet is being extensively used by consumers to make holiday decisions like the destination to visit or the hotel to book for stay.
Importance and use of online traveler reviews
Online reviews, or the electronic word-of-mouth are, at present, a trustworthy source of information which travelers refer to, for forming a better picture of the destination they plan to visit.
Online reviews are an essential source of information for travelers while booking a trip and accommodation online. Even if consumers do not book their travel online, most of them will at least check on “Online Travel Agencies” (OTAs) and review sites prior to going ahead and making a final decision to travel anywhere.
Furthermore, the increase in the use of mobiles for booking travels and tours, makes online reviews all the more important. We should keep in mind that customers trust reviews by other travelers more than any other official business communication, because they believe that those reviews are autonomous. Yet, of recent some issues around fake reviews have reduced the trusts that consumers place in them, yet these reviews still affect most travel decisions for someone who is planning an extensive trip.
Some hoteliers still see reviews, especially negative reviews, as a burden and are coming to terms with their usage to improve their business. Our research suggests that hotels should embrace online reviews as an opportunity for constructive exchange. Hotels that monitor and respond to these types of reviews, quickly and honestly, and try improving the root causes of the negative reviews will come out as winners in the long run.
The following data collected by a TripAdvisor survey explains consumer behaviour and how they make use of online traveler reviews to make travelling decisions.
- Approximately 97.7% of consumers read other travelers’ online reviews.
- About 57.8% of consumers stated in the survey that they read other travelers’ online reviews whenever they make a plan to take a trip. Out of this number about 36.7% are the ones who frequently take review suggestions while 5.5% do so only occasionally..
- 63.7% of consumers read other travelers’ online reviews at the beginning of the trip planning process to get ideas and 64.7% did so in the middle of planning to narrow down their choices. 40.8% of consumers also used online reviews later in their planning, to confirm their decisions.
- 77.9% consumers think other travelers’ online reviews are extremely or very important for deciding where to stay
Influence of Travelers’ Online Reviews
A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience. Around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people.
– White House Office of Consumer Affairs
Today, in the age of social media the number of people who come to know of bad customer experience has compounded to hundreds, even thousands of online communities.
What we once knew as “word of mouth” has been now been replaced with “word of the internet,” a much efficient means of spreading any news. Online reviews can be amazing when customers are praising a hotel’s effort. However, if even a single person voices his or her displeasure the task of winning back a hotel’s reputation becomes daunting.
Consumer-generated content (CGC) has grown in importance today. This is especially true in case of online travel reviews by consumers, which easily accessible and used to make travel-related choices. Increasingly, travelers are sidestepping traditional sources and turning to social feedback of other people travelling around the world and peers in social networks for information and advice.
Online traveler reviews are also directly related to the way a hotel is classified. Hotel with 3 and 4 star ratings will have a greater scope for meeting and exceeding expectations than what 5 star hotels and hence score relatively high on guest reviews as well.
Consumers and hoteliers agree that the classifications of hotel are important when choosing a it, and guest reviews are even more crucial. Hoteliers favor the alliance of guest reviews into official classification systems of hotels but this support is limited, owing to the doubts about the authenticity of online guest reviews.
A study prepared jointly by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and Norwegian Accreditation (NA) suggests that hoteliers for their own benefits, end up writing fictitious positive reviews for their own hotels, while writing negative reviews about competing properties. The internet itself is proof of examples of businesses which have received poor reviews but not opened shop as yet. What happens here is more of positive rather than negative cheating.
A PhoCusWright study on TripAdvisor shows that 98% of consumers found that TripAdvisor hotel reviews accurately reflect the actual experience, and that 95% would recommend TripAdvisor hotel reviews to others. The study further reflects that 53% of the consumers would not book a hotel that did not have any guest reviews on the site.
Traveler online reviews complement traditional market research and reveal many insights on the level of satisfaction that a hotel is able to provide to its guests. Managers can use this information to identify gaps in the services that they offer and to initiate corrective actions to ensure that future guests are satisfied.
The three main lessons to take away when you analyse a hotel’s online reviews are:
- Online reviews are a resource, not a nuisance. So, hoteliers need to use them wisely to improve their business and guest loyalty.
- A written response is good, but an internal review and a promise to make changes in the physical or service related issues is what will keep a hotel ahead of the game.
- Management needs to coordinate responses across departments to ensure that employees are aligned on meeting the expectations of guests every now and then.
For most hotels the question is not whether to monitor and respond to online reviews, but how to do so and with which additional measures. Large hotel operators usually have a devoted set of people, or even teams, to monitor reviews and respond directly to what their guests have to say.
Reviews, whether positive and negative, are both an opportunity to start a conversation and engage with guests. However, the external response to the original comment is only one part of a smart hotel’s response to online reviews; the other part is the internal learning and measure that are further taken to make improvisations with the services. It is up to hoteliers to determine if they are going to listen and make improvements, or if they are going to ignore feedback and risk frightening new or repeat visitors away.