Hotel industry needs to consider implementing a social media strategy to connect to guests

Hoteliers need to consider implementing a social media strategy to enable them to connect to guests, says PwC. Hotels need to take every step to keep the number of guests coming back to their establishment and maintain their reputation and brand in the wake of increasing competition and greater exposure.

In the past, discussion of people’s experiences of business and leisure accommodation was limited to speaking to a few friends, either in person or even over the phone. Today, the voice of the guest reaches a lot further by way of the online environment and all classes of accommodation are experiencing the consequences of this. “Hotels are listening more closely to the feedback of their guests – online and face-to-face. For hotels, reputation is what matters and what guests say about hotels after they have departed,” says Nikki Forster, PwC Leader of Hospitality and Gaming.

The online environment has changed the behaviour of guests, placing more pressure on delivering an exceptional experience from hotels every time, according to PwC’s ‘South African hospitality outlook, 2013-2017’. Today the voice of the guest tends to reach a lot further by use of the online environment.

“The use of a social media platform is a powerful tool to raise the level of awareness around a hotel’s brand and to connect with its guests,” says Forster. By using these monitoring tools, hotels can connect with guests before, during and after their stay at the hotel. The benefits of social media are abundant in that it is affordable and has the potential to spread brand awareness large and wide.

With the proliferation of social media, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs are now commonly used to comment on peoples’ experiences, including which hotels they have stayed at. “To be at the competitive edge, hotels need to be involved and engaged with their audience by taking part in online discussions, building an increasing awareness around its brand, as well as forging existing relationships with loyal and potential customers.”

Both guests who have had good experiences and those who have had bad experiences can now comment, tweet or blog about them. Their views can be shared and passed on by a multitude of friends and followers. Furthermore, in the online environment, sites such as TripAdvisor, with more than 200 million unique monthly visitors, can be used to find recommendations of places where to stay and view about guests’ commentary of them.

“The challenges for the hospitality business are to deliver a seamless customised guest experience to a range of guests with a variety of preferences. Negative guest reviews and bad experiences can cost a business dearly as well as tarnish hard-earned reputations.” Listening to the voice of the guest tends to minimise this risk and provides an opportunity to read the signals of guests and redesign the experience to give them what they are looking for.

“An investment in a social media strategy can raise awareness of the hotel and its brand, as well as develop ‘word of mouth marketing’ and connect with guests.” Forster says that the use of social media tools can also assist a hotel to identify and address specific challenges.

A positive experience can create a devoted guest, who in turn becomes a brand ambassador. “These type of guests are not only loyal, but can also be an establishment’s best friend and marketer.” On the other hand, if guests have a negative experience, they have the potential to become brand detractors. Most detractors tend to share bad experiences with others within a month or less, according to industry research. If hotels do not resolve issues before guests walk out the door, there can be negative repercussions. There is also the risk they will make sure to let their whole social network know of their negative experience.

A guest problem, which is well resolved, has the potential to rescue the situation and convert a detractor into a promoter. “Therefore it is important to make it easy for guests to complain, so that problems can be addressed promptly and they can be made to feel their concerns have been heard.”

Hoteliers can use tools to analyse online comments on an ongoing basis and respond to comments directly by addressing the root causes of problems reported to ensure bad experiences do not re-occur and for reinforcing those aspects for which positive feedback was received.

“The investment and implementation of a social media strategy will require a considerable period of time and work on the part of a hotel.  Some of the world’s large hotel chains are already taking full advantage of the full potential of social media tools. A hotel will need to have clear objectives and principles in mind before implementing such a strategy,” concludes Forster.