What's In Store for Hotels in the Gogobot Era.
By Jennifer Rodrigues, Visibility Development Manager, ThinkInk & TravelInk'd
Friday, 13th May 2011
In recent weeks, many articles have touted that Gogobot, a new social networking-centric online travel agency (OTA) and booking site, is becoming a serious threat to Expedia's market share.

Gogobot is a new travel site that combines social networking with a sleek user interface and an interesting concept: travel plans based on the opinions and reviews of social networking friends instead of "unknowns."

While I'm very impressed with what Gogobot (currently in its beta release) has to offer, in my opinion, Expedia is not in any immediate danger… Yet.

While Gogobot will bring the OTA industry firmly into the Web 2.0 era, it will be a long time before the site takes a bite out of Expedia's market.

Expedia currently commands the online hotel-booking market.  In 2010, Expedia was the overwhelming choice for online hotel booking: over 79 million gross room nights were booked through Expedia, with over 53 million travelers visiting Expedia-branded points of sale per month. 

Expedia offers partner hotels access to 13,000 affiliated sites and the firm actively purchases local advertising through a variety of mediums, such as television and outdoor boards.  And in case you were wondering, I'm not providing Expedia with free advertising, I'm just making my point: Expedia's market share is not in danger anytime in the near future.

That being said, Gogobot stands to revolutionize the way OTA sites use user-generated content (UGC) to drive travelers to book.  Gone will be the days when a potential guest plows through anonymous reviews to get a good sense of the property's condition and service quality. 

The new era will consist of travelers booking rooms based on reviews by people with whom they are either intimately familiar with or somehow tied to through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.  Think of it as "six degrees of separation"—times a million.  This is the new word-of-mouth advertising and it will dramatically affect hotels.  It's just not 100% certain as to the specific effect that this development will have as of yet.

On the one hand, when it comes to leisure travelers, I have found that many don't want to admit that they spent a great deal of money for an average/terrible vacation.  This bodes well for hotels, as travelers are less likely to overemphasize less significant negative experiences to their online social sphere.

On the other hand, people tend to view their social network sites, walls and friends lists as their personal property, a fact which could dramatically influence reviews of hotel properties. Comments that might not be posted today on sites such as TripAdvisor, might be posted on Gogobot. 

Consumers are more likely to be brutally honest when they know the people to whom they are providing the review and it will be published review material, not simply a posting for friends to see.  I can also almost guarantee negative reviews will be published within minutes of the experience, without time to reflect or calm down, making it a potential hotbed of problems for hotels.

And then there is the business travel segment.  Most business travelers would rather be anywhere else in the first place than living out of a suitcase on another business trip, so any mistake made by a hotel will be magnified a hundred-fold and published - again, within minutes.

Of course, all of this is knowledge already held by seasoned hoteliers dealing with UGC on sites like TripAdvisor today. The only difference with the new site is that the credibility of reviews will be taken up a notch—for better or worse—as friends (and friends of friends, and so forth) will be directly linked to OTA booking engines. 

With the launch of Gogobot, consumers' opinions – whether good or bad - might as well be written directly into the booking path. Now is the time for hotels to recognize the ever-growing importance of user-generated content in distinguishing a hotel from its competition and develop a plan before the site's reviews become a problem.

About Jennifer Rodrigues

Jennifer Rodrigues, Visibility Development Manager with ThinkInk and TravelInk'd, is a seasoned public relations professional with a passion for the hospitality industry, which is expressed in her role at ThinkInk's travel division, TravelInk'd. At TravelInk'd, she is responsible for developing cost-effective and creative public relations and marketing strategies for clients in the travel and tourism, airline, lodging, cruise and meeting/event sectors. For more information on TravelInk'd, please visit www.travelinkd.com or contact Jennifer at jlr@travelinkd.com. For more news about PR and marketing in the travel industry, follow TravelInk'd on Twitter @TravelInkd and visit the TravelInk'd Facebook Fan Page.

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