To Post or Not to Post - 'Get it in writing'.
By Vanessa Horwell
Tuesday, 22nd November 2011
It's a phrase one often hears when guarding against legal action, its also a physical affirmation of something positive or constructive, but when it comes to hoteliers, 'getting it in writing' has a more nuanced meaning.

Ever since the first hotels and temporary lodging facilities arose, hoteliers have had to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of their most valued resource: their customers – especially when it came to the delicate world of written feedback.

But what was once relegated to a quaint leather-bound book on the corner of some concierge desk has expanded exponentially. First came widespread travel publications that would print with equal care both positive and negative reviews.

Today, those efforts seem decidedly quaint as social media and the increasingly ubiquitous nature of mobile and smartphone technology allows current and former guests unparalleled commenting access – without the filter of a publisher. While it's easy for hoteliers to remain skeptical over such unfettered open access, the benefits of "going social" for hoteliers far outweigh the risks.

The logic behind this embrace is simple. The proverbial Pandora's box has already been opened. Former and future guests alike are already posting their opinions on sites like Facebook and Twitter about their travel experience, beginning with the initial booking and following through all aspects of the travel cycle including: dreaming, researching, experiencing and sharing.

In addition, user generated content sites like TripAdvisor, and online travel agencies like Expedia and Priceline, among many others, are similarly embracing user comments. If hoteliers are concerned about losing control of their messaging, the best way to track what's being said about their hotel is by promoting a guest shift from private and independent site postings to include the more controlled public arena of a hotel website or its affiliated Facebook or Twitter page.

Recognizing the inevitability of this trend, a growing number of hotels are already jumping on board. Earlier this month Marriott Hotels announced it would allow guests from several of its locations, (Marriott Marquis in New York and the Marriott Courtyard near Orlando, among others) to post comments about their stay regardless of the quality of their experience. The announcement follows a similar move by Starwood Hotels & Resorts that also began allowing their preferred customers the ability to post comments directly to their website.

To be sure, hotels that choose this route require a firm commitment and necessary web-savvy staffing. In other words, it can't be done half way. Whether or not Marriott's open-access approach or Starwood's more limited approach is best for online guest reviews remains to be seen.

One thing is clear. Even if hotels fail to embrace online customer reviews, they are already being written on numerous personal and public sites. Growing smartphone penetration rates, (around 62% for young adults ages 24-35) suggests postings will be grow easier, more mobile, and more frequent.

In time not only will reviews alone be important to future guests, but the transparency and openness of a hotel that allows such access may also be factored in a guest's lodging decisions. This is similar to how some restaurant patrons choose their dining experience as much based on food quality as they do on whether the establishment offers free Wifi: an expected service.

So whether it's via text, personal website, or a hotel's own webpage, getting a customer's review in writing has always been a component to the hotel-guest relationship. It's time hotels welcomed the modern social media conversation by letting their guests joins theirs.  

Vanessa Horwell is the founder and Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk & TravelInk'd, a public relations and visibility firm that shuns press releases in favor of storytelling. She has spent the past 18 years working with companies in the US, UK and Europe, developing successful campaigns and strategies for their brands, and founded ThinkInk in 2004, after being fed up with PR agencies that offered mediocre results for big fees. ThinkInk & TravelInk'd, which is headquartered Miami with offices in Dallas, Toronto, London, and Australia (Brisbane), is dedicated to increasing the visibility and credibility of companies in the hotel, airline, travel technology, loyalty, payments, and mobile industries with a focus on business‐to‐business development and thought leadership strategies.

She can be contacted at 305-749-5342 or vanessa@thinkinkpr.com
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