For Hotels, Winning at the Reputation Management Game Means Taking a Team Approach.
By Daniel Edward Craig
Thursday, 14th June 2012
Whether you work for an independent hotel or a large group, feedback from guests is likely coming in fast and furious—from review sites, online travel agencies and social networks.

Managing reputation has become a critical function for hotels, but it can be time-consuming and complex. And unlike revenue management, few hotels have the luxury of appointing a dedicated reputation manager.

So how are hotels and brands finding the time and resources to monitor, respond to and follow up on feedback? I spoke with staff from a range of hotels, and while each is taking a different approach, they all share one thing in common: it's a team effort.

Making satisfaction everyone's responsibility

Guest feedback provides a wealth of data for guiding decisions and improvements—but it's only valuable if staff act on it. That's a property-wide, brand-wide function, with multiple departments playing a role.

At The Cavendish London, managing director Ciarán Fahy stresses the importance of aligning social media activities with sales and marketing, revenue, food and beverage and human resources. "We have found that by working as a team we have built a very strong presence online," he says.

Ideally, one individual champions the efforts. That might be the regional director of marketing, social media manager, public relations representative or front office manager. In some hotels, it's the general manager.

At l'Hermitage Hotel in Vancouver, general manager Glenn Eleiter responds to reviews personally. But, he says, "I firmly believe that every single staff member and manager is a major player in their own right in regards to our reputation management."

Building consensus

Getting buy-in from a diverse range of stakeholders can have its challenges. How to overcome resistance and dissent from colleagues who might not understand social media or resent the raw criticism in reviews?

"Whenever there is something new, shiny and complicated there is always discomfort with it," says Jonathan Mattis, director of marketing at The Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. "Many people still don't fully realize just how big social media actually is and how the brand content that we produce can be received by large numbers of customers and potential customers in only a matter of seconds."

He adds, "I live and breathe social media every day, so of course I'm well versed on the subject. It's up to me to educate them, to show examples, and to give them insight so they can understand what it's all about."

For hotel groups, building consensus between corporate and on-property managers in areas like rate strategy and service standards can be especially challenging, but guest feedback data can help. One international hotel group I spoke with combines market share data provided by STR Global with guest satisfaction data provided by ReviewPro to guide rate decisions, budgets and bonus plans.

When one of the group's properties was resistant to an increase in rates, fearing the market couldn't sustain it, data suggested otherwise. Sure enough, after rates were increased occupancy rates and guest satisfaction scores remained high.

Guiding sales, marketing and distribution activities

Meeting planners and corporate travel managers also check out reviews and social networks as part of the decision-making process, and the quality of reviews can have a significant impact on volume business.

Whereas sales, marketing and reservations rely on operations to deliver on promises to guests, operations relies on them not to overpromise. Success in coordinating these efforts is often directly reflected in guest reviews.

Sales and marketing staff can use guest feedback data to identify exactly what travelers like and dislike about the property, the brand and its competitors and can use the intelligence to play to strengths in sales activities and promotions.

Utilizing tools and resources

For larger properties and hotel groups, a reputation monitoring tool is fast becoming essential for keeping staff on and off property informed of guest feedback and for tracking, analyzing and benchmarking reviews.

Says Mattis of Hotel Bel-Air and The Beverly Hills Hotel, "The internet is endless. ReviewPro is crucial for us to understand, in one comprehensive place, what is happening on the internet with regards to our brand and our product … and to address it as quickly as possible."

Sourcing and generating content

Another critical part of managing reputation involves keeping social networks alive with fresh content. "We post engaging content within five social networks every day, including weekends," says Mattis. "Every comment and mention of our brand is responded to with a personal message."

This itself can be a daunting task, and many hotels are turning to staff for help—sending weekly emails to solicit ideas and content and equipping them with cameras to capture events, activities and news. A "gatekeeper" vets content to ensure compliance with brand standards.

Says Fahy, "We have over a dozen people in the hotel involved to ensure we generate a lot of interesting content. We leverage social media channels to promote The Cavendish as a great place to stay and work."

Reaping the rewards

The efforts are paying off. According to Fahy, not only does The Cavendish achieve the highest revPAR of any four-star hotel in London, it was recently named to The Sunday Times' list of Top 100 Best Small Companies to Work For.

L'Hermitage went from ranking #16 on TripAdvisor's Popularity Index to #1 in less than 16 months and now receives over 15,000 page views per month.

Says Mattis, "Recently, guests told us they chose our hotel for the first time because of the response to a negative review. A negative review! It's great to get feedback like this because it tells us we're going in the right direction."

To learn more, join Josiah Mackenzie of ReviewPro and me for a free webinar, Reputation Management: A Team Approach, on Tuesday, June 19 at 8:00 AM Pacific Time/11:00 AM Eastern Time/5:00 PM Central European Time.

About the Author
Daniel Edward Craig is a former hotel general manager turned consultant specializing in social media strategy and online reputation management. He collaborates with ReviewPro as Client Engagement Advisor.

ReviewPro aggregates millions of social media mentions, in over 20 languages, from hundreds of the most relevant online travel agencies, review websites and social media platforms.

For more info visit www.ReviewPro.com or www.DanielEdwardCraig.com

Copyright © 2012 Daniel Edward Craig. Reprinted with permission.
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