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Web 2.0 - A Seismic Shift

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October 01, 2007
Special Section | Web 2.0
Carol Verret - carol@carolverret.com

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© 2008 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Web 2.0 is the trend to user-generated content, that is, the use of social networking, hotel review sites and blogs dealing with the user experience.

Web 2.0 is not merely a trend but a seismic shift in the way customers make their travel choices.  It permeates every aspect of hotel sales, revenue management, marketing and training in the above areas.  It is so profound you can almost feel the tectonic plates underlying the industry in upheaval. 

Web 2.0’s implications for the hotel and travel industries are more profound than for some other industries.  While we can begin to trace this online trend to the online travel providers such as Travelocity, Expedia and others and their review sites, it now impacts not only individual transient but also group sales and revenue management in terms of distribution strategies.
It all began with TripAdvisor, engendering the same reaction from many hoteliers as the online travel agencies did when they first arrived – a platform that many loved to hate.  Neither TripAdvisor, the online travel agencies or Web 2.0 are going away.  They will only become more dominant in how customers find, research and ultimately select travel and hotel arrangements. 
If one has followed the studies beginning primarily at the beginning of the year, they confirm this trend.  In a recent survey, Yahoo Travel found that 61 percent of people now go online for vacation recommendations. Travelers are no longer just searching for a hotel based on price; they are making decisions based on user reviews, user ratings and photos.

A PhoCusWright study earlier this year indicated small group travel, such as weddings and family reunions, will be dominated by Web-based sourcing and booking of room blocks.  This was just given additional credibility with the launch of both Travelocity’s and priceline.com’s new group travel functionality.

In a recent study by MiMegasite in TravelMole, 61 percent of meeting planners indicated that they make a venue decision based on information, photos and specs found on the Internet without the hassle of a personal onsite visit.  MPI has a blog for its members to exchange thoughts on issues critical to them.

At a recent conference a friend and fellow consultant, David Lutz said, “Hotel sales people have been dis-intermediaried.” 

Relationships with the hotel are initiated and decided upon long before a hotel ever has contact with them.  Potential clients have checked out the property before they ever pick up the phone or send an e-mail.  They have checked out the Web site, review sites and checked in with the other meeting planners before the hotel ever has a chance to make contact with them.  No matter how cute and charming a sales person is, it is not sufficient to overcome a poor Web presence and negative reviews.
Web presence is not determined only by the Web site, if the travel shopper ever gets there, but by the review sites and the videos that can be uploaded onto various platforms including TripAdvisor.  Ignore YouTube at your peril.

Starwood’s new Web 2.0 strategy includes a blog so that customers can post their own experiences and reviews.  Starwood is a large company. What does this mean at the individual hotel level?

>> GMs need to get up to speed on these issues – in a hurry.  A general manager recently said, “Why don’t we all gang up on them and refuse to use them?”  That sounds a lot like a prescription for disaster.  If you don’t understand TripAdvisor, group travel platforms and the way these are used, get some training.  General managers that don’t have a basic understanding of these issues and how they impact the hotel’s business strategy cannot possibly manage the sales, revenue management and event reservations staffs effectively.

>> Revenue management and distribution strategies.    Distribution strategies and monitoring their effectiveness are an integral part of this seismic shift.  Review sites have to be monitored and articulated responses posted to deficiencies that have been addressed.  Revenue managers may be responsible for the small group presence on those booking sites.  Many franchises now have their own small group booking functionality on their Web sites.  The RM strategy needs to include rates for these sites and inventory control, as well as the amenities that these groups are looking for.  Who is going to be responsible for managing the hotel’s Web presence?  It can be the revenue manager or a joint effort between sales and the revenue manager. There are new tools out there to make this easier – explore them all and their costs. 

>> Group sales – the process has fundamentally changed.  The sales department picks up the prospect at a much later stage in the sales process than in the past.   By the time the phone rings or the e-mail inquiry or the instant RFP request arrives, the potential client has already checked out the hotel and quite possibly the review sites and meeting planner blogs.  The hotel’s group sales presence on third-party sites, such as StarCite, has to be more compelling than the competition.  The sales department needs to position the hotel in their RFP responses and instant RFPs.  Those relationships that we have been so proud of are already partially established prior to direct contact – the positioning of the online presence has to be the first step in those relationships.  The nature of customer communication has changed – it needs to be fast, fluent and to the point.  Monitor and participate in industry blogs – better yet, start your own blog where your community of clients can post comments and communicate with you directly.  Participate in the chatter.

There are many new tools on the market to assist hotels in targeting and monitoring their Web presence.  There is a new one by Lodging Interactive, called ChatterGuard™, that will assist in putting your hotel on YouTube as well as provide dashboard functionality for alerting the revenue manager to new posts on the Internet.  A simple way to begin, however, is to set a Google alert that will send an e-mail to the hotel every time a new reference is posted.

Training in revenue management and sales is changing as well.  Training in these areas must include Web 2.0 – how to understand it, use it and manipulate it to the hotel’s advantage.  Customers still want to buy but they are doing it their way and that way is not about the traditional sales process.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that this is a generational issue.  The Internet review sites and even YouTube are being used by all demographics.  No one should believe that this is going away.  If anything, we are at the threshold and the tectonic plates are just beginning to move.

Carol Verret and Associates Consulting and Training offers training services and consulting in the areas of sales, revenue management and customer service. She can be reached at carol@carolverret.com or by phone at (303) 618-4065.

Check out the hotel sales blog that launched in September. We want to engage in a conversation with you about your hotel sales training issues.  Verret and Associates will also be featuring seminars and webcasts that deal with how you can use Web 2.0 to your advantage.

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