In the past, discussions of people’s experiences of business and leisure accommodation were limited to speaking to a few friends. Today, the voice of the guest reaches a lot further by way of online platforms such as TripAdvisor and Facebook. How we made it in Africa looks at how some of the continent’s hotels are managing their online reputations.[hidepost=9][/hidepost]
“Had the opportunity to work in Accra and was given this hotel to stay in. Accommodation was clean and spacious. Staff were very attentive. Restaurant was more than adequate. Close to restaurants and shops. Would definitely recommend this to others looking for an upmarket well located hotel. Room has power, internet (cable and Wi-Fi) and air-conditioning. The hotel appears to be going through a significant refurbishment and so things should only get better. Is everything perfect? No, but you are in West Africa! So I was willing to wait if something needed fixing. I did not mind that I could hear the generator, because that meant I had electricity when others did not.”
These days TripAdvisor holds significant power in the tourism industry; too many negative reviews could be detrimental to a hotel or restaurant’s reputation and business.
Although La Villa’s TripAdvisor reviews are overwhelmingly positive, the company still takes the website seriously. “TripAdvisor is very important to us. We respond to reviews, both positive and negative,” says e-marketing manager Sarah Osborne.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed when we receive negative comments, but view them as constructive, ensuring that future guests will not have a similar experience. We encourage negative reviewers to book with us again, and put them in touch with our CEO, who arranges an upgrade to one of our finest suites for their next stay.”
Neil Markovitz, managing director of Newmark Hotels, a South African-based hotel management company, says websites such as TripAdvisor have brought a new level of transparency to reviews, which puts pressure on hotels to perform.
“I think that TripAdvisor has established itself as a global benchmarking platform and definitely has a massive influence on guest preference when it comes to choosing a hotel,” Markovitz says.
Power to guest
In a recent report, professional services firm PwC notes that negative guest reviews and bad experiences can cost a business dearly, as well as tarnish hard-earned reputations.
“With public platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor, members of the public can express views and experiences freely,” says Osborne. “Whether they’ve had a wonderful stay or disappointing one, it’s up to the hotel to engage with and make that person feel appreciated. That’s what will have them coming back. Sometimes comments can be damaging to your brand, and in an online environment you are able to defend yourself and make amends for any disappointments guests have experienced. Pressure from public expectation means hotels have to be on top of their game all the time.”
Chris Roche, ecotourism and conservation specialist at Wilderness Safaris, an operator of camps and safaris across Southern Africa, says companies that offer good service don’t have to be sacred of social media. “Certainly in the modern social media environment there is nowhere to hide if you are consistently delivering a poor experience. In another sense however, it is something that is being wholeheartedly embraced by those who consistently deliver a good experience. This is effectively global word of mouth so it really can help in this regard so long as you are one of those entities or establishments that deliver. Social media transparency is something to be welcomed,” he says.
Promoting the brand
Apart from dealing with guest scrutiny, PwC also notes that hotels can use social media platforms to prop up their brands and to connect with guests.
According to Roche, his company uses Facebook, Twitter and its own blog. However, he says companies need to post quality content to these platforms. “We believe that quality content is key. Without something of relevance for your constituency you really are wasting your time and their time. The most important thing to avoid in all this social media hype is the hype itself. Think carefully about whether or not social media is relevant to your business and your clientele or other stakeholders. If it isn’t then don’t bother. If it is then ensure you provide the kind of content that is both representative of your brand, as well as relevant to your audience.”
La Villa also uses Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with its guests. “We try and keep our posts fresh and interesting, so we’re not always promoting the hotel and current offers. Photos of art and sculptures around the hotel are posted and followers are encouraged to engage with content, guessing where they’re placed. Twitter is more about connecting with guests whilst they’re staying with you, sharing their photos and experiences. It’s more of a conversation,” Osborne says.
According to PwC, an effective social media strategy will require significant time and work on the part of a hotel. Hotels therefore need to have clear objectives and principles in mind before implementing such strategies.