Blog category: tripadvisor

Using social media to build customer relationships

By Des O'Mahony | On Wed, August 12, 2009

Online marketing for hotels is quite different from online marketing for other products. For example, a hotel is in a fixed location, so marketing to those to whom the location will appeal must form part of the strategy. Hotels have quite individual character, so finding something unique to ensure you stand out from the crowd in the busy hospitality storefront is also crucial. The hotel is rarely the reason for traveling (except for a lucky minority who manage to make the hotel the destination itself), so the choice of hotel is ancillary to the primary travel purpose and this must be factored in by trying to determine the most likely reason your guest are searching for a property like yours. And on and on it goes.

This sounds like a lot of work to get right, and it usually is. But Web 2.0 tools help get to the bottom of this quite quickly if you use them effectively. Fundamentally, the tools of social media online can not only help you market your hotel effectively, but their use can wake you up to how your customers perceive your business. The valuable and free information gleaned can allow you to rapidly improve customer satisfaction. Be prepared to be humble - the customer’s perception is often quite different from yours, but remember it is only theirs that matters.

Everyone and their dog is saying that social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and other Web 2.0 platforms such as YouTube, Picasa are increasingly important. But important for what exactly? Before jumping in, it is important to step back and appreciate what exactly you are trying to achieve by using such tools. Put simply, when you have a particular purpose in mind, you choose a tool or approach that best suits the purpose. You don’t find a tool and then look around for something to do with it.

Not the forum for the hard sell

With social networking, you are basically trying to build or enhance your brand through engaging your customers, and you are aiming to build deeper relationships with them. While the reason for this ultimately is to raise your profile and build potential future custom, this is not a forum for the hard sell. If you want the hard sell, invest in advertising. After all, social networking is “social”, meaning people-oriented, community, common interests, like-mindedness, and “networking”, the intercommunication of those people on a voluntary basis.

Social networking is all about being part of a conversation. To be successful with social media, just like in a conversation, you have to be prepared to listen, you have to have something interesting to say, you have to contribute something new so that people are bothered to listen, and you have to engage on the level of everyone else and avoid preaching. Sticking to those rules will ensure success in social media either personally or as a business.

Charleville Lodge Boosts Business by 59%

As an online strategy partner for hotels, Bookassist (bookassist.org) has been engaged in the social media and web 2.0 arena for some time and in recent years has been strongly encouraging their hotel clients to be proactive online. Following a Bookassist seminar on web 2.0 tools in mid 2008, owner/manager Paul Stenson of Charleville Lodge boutique hotel in Phibsboro, Dublin (www.charlevillelodge.ie) decided to focus on interacting with his customers via TripAdvisor and Facebook, as well as providing a richer web experience to them via Youtube and Picasa.

According to Stenson, they’ve seen “over 8000 views on the Youtube account in that first year. We can see that people move from there to the website and vice versa so it’s definitely something people are interested in seeing.” While he acknowledges that directly attributing bookings and revenue to his use of web 2.0 tools is hard to track, he has no doubt about the success of the strategy. “We’ve had a successful website for many years, but used Bookassist for a new website in 2008. We worked with them also to set up Youtube, Facebook and other tools. In the year since we started, we’ve seen a 59% increase in direct booking income through our website compared to the previous year. Bear in mind that this is in the middle of a recession and our booking value has been forced downwards also with increased competition”, says Stenson, “so we consider that pretty strong proof of the power of social networking”.

Stenson is also rigorous in his approach to TripAdvisor, ensuring that he deals with issues that may arise as quickly as possible. “There is no doubt that guests are cross-referencing TripAdvisor content with our website, our Facebook pages, the reviews we publish on our own website in the Bookassist booking engine, all of these things. People clearly want assurance before they book and we have to be sure we keep on top of it all.”

Using Facebook to talk with customers, answer queries and provide information is something that has become routine in Charleville Lodge, with staff always online to field queries. With hundreds of followers, tracking of incoming bookings for his hotel originating from Facebook hits is on the rise, according to Stenson. “The interest via Facebook is strong, but the drawback is that customers have to request to be a friend first before we can interact. We’re now working with Bookassist on a Twitter strategy so we can converse with potential customers in a more immediate and natural way and be even more proactive in getting the news out there about our property and getting guests’ views. It’s early days but Twitter seems the way to go.”

“Getting” or “not getting” Twitter

Stenson’s experience highlights one of the key differences between sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and the Twitter service. While Facebook and the others are largely about keeping in touch with people you know, in a leisurely way, Twitter is about finding people you don’t know but who have information you need or questions you can answer. Twitter is extremely immediate, reflecting what’s on people’s minds right now.

Twitter is undoubtedly becoming more and more important, but it is still a mystery to most business owners in terms of where it sits in their online strategy. Bookassist’s view is that it can sit dead-centre if handled properly.

There’s a typical evolution that people go through in embracing the Twitter platform. They first see it as a useless fad and ignore it, but they eventually try it out to see what the fuss is about. At this stage they don’t quite “get” it. If they persist, then they get comfortable posting tweets but even now are really just using it “one-way” to make observations or statements. This is as far as most businesses go. But moving beyond this to a real “two-way” conversation is the real hard part. Persistence pays off.

Hotels should set up Twitter accounts and use tweets to advertise special offers or events they may have. Tweets should contain keywords that others may be searching for to improve your chances of being read, (“hotel”, “special”, “dublin” book”) and the offers should be immediate, for tonight, tomorrow etc., since Twitter is so immediate. This is the basic approach of using Twitter in an advertising strategy.

But hotels should also pose questions to their guests using Twitter, to try to get conversations going. For example, “do you think our atrium dining room is the best feature in the hotel?” might elicit responses where people say they didn’t realise you had an atrium and something else was far more important to them in their stay. You now have valuable information about what is important to your guests. You can ask if guests would like to see any other kind of events, or ask how specific services can be improved. Rather than waiting for comments or fielding complaints like in TripAdvisor, you can get into the driving seat with Twitter.

Going beyond this, the open approach of Twitter where your tweets are published to the entire world by default, as are your guests tweets, means that anyone can search for all conversations that involve your hotel and can therefore see an entire history of what you say online and how your interact with your guests. And how quickly you resolve issues. Likewise you can jump into conversations involving your competitors and legitimately highlight how you would have done it differently, or offered better service, giving you a marketing advantage. Once you tweet honestly, are not overly commercial in pushing your business, and remember that everything is public and forever, then you have nothing to fear from being part of the online chat.

Undoubtedly, time commitment is an issue for hoteliers. Once you begin with Twitter, you need to continue to do so or your lack of interaction itself becomes a negative. Because it is fundamentally “personal” in its approach, it puts you the business owner at the front line. But there is no better way to engender trust in your customer base than to interact with them on a personal level, with immediacy, and to show through your public interactions with others that you actually care.

According to Stenson at Charleville Lodge, “it all really just boils down to service. If you can show high service levels online before they even arrive at your hotel, which these tools help you to do, then you are already winning”.

Charleville lodge is online at www.charlevillelodge.ie, and is on Facebook, YouTube and just beginning to take the plunge on Twitter. —- Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder at Bookassist, the leading technology and online strategy partner for the hospitality industry.

Labels: youtube, web2.0, twitter, tripadvisor, tips, strategy, seo, sem, facebook

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Five steps to engaging online with your customers’ conversations

By Des O'Mahony | On Wed, January 20, 2010

It seems odd to have to make this obvious statement in 2010, but hotels’ behavior still indicates that they are not seeing the obvious: Customer reviews are one side of a conversation - hotels need to answer back. Hotels not dealing with this are going to be increasingly in trouble when trying to build their online and offline revenue.

In the last number of years, the hospitality industry has witnessed an explosion of customer-generated content. Ask any average person what they think the highest-trafficked sites in travel are and you will generally get a list of high profile third party hotel booking sites. And of course there are plenty of big brand names dominating booking. But they are not dominating travel. Any ranking of travel sites by traffic will show you that bookings sites are nowhere near the top of the pile, but rather review sites and customer generated comment are the leaders in capturing people’s eyeballs online.

What this tells us is that booking is the end point of a process, and that this process is increasingly dominated by online research. Potential customers want to explore, to read and to be informed before they eventually settle on the target for booking.

Yet a cursory look at some of the dominant online players in hotel reviews reveals the fact that hotels are still not engaging with this. Time and again we see review after review by guests online with no response or input from hotels. As a hotel, think about what this means to your potential customers: if a customer stood in the lobby and either complained or praised your staff or hotel, would you let them stand there without even acknowledging their presence? At the very least it would be rude, but more likely it would result in you losing that customer for life, as well as anybody that he might talk to. Your repeat custom would suffer rapidly.

The startling absense of hotels from the online conversation is very visually highlighted in Bookassist’s recent launch of an iPhone mobile hotel app platform. Customer reviews that have been automatically collected by the booking system for hotels over the past number of years are displayed as a key feature of the iPhone app, and are represented by conversation “bubbles” coming from the customers. Yet many hotels have never used the system’s opportunity to respond, leading to the iPhone app’s review display looking like an unanswered conversation of one-sided bubbles, which of course is exactly what it is. Where hotels have responded, such as that shown in the image, the positive impact on the potential customer browsing the reviews is clear - this hotel cares, this hotel takes me seriously, this hotel fosters customer relations.

Hotel Webapp with Online Booking and Reviews by Bookassist
Hotels that respond to comments, such as ARCOTEL Kaiserwasser staff in the image above, are engaging in a conversation that speaks volumes about their commitment to customer relations.


Hotels, make it a resolution now to engage online with your customers in 2010. You need to put interaction with your potential online customers to center stage and not just treat it as an inconvenience. There is no hiding online and there’s no point hoping it will all go away.

1. Set Google Alerts on your hotel name and variations of it so you can instantly see if someone is referring to you online. Make sure someone in your organisation has clear ownership of monitoring this.

2. Register with the major online review sites such as TripAdvisor and, again, make sure that someone in your organisation has ownership of the reading and responding process.

3. Get on Twitter, monitor Twitter for comments about your hotel, and assign that task to someone in your organisation as a primary role, not just something to do when they find a minute here and there.

4. Remember it is a conversation - you must respond to positive as well as negative comments just as you would if the person was standing in front of you. Refusing to make eye contact or ignoring the person talking to you gets you nowhere in real life, and if anything makes matters significantly worse. It is exactly the same online - except that this time the whole world is gauging your refusal to interact and what it might mean for them as a potential customer.

5. Get proactive, not just reactive. Conversation is a two-way street so instead of just responding, get out there and have your say first. Get online and tell people about new developments in your hotel, tell people about events, ask your guests their opinions. Use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other approaches to get your name and your opinions out there. Remember, all of these have the added advantage of being found in the search engines when someone is looking for information about you.

Labels: web2.0, tripadvisor, travel2.0, iphone

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Why You Need Reputation Management

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, July 22, 2011

Bookassist’s Des O’Mahony outlines why your hotel needs to think very seriously about Reputation Management software and why manual trawling of the web is no longer enough.



Restaurants have lived and died by critics’ reviews for years. For hotels, reviews are relatively recent. And many hotels don’t like them at all. But bemoaning online reviews by customers solves nothing. Hotels need to engage with online reviews for many reasons, not least of which is the incredible opportunity it offers for free marketing and influence.







Bookassist has launched the Reputation Alert service to help hotels deal with their reviews online, to show hotels how to turn information into corrective action plans for negative reviews, and into marketing opportunities for positive reviews. It is one of the most valuable tools available to hoteliers today, and only costs the equivalent of about one room-night per month.



Here are four simple reasons why you need this product.



It’s not just TripAdvisor

The largest volume of reviews for your hotel may be on TripAdvisor, Booking and Expedia. But only concentrating on them is not a good idea. In fact, the sheer “size” of those brands has led many people to ignore them and instead seek what they consider to be more “genuine” or “considered” reviews on smaller specialist sites. After all, if you are a specific type of traveller, it is far more relevant for you to read reviews from like-minded people rather than the mass herd. As a result, these smaller more specialised sites, often in languages other than English, can also have a disproportionately larger influence on your potential guests. But are you monitoring them?



Bookassist Reputation Alert monitors hundreds of sites, not just the top ones, and delivers reviews from them all directly into your hotel administration system. It even trawls Social Media sites to see if there is mention of your hotel. It analyses the wording of the reviews, in multiple languages, and tells you whether they are positive or negative and what areas of your business they refer to. It saves you hours and hours of time, but more importantly it ensures that issues get to you fast so you can take corrective action before they damage your valuable business.




Time Is Money

Being able to assess all recent reviews from hundreds of sites in one single online area is a huge labour-saver. You can focus on action plans to correct issues raised in reviews, rather than spending that time trying to find and assess reviews online. With semantic analysis of the review language built into Bookassist Reputation Alert, you don’t even need to read the reviews but can get an instant assessment of whether they are positive or negative. For any hotelier that values their time and their reputation, it’s a no-brainer.


But you can also collect reviews on your top 5 competitors and see where they are slipping up, allowing you to jump in and fill the gap with website text or special offers directed specifically at their weaknesses. This is very valuable strategic information available at a click.





Actions Count, Not Words

There is little point in monitoring reviews at all if they are not going to lead to action plans. With automatic analysis of ratings and reviews to assess what your customers think of your services across areas such as staff, food and beverage, wellness, lobby, room decor, internet services etc, you can quickly focus on the real priorities and issue action plans to your responsible staff.


Because Bookassist Reputation Alert tracks your average score in these different service areas over time, you can see if your scores are improving or even set targets for scores to be reached by those staff responsible for different service areas in your organization. You can generate weekly or monthly reports on where you stand for use at staff meetings. Improving service levels based on smart analysis of priorities allows you to focus your spend and efforts on the right things, therefore reducing negativity online and increasing your potential revenue. It’s like having an extremely meticulous and expensive brand consultant sitting there with you each and every day - without the associated cost.



Their Opinion Matters, Not Yours

With Bookassist Reputation Alert, you can also see what kind or category of guests are using your hotel. While you may consider yourself as, for example, a business hotel, or a family hotel etc, you may be surprised to find from detailed reviews analysis that the majority of your guests actually consider you to be a city centre hotel first and foremost, or a romantic hotel, or a great hotel for sports events etc. In other words, analysing the guest perception of your hotel from feedback can help you reposition your hotel online, offering packages that suit the majority of your guests and tapping into your real potential. This kind of invaluable insight into your true customer base can only be gleaned from analysing hundreds of reviews automatically and continuously, a critical but costly job to do manually but one which Bookassist Reputation Alert excels at far more quickly and far more cheaply.


If you’re doing well, you should boast about it to your potential guests, by displaying a seal of approval showing your average rating right on your website, automatically updated as reviews are collected and analyzed.


These are just some of the reasons why reputation management can improve your bottom line quickly and effectively. To read more about Reputation Alert, see http://bookassist.org/reputation


Labels: tripadvisor, strategy, reviews, marketing, brand

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Playing Catch-up - The Hotel Star System

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, August 01, 2011

Bookassist’s Paul Dooley discusses hotel rating systems fit for the internet age



Irish hospitality operators, due in no small part to the celtic tiger decade, now preside over hotel stock that is of an exceptionally high standard and is rated as such. However service, delivery and the intangibles in many cases either exceed or fall below the hotels’ designated star-rating. Far from being alone, worldwide the anomalies are even more stark. However Europe is playing a lead role in changing the status quo and seeking alternatives to the traditional approach to start rating.



The System Is Broken

The question of Hotel Star Ratings has always been a contentious subject among hoteliers and consumers alike. Too often the criticism from both parties relates to the fact that current star-ratings place undue emphasis on the physical product (buildings/facilities) and too little on subjective criteria related to ambience, charm and the service element.



Hotel star ratings are general quality indicators and should be regarded as just that - broad guidelines in measuring a hotel’s general quality, amenities, and customer satisfaction. Ratings are not meant to be perfectly precise critiques. All of the amenities and services that a property offers may not necessarily be reflected. Due to differing parameters and criteria from hotel to hotel, along with the incredibly wide range of customer preferences and individual expectations no system can guarantee exact accuracy in every element of all ratings.



A failure over time to fully appreciate the fact that consumer expectations have undergone a fundamental shift has led to the undermining of the current star rating system. A number of factors have contributed to this disconnect.



Consumers don’t understand how they are determined

The process behind hotels getting evaluated is not very clear and in most cases known only to hoteliers.



Many Ratings systems just tick boxes

Old habits die hard and hotel rating systems even now continue to put great emphasis on ticking off big checklists resulting in a star rating. What matters to today’s consumer is very different than what general factors ratings organizations assume will matter. The meaning of “standard” has changed. Arguably, free Wi-Fi has more appeal now than whether a property has two restaurants or a lift.



Ratings Systems are fragmented

Accreditation systems can come from a wide variety of sources, including the government, tourism bodies, commercial industry organizations and sometimes even the operators themselves. How and by whom the rating standard is applied varies widely as there is no global standard despite an attempt through the World Hotel Rating (WHR) project, which notably aims to set international classification standards and rating criteria along the lines of a world star-rating system.



For example, here is the state of play in some of the main world regions:

Asia - No Common Rating system.

Latin America - Government ratings in many cases are for life or hotels are self rating.

USA - No national rating standard

Europe - HOTREC as an umbrella organization in Europe has attempted to bring order in hotel rating to the continent through it’s European Hospitality Quality Scheme (EHQ) and has accredited the existing national inspection bodies for hotel rating. Under the patronage of HOTREC the hotels associations of several european countries have created the Hotelstars Union whose classification system has now been adopted by 10 European countries. The harmonized criteria set by the Hotelstars Union is based on customer research and combines traditional offline and modern online criteria. See http://www.hotelstars.eu



Disparate Specifics are used

While adherence by accreditation bodies to the general principle of written standards or established criteria regarding the property’s facilities and services is the norm, the specifics vary greatly.



Star ratings have been devalued

There is a recent worrying trend of hotel marketing departments trumpeting the fact that they are 6,7 star (or even one 10 star hotel in the Middle East) even before opening their doors. As no organization or formal body awards or recognizes any rating over five star deluxe such claims are meaningless and predominantly used for advertising purposes.



Service is not properly assessed

A lack of clarity in measuring the “service” provision by hotels has always been the failing of ratings systems. They usually assess service in a formal and out-of-date way. Fussy overly-attentive service standards have been exchanged in all types of hotels for informal, friendly, non-intrusive service. In most cases this change is being driven by a customer-centric focus from the hotel.



Guest reviews or a single inspection?

If hundreds of recent guest reviews tell you how a hotel is performing, isn’t that more convincing than the fact that an inspector ticks a checklist annually at best?



Social Media - The real game changer

Since the advent of social media, the way consumers make decisions has changed dramatically. Increasingly consumers are not accepting hotel marketers spin or officialdom (in the guise of hotel star ratings) at face value. Instead, they are turning to peers - other travelers and third party-retailers - for information and advice, particularly in relation to the “service” aspect of their hotel experience.



The void left by the undermining of hotel rating systems is increasingly being filled by the consumer. Hotels must now revisit how they are perceived and proactively manage their reputation through social media channels and review sites.



It’s not enough anymore to simply “Join the Conversation”. Hotels should be tracking feedback, RoI and conversions with insight tools such as Facebook Insights, TripAdvisor’s Owners Center and Google Analytics among others. The next level up is a social media monitoring tool which collates and analyzes reviews across the web. TrustYou is one such analysis tool which Bookassist has integrated into its Reputation Alert suite of services. Used properly, a social media monitoring tool will help you turn guest feedback into a competitive advantage to be used to improve daily operations, organizational culture and best practice.



Conclusion

Where hotel star ratings certainly have value is in validating if a property maintains its quality standards or not over time. Whether this is aligned or otherwise with the new direct sources and weight of independent evaluation of services, facilities and most importantly user experience is the key.



The ultimate measure of a hotel’s quality may perhaps be assessed by posing the question “would you be willing to recommend it?”. Are the current star rating systems best positioned to answer this or do guest review sites by their nature deliver a more compelling reply?



Star ratings may be outdated but that doesn’t mean that a better system could not be designed which incorporates the best of both worlds, merging objective criteria with user generated reviews. The industry body in Switzerland, Hotellerie Suisse, is already following this dual path. A radical overhaul announced only last month of the star classification system by the Organization of German Hotels & restaurants (DEHOGA) will now also include a mixture of expert opinion and customer reviews.



Earlier this year the UK’s Tourism’s minister stated that the UK Government is considering phasing out government-sanctioned star ratings of various lodging accommodation in favour of traveler-written reviews. The idea may be a little before its time but it’s a clear sign of the change that’s afoot.



In today’s ever-changing competitive world, hotels need above all else to rapidly elevate the visibility (offline or online) of whatever credible ratings and reviews that do exist for their businesses, along with the established star-rating they have earned. The customer is no longer just assessing your rating, the customer is actively determining it.



—-



Paul Dooley is Director of Client Services for Bookassist in Ireland

Labels: tripadvisor, social media, reviews, reputation, marketing, brand

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Referral Links - Tripadvisor Business Listing

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, November 04, 2011

Bookassist’s Martin Murray discusses the use of the Tripadvisor business listing as a referral link.

When it comes to marketing your hotel online your main goal should be to drive as much qualified traffic and revenue through your own website as possible. One way to help with this goal is through the use of referral links.

There are many sources of referral links available and in this article we will be discussing the use of the Tripadvisor business listing as a referral link.

What is all it about?

With over 50 million reviews and an estimated one in every four travelers visiting the site before travelling, Tripadvisor has become the largest and most popular hotel review website. Tripadvisor launched the business listing back in January 2010 as a way for hotels to promote their listing and to encourage direct contact between the customer and the hotel. For many people checking hotel reviews is the final stage of their purchasing decision so having your hotel’s contact details present will help increase your chances of a direct booking which could otherwise be gained by a third party website.

Tripadvisor business listing features

There are several features to a Tripadvisor business listing. The main three are listed below.

Contact details displayed

Your hotel’s phone number, website link and email details are displayed under your hotel’s name on your Tripadvisor listing.
Create special offers
With the business listing you can create special offers for your hotel which are then displayed throughout the Tripadvisor website.
Mobile listing is enhanced
When you upgrade to a business listing, visitors viewing your listing on a mobile device will be able to call your hotel and visit your hotel’s website directly.

Cost

Tripadvisor charge a yearly fee to upgrade to the business listing and the cost varies depending on the number of rooms your property has. The average cost for a hotel in Ireland is €1550 pa. It is worth noting that you can you can cancel your subscription at any time and get your money back for the remainder of your subscription.

So is it worth it?

We have measured two hotels in the study below. Hotel A is ranked in the top 10% for their area while Hotel B is ranked in the top 30%.

Visits – Hotel A received 6345 visits while Hotel B received 674. (ROI) Return on investment – Hotel A had a return on investment of 44 (for every one euro spent on the business listing 44 was made back) while Hotel B had a ROI of 2. There are several factors which could explain the large difference in results between both hotels but the main reason is because Hotel A has a much higher Tripadvisor ranking than Hotel B and therefore gets a lot more exposure on the Tripadvisor website. If you are considering upgrading to the Tripadvisor business listing then we recommend that your hotel should be in the top 15% for your area for the business listing to be beneficial.

Conversion Conversion rate from the Tripadvisor business listing was quite high for both hotels. The table below compares the conversion rate from the business listing compared to the average conversion rate for referral links for each hotel’s website.

Is it worth it?

The simple answer is yes, if you have a high Tripadvisor ranking. The success of the business listing will mainly depend on two factors.

Tripadvisor Ranking – This is by far the biggest factor. The higher your Tripadvisor ranking the more times your hotel will be displayed to visitors. Also, hotels with a high ranking are trusted more as they are seen be of a high quality and therefore visitors are more inclined to learn more about them. If you are interested in upgrading you’re listing to a business listing but have a low Tripadvisor ranking we would recommend improving your ranking first.

Rate Parity / Availability – The business listing may generate traffic but that does not mean that this traffic will automatically convert into bookings, which is why having a least rate parity and good availability on your own website will help ensure that any traffic generated by the business listing will convert at as high a rate as possible.

If you are interested in upgrading to the Tripadvisor business listing then please contact us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Bookassist – Technology & online strategy for hotels

Labels: tripadvisor, technology, strategy, mobile

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​The Rise of the Meta Search Opportunity

By Des O'Mahony & Ciaran Rowe | On Wed, October 02, 2013

The demands of the online consumer for a more efficient way to assess multiple sources of information, for example comparing lots of sites for the best price for a specific hotel on a specific date, has directly led to the recent rapid rise in meta search websites and technologies of late.

Meta search for travel has actually been around in various formats for quite some time, particularly for flights, though airlines like Ryanair have taken considerable steps to thwart them. Recent news shows that Skyscanner, for example, is expected to massively grow and also expand into hotels.

The first model in the meta search arena was introduced by Sidestep in 1999, in the format of a downloadable widget. The basic comparison principle has remained much the same since then, but the model is becoming ever more sophisticated as technology develops and meta search presence is now becoming an integral part of customer acquisition strategy for hotels.

The most popular sites for accommodation at the moment include Google Hotel Finder, TripAdvisor, Kayak & Trivago, all of whom offer real time availability and pricing from multiple sources to their users, thereby allowing the user to make an informed decision with minimal effort. Consolidation in this space has been rife recently, with smaller sites being acquired by some of the bigger players, and new entrants to the market quickly grabbing a huge presence in the consumers’ decision making process.

The Third Way Online for Hotels

For consumers, the development of meta search was clearly a useful tool in their search process, but for hotels the advantages weren’t initially so clear. The rates and availability being displayed were usually taken from OTA sites, so although the hotels might be getting bookings through meta search, they were coming at a high price - up to 25% commission in some instances.

This all changed recently as the meta search providers allowed for integration with the hotel’s own inventory, thus enabling direct contact between hotels and consumers. The introduction of this integration changed the meta search model from being just another distribution channel to becoming a key marketing channel for hotels. Note that hotels can’t directly integrate themselves with most meta search sites - they need to be using a hotel representation service, such as Bookassist, that can manage the data and integration for them in a structured and automated way.

Hotel representation companies such as Bookassist have integrated with Google Hotel Finder, TripAdvisor, Trivago and others to allow Bookassist client hotels’ inventory and rates to be fed automatically and dynamically to the meta search sites, allowing hotels to compete head to head with the OTA pricing on those sites.

For hotels, meta search can therefore be viewed as the “third way” online, sitting right in the middle between the direct model on the one hand, where the customer books directly on the hotel’s own website, and the indirect online travel agent (OTA) model on the other hand, where the customer browses and books on a single branded OTA platform such as Expedia or Lastminute.com. Meta search can hold back the OTA influence a little, and drag the hotel directly in front of the consumer.

Game-Changing Marketing Opportunity

As a marketing channel, meta search interacts with users at most stages of their research and decision making process. So whether a user goes directly to a site such as Trivago, or if they are doing a general search in Google, or even if they are looking at reviews in TripAdvisor, there is an opportunity for hoteliers to be directly present with their live rates, and the chance to bring the user directly to the hotel website booking page.

Once a hotel is working with a company such as Bookassist, pages on TripAdvisor where they can expect their rates to appear include their own hotel page. They will also appear on generic location pages on TripAdvisor, for example ‘Paris Hotels’, but the level of exposure on these type of pages will depend on how highly ranked the hotel is in within TripAdvisor itself. Ranking is always king on TripAdvisor.

Google offers a bewildering array of placement opportunities once your hotel is using an integrated service like Bookassist. Rates can appear on Google’s Hotel Finder, on Google Maps, on Google+ Local, and in Google Universal searches. In this case the ranking of the placement relative to the OTA offerings will specifically depend on the price of a double room for the dates chosen by the customer, and on the bid placed for the potential click by the representation company managing the listing on the hotel’s behalf.

This has the potential to be a game-changer for hotels - why would a user go to an individual OTA website when they can check multiple OTA offerings in one place using meta search?

Hotels can now compete on an equal footing with OTAs, particularly when it comes to users specifically researching the hotel brand, but they need to understand the medium first and partner with an experienced provider such as Bookassist.

Practical Details

Getting set up to appear on meta search sites is relatively straightforward, but as mentioned, needs to be done via a representation company that has established a trusted integration with the meta search site. The system generally works on a pay per click model, with the hotel charged every time a user clicks through to their booking page, similar to the Google Adwords PPC model. If a user does not click then there is no charge for the exposure. So it’s still valuable free advertising.

Managing these campaigns is a skill that requires experience in the online marketing area, in particular with meta search marketing, so we would advise partnering with a provider that offers a robust integration as well as marketing expertise to get the most from your marketing budget.

Budgets for meta search marketing vary significantly by property, but the costs are not prohibitive. A budget of €500 each per month usually provides good exposure on Google Hotel Finder and on Tripadvisor. However, participating in meta search marketing is not something you should set up and forget about. In order to generate a good return you need to ensure good availability and rate parity or better, as well as a good user experience when they arrive at your booking page or landing page. The click delivery is the meta searchers’ job, but conversion of the customer is still yours.

Try your hotel's numbers in this calculation.
TABLE 1: Try your hotel’s numbers in this calculation.

When looking at the return on investment, it is also critical to factor in the commission costs that were saved by diverting a user from booking through an OTA to booking direct on the hotel site. For example, through an OTA your booking may have been at something near 20%, while through your website it could be at 5% or less depending on your service levels, plus the click charges you incur. As an example, enter your own figures in Table 1 and see what can be achieved. The savings of course need to also contribute to website costs and management fees, but it still is significant. Getting this right on a regular and consistent basis means that there is a considerable ongoing benefit to be had.

What’s more, since the customer converted has booked on your own website, you now have their details for future marketing. This customer is now your customer, not an OTAs customer, which presents further opportunities for brand building and re-marketing in order to capitalise on life-time value.

Bottom Line

Meta Search marketing is a great opportunity for hotels. To ensure you get clicks, you need to be focused on pushing the best rates and always having last room availability. Remember that a click is wasted unless you can work hard on ensuring conversion through proper website design, specific targeted landing pages, and a booking engine layout designed to convert.

Returns are still low compared to PPC, but this will inevitably build. Right now we are seeing returns of about €5 per €1 spent, far short of the PPC ROI we typically achieve for our clients. But it is early days and the trend has been continually upward.

Meta search is one of so many online marketing approaches, all of which need to be tackled and optimized. It is important to partner with an experienced provider, with a proven track record in online marketing and strategy, in order to really maximise the returns on your investment and to be kept informed of the latest trends and opportunities in the area.

Ciaran Rowe is Senior Search Strategist, and Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and founder at Bookassist (bookassist.org), the award-winning technology and online strategy partner for hotels worldwide.

Labels: tripadvisor, sem, metasearch, kayak, google hotel finder, google

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Search is Dead

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, April 11, 2014

We are in very turbulent times for search. Specifically, natural search has been strongly eroded and is losing relevance in certain business sectors, travel being a key one. While this represents a threat for those with reliance on organic search result methods, it is by no means the death of search opportunity.

The search landscape has changed quite dramatically recently and will continue to do so through 2014. Should hotels be worried about this? Definitely. Can they make strategic changes to actually capitalise on the rapid change in search? Most definitely. But they need to understand that benefit comes at a price.

Search Engine Optimisation Relevance

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a strategy and technique to improve traffic to websites by deliberately targeting a high position on search engine results pages (SERPs). SEO could be viewed as an effort to ensure your content and relevance is properly recognised in SERPs for relevant searches (which is a good and fair marketing effort, though difficult). Or, SEO can also be an attempt to rig the game by getting exposure you don’t justly deserve (which is a disingenuous marketing attempt, and bad for everyone in the long run).

Search engines of course want to always be relevant with their natural results, and not look like they’ve been rigged. Relevance is critical, and search companies work hard on complex algorithms to ensure, essentially, that SEO becomes redundant. In other words, to improve their indexing technology so that it makes its own decisions about relevance for the searcher regardless of what the website owner has tried to do.

To quote moz.com (http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change), “Each year, Google changes its search algorithm around 500-600 times”. Search engines make these algorithm changes to make deliberate SEO more irrelevant. Websites therefore more than ever need to ensure they have good content, relevant content and accurate content relating to their services. To justify a good position in SERP, you need to deserve it. You need to invest properly in website design and content on an ongoing basis to have a chance here, before you even consider the issue of your website’s impact on conversion, which is another story.

So while SEO may not be dead, the simplistic approach to SEO that yielded results years ago is certainly of little use today. SEO needs to focus far more on relevance and freshness and not just keyword stuffing.

Competing Space

However well you achieve optimisation, the bottom line is that your site is effectively listed once in a sea of results and products on a SERP. And that sea is getting extremely complex. If one looks at Google search results alone, you can see that it is increasingly dominated by Google products. To get more visibility, you need to play their game and use their services effectively.

The company is pushing hard on Google+, its social “network”, to the extent that optimising your Google+ page is arguably far more relevant for SERP positioning in Google than anything else. Google does stress that it sees Google+ more as a layer to bring all its various products and services together for you the user in a personalised way, and that it’s not a stand-alone social network in the way we view Facebook and others. Of relevance for hotels, Google is gathering reviews rapidly, and via Google+ is using them to influence search relevance. More and more, your hotel’s Google+ page content, the freshness of your interaction there, and your review rating, are influencing your hotel’s SERP position.

With the advent of Google Hotel Finder (GHF), the company began to gather availability and pricing from hotels (via the Online Travel Agents and also from direct representatives of hotels such as Bookassist), effectively becoming a meta search player within its own search results. The result of that effort so far is that for accommodation searches, Google now presents its pay per click (PPC) advertising (indicated by the little yellow “Ads” sign), its Google+ local results, and now its GHF integrated results that hotels (and OTAs) bid for. Google search results have it all - why go elsewhere? At least this appears to be the plan.

If you look at Figure 1, the block headed “Hotels in Berlin on Google” has appeared after the PPC adverts in a search I’ve done for “hotels in berlin”. Here, you can see directly not just the pricing for hotels being fed by GHF, but also the Google+ reviews and ratings taking prominence. Interestingly, even if you click on a specific hotel in this listing, you will be brought to a full listing of hotels in GHF, as Figure 2 shows, not to that specific hotel you clicked.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Google search results for “hotels in berlin” showing Ads, Google map results, and the Google Hotel Finder and Google+ influence on results, injecting ratings and prices.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Google Hotel Finder as accessed from the search results in Figure 1.

GHF functionality is also integrated into maps and other areas of Google and taking more and more precedence and real estate on the screen, along with Google+. The result is that your natural listing is moving further off the page, and the money you are required to spend on PPC and on bidding within GHF is becoming more and more relevant to your prominence.

The industry expects this trend to continue, with the move of technologies like the Google carousel (Figure 3) inevitably into accommodation. Typing a search like “things to do in London” shows the carousel of points of interest, and will display prominently on the right of the page the associated Google+ page when available. When a carousel is used for hotels in a city, you can see just how relevant the GHF bidding and the Google+ page content will be for a hotel.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Example of Google’s carousel and the dominance of Google+

for elements of the carousel on the lower right of the page.

The Continuing Rise of Meta Search

For hotels, the opportunity presented by meta search sites like Trivago, Hotelscombined and many others is a second wind on the internet. The dominance of OTAs over direct booking on hotel websites can now be mitigated by hotels using meta search sites, which can show the hotels’ own website and pricing via representative companies such as Bookassist, along with the OTA pricing. This levels the playing field somewhat for hotels and is a positive development.

Likewise, high-traffic sites like TripAdvisor have seized on the opportunity presented by their qualified users and have moved to offer meta search services that combine OTA and hotel direct pricing, via the TripConnect service. Hotels’ own websites and pricing can again be listed along with the OTAs via representative companies for hotels, such as Bookassist, presenting TripAdvisor users with little reason to leave TripAdvisor when doing their research.

However, when you now look at Google Hotel Finder, TripConnect and Trivago, you see quite different approaches to optimising the opportunities for your hotel.

For example, on Google Hotel Finder, it is often best to focus on your hotel’s website having the lowest price, and not focus on just bidding highest. You may be outbid by an OTA that grabs the first position, but the prominence of your lower price will win out in many cases. On Trivago, the layout of their results favours the highest bidder, and the process is extremely dynamic. When you are searching on Trivago, you can see results and prices literally changing before your eyes. Meanwhile over in TripConnect, the push for the best TripAdvisor ranking is no longer as relevant as it was, since your availability and pricing will drive how TripConnect returns your hotel within its metasearch. And even these observations about best approaches have changed in recent months.

Managing all of this is critical, and is not an easy task, especially since it must be done virtually in real time.

The Mobile Challenge

Mobile search remains the key entry point for mobile hotel customers, despite the prominence of specific branded apps for last minute booking. With smaller screen sizes, the limited real estate on a mobile SERP means that natural is even less relevant here and the battle for the first page is extremely significant.

Google is injecting GHF panels directly into mobile search also, following relevant PPC ads, pushing down natural search. The inclusion of mapping results further relegates natural results. All of this is good for the user, but makes it difficult for the hotel.

Figure 4. Google SERP on iOS showing PPC advert and GHF panel
Figure 4. Google SERP on iOS showing PPC advert and GHF panel

Interestingly, as internet usage on tablets and mobile phones becomes more the norm, usage patterns have quickly changed. Not that long ago, bookings on mobile and access to accommodation websites was dominated by last minute users. The average lead-in time however has now lengthened. We see it in Bookassist data, and recently at the EyeforTravel Mobile Web Congress, Carlson Wagonlit Mobile also indicated in their data that hotel booking lead-in time is indeed getting longer on mobile.

Where To Next?

Just understanding the fast-changing nature of the search space and meta search in particular is a very difficult task. The pace of change is quite breathtaking as the competition hots up between OTAs and meta search. Google is innovating fast, but must be mindful of treading on its paying advertisers’ toes too - it cannot afford to annoy OTAs too much with the hundreds of millions of dollars they literally spend per year on PPC. Likewise, OTAs and meta search are pushing their own brands so they can reduce reliance on Google, and we see Trivago and Booking.com investing hugely in offline advertising like TV to get customers to bypass search and go directly to them.

Everyone wants to be the one stop shop gathering as much diverse info in one place as possible, which is a direct result of the increasing trend of online users to want to shop around.

As a supplier, monitoring the dynamic nature of all of this is complex in the extreme and poses a significant challenge for the individual hotel, let alone those hotel groups with more resources. But this is the reality of where we are in search today. Increasingly, your direct traffic must be bought. And this makes margin all the more relevant as the key issue to track in your business.

Hotels must invest even more strongly in PPC, and in meta search bidding, while making sure they are watching and measuring the real ROI. Since both these approaches deliver qualified traffic, but not actual bookings, hotels must invest ever more in website technology and have world class booking capability to ensure that this hard-earned paid-for traffic actually converts. This may be daunting, but those hotels who move fast in this area can benefit significantly

Expect the search space to be radically different by this time next year. Search today is nothing like the game we played just two years ago, and to compare then and now displays bewildering differences, with threats and opportunities.

To say search is dead may be an exaggeration. More appropriately, to borrow from Star Trek, “It’s search Jim, but not as we knew it.”

Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and founder at Bookassist (bookassist.org), the award-winning technology and online strategy partner for hotels worldwide.

Labels: trivago, tripadvisor, strategy, seo, metasearch, google+, google hotel finder

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TripAdvisor moving to track business listing phone numbers

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, February 09, 2015

TripAdvisor is busy writing to hotels in various countries proposing to replace the hotel’s own phone number (in certain circumstances) in the hotel’s Business Listings with a unique, dedicated TripAdvisor telephone number for the property page – at no cost to the hotel. Customers will no longer see your property’s phone number, but when they dial they are routed seamlessly to the hotel’s real number.

At first this might sound suspicious - why is TripAdvisor doing this? The reason is tracking. And (generally) it’s a very good reason to do it.

Hotels are already spending considerable sums of money on digital marketing and on the TripAdvisor Business Listing. Tracking online bookings from TripAdvisor is straightforward enough, and allows you to calculate a return. But what about calls directly to your property that come from customers seeing your phone number on TripAdvisor? Unless you ask the customer where they found you, or unless they announce it themselves, your hotel has no way of tracking the phone business generated by TripAdvisor. And that means TripAdvisor is losing out on the credit for helping your business (even if its not credit of the money type) and your hotel is losing out on better knowledge of where your business is really coming from on the phone.

TripAdvisor has begun automatically replacing hotels’ phone numbers on their Business Listing with the new unique TripAdvisor phone numbers and is rolling this out across all markets. US, Canada and UK already have it, and Bookassist clients in France have just been informed of the move. Hotels can opt out and decide to keep their number, but they lose out on the potential tracking information that will be provided by TripAdvisor.

The Bookassist angle is this:

  • hotels should take the offer of TripAdvisor’s unique phone number;
  • there is no cost to the hotel;
  • there is a lot to be gained in getting extra analysis of how effective your Business Listing is and you will see this in your Property Dashboard;
  • there is no privacy issue, as calls are automatically directed with no recording and no interaction by TripAdvisor;
  • hotels need to decide if the phone number from Tripadvisor “suits” them since the number being used may not be from their city or area code (but generally the online customer doesn’t take much notice of that issue if they’re just making that one call).

Note that TripAdvisor says your hotel “will not be eligible at this time if you: offer a toll-free number outside of the US, Canada or United Kingdom; have a unique telephone number for each TripAdvisor domain; or use premium phone numbers.”

Perhaps TripAdvisor might later charge for the service, but for now while it’s free it’s a great way to track your phone business if you’re not doing it in some other way.

To read more about it, see here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/TripAdvisorInsights/n2551/faqs-business-listings-telephone-sales-lead-data

Labels: tripadvisor, customers

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