Word-of-mouth-marketing (WOMM) has been one of the oldest and most reliable forms of marketing. This technique of marketing was initially limited in its reach due to the physical point to point nature of its communication instead of broadcast. Nevertheless, it was and still is one of the most effective marketing techniques out there. In this digital age, its relevance and impact has been amplified several times due to the viral nature of Internet.
With the advent of Internet, WOMM is no longer limited in its reach and it has taken the shape of broadcast communication. Thanks to the viral nature of social media, the reach of word of mouth publicity had spread to millions and millions of people across the globe in the form of User Ratings and Reviews.
A good example of a successful implementation of WOMM is the marketing strategy of Gmail used by Google. Initially Gmail service was offered as invite only and this created a lot of buzz around the product, this coupled with great user experience offered by Gmail lead to astounding success of Gmail even though it was a late entrant in email services. Today this strategy is followed by several companies across the world, particularly in the travel and hospitality industry to promote their services.
In fact, user reviews have become a very popular tool that strongly influence the buying decisions of consumers. Many online travel businesses offer quantitative ratings, textual reviews or a combination of both. In the past few years the first indicator for the customer in the decision making process is often the user rating of a product/service, which is frequently expressed in terms of stars, where more stars indicate better ratings. If a product for example has 100 user ratings with an average of 1 out of 5 stars, it is not very likely that the customer would even click on the product link.
Travel and Hospitality products are seen as high-risk purchases and, thus, the influence of user ratings is essential in the management of travel industry operations, particularly those found in the lodging and food service segments. Due to rapid development and consumer adoption of technology, the hospitality industry has dramatically increased consumer reviews so these tools are also valuable for online travel agents and hotels, who use rating systems in order to build trust and reputation in the online market.
According to Statistics
- Leisure travelers spend an average of 30 minutes reading reviews before booking; 10% of travelers spend more than one hour reading reviews (Tnooz)
- 70% of travelers look at up to 20 reviews in the planning phase (Tnooz)
85% of consumers read up t0 10 reviews before they feel that they can trust a business (Search Engine Land, 2014)
- 53% of TripAdvisor users say they won’t book a hotel if it has zero reviews
- Leisure travelers read an average of 6-7 reviews before booking;business travelers read an average of 5.
It is indeed a win win situation for the travel agencies/hotels as well as the consumers to use ratings and reviews to their advantage.
Benefits of postive ratings and reviews for travel agencies and hotels
1) Improved conversion rate
When potential leads see a good rating for a particular travel agency or hotel and read positive reviews about the services offered by them, the chances of a conversion become very high.
2) Expansion of your Customer Base
When a customer is happy and satisfied by the services of a particular travel agent or hotel he is likely to use their services again and even give positive ratings and reviews thus helping in building a loyal customer base.
3) Better understanding of customer preferences
They provide businesses with valuable market research and help them better understand the opinions and needs of their customers. Ratings and reviews are also critical to customer service. They provide the hotel and travel agencies with an opportunity to monitor customer satisfaction and address any problems that are brought up in a review.
Benefits of ratings and reviews for consumers
1) Get a voice to share their experiences whether good or bad
Online reviews give ordinary consumers a voice and are particularly important since an online customer can’t go into a physical store to express his opinion regarding the services he received from the hotel or travel agency.
2) Establish more trust in the travel agency or hotel
The shift in shopping from in-store to online has made consumers wary from the very beginning. Reviews help to reduce this apprehension and re-establish the trust between consumers and service providers that is lacking in the e-commerce marketplace. For example, a hotel can put up attractive images of rooms that may not be the real images of his hotel but the customer may just see them and book the hotel. In this way, in the absence of reviews a customer may get deceived. Statistics show that 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
3) Helps travelers choose a service provider
According to a survey, 70% of global consumers say online consumer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising and as mentioned earlier 70% of travelers look at up to 20 reviews in the planning phase.
Benefits for SEO
1) Improve rankings
Online reviews are as critical to your local SEO strategy as building citations and on-site optimization. They are thought to be one of most significant factors for how Google and other search engines decide to rank search results. Review signals ranked fifth among the most important search-engine ranking factors.
2) New and unique content about your company
Google measures all of your documents for freshness, then scores each page according to the type of search query. Google’s patents offer incredible insight as to how web content can be evaluated using freshness signals, and rankings of that content adjusted accordingly.
3) Keyword rich
Meta tags and keyword density will bring in more search engine traffic from every piece of content that you publish. Studies have shown that star-ratings in organic search listings can significantly lift click-through rate and that fresh, keyword-rich review content can improve rank position in search engine results pages. Ratings and reviews also enhance your search engine optimization efforts. Some valuable features of online reviews are that they provide your website with a large volume of unique and constantly updated content that is full of relevant keywords. These factors work to increase the seller’s relevancy, figure prominently into ranking algorithms, and translate to better website performance.
How Travel Agencies and Hotels should deal with negative reviews
Well, dealing with negative reviews can be really dicey for any business and as a travel agent or a hotel one should tread carefully while responding.
1) Join the conversation
Responding to each review publicly addressing the issues and acknowledging your business’ missteps while maintaining a professional tone with apologies to the customer and a promise for a better service in future will help immensely. By doing so publicly your potential clients can also hear your side of the story. An appropriate response to reviews from hotel management is more likely to make customers book again. It improves their overall impression of the hotel and makes them feel the hotel cares.
2) Respond promptly
A prompt response shows that you care for your customers and value their opinion. This may indeed help you get a second chance from a customer who had a bad experience.
3) Competitors posting reviews
Just in case you come across negative reviews from competitors then contact the review site to get it removed. In the case of one that is defamatory or vilifying, request that the site take it down.
Take time to collect your thoughts to respond to strong negative opinions to avoid a stern response. It’s very important to be sensitive and empathetic when dealing with negative reviews, especially from customers who have posted very strong feedback. Try to understand the problem from the customer perspective and offer a solution.
5)Take negative reviews seriously
Not everyone is out there to defame you so just read the review carefully and try to find out if there really is a merit in the comment of your customer as there may be an area in your business which may need improvement.
If you want to offset the damage done by negative reviews do encourage all customers to review your services. So for example if there are just 2 negative reviews out of 100 it would hardly affect your business but in a way these negative reviews will make the positive ones even more believable and in turn may help your business grow.
The internet revolution has taken word of mouth marketing to the next level. Consumers now have the ability to share their experiences and opinions with their online peers, in a way that is extremely influential and powerful. Online ratings and reviews give customers a voice, increase consumer confidence, enhance product visibility, and can dramatically increase sales. When it comes down to it, online ratings and reviews provide incredible value and benefits that businesses cannot afford to ignore.
TravelCarma is an experienced travel technology brand with expertise in equipping travel businesses worldwide with state of the art, mobile enabled e-commerce solutions with their own branding, online reservation systems, back-office and mid-office systems and access to global inventory.