Learning from the other side of the travel equation

skiingMany business consultants advise “putting yourself in your customer’s shoes”, to test your product or customer service levels. The tourism industry is the one place where this is quite easy to do, since we all go away on holiday now and then (or try to!).

On planning a ski trip to Argentina last year, I was interested to find myself on the other side of the internet research and online booking process. I started by asking friends who had been there about their experience and recommendations. Then I read as much as I could online, finding good information from local and regional tourism sites, as well as commercial sites specifically promoting skiing. Once I had more of an idea about regions and what the operators offered, I started looking at available accommodation on several different web sites to compare prices.

When I had the names of the properties I was interested in, I went to TripAdvisor to see what people who had been there already had to say. And yes – what I read there often changed my mind.

Finally, I booked online. Where the property had a good web site and online booking system that made it easy to book directly on their own site, I did that.  In other instances I booked on Booking.com, since I knew the brand name and had used them in the past with success. For the actual ski passes and transfers I used a South African travel agent who advertised herself as an expert on Argentina, since it was much easier to deal with her than a Spanish-speaking operator.

What lessons did I learn?

First of all, that all the different web sites and role players had something to contribute to the bigger picture that informed my visit to a country I didn’t know.

Secondly, that I’m quite an average tourist! A recent exercise to gather some facts and figures for an E-Tourism presentation, confirmed that the research and booking process I followed is quite common.

Friends and family are still the first stop for ideas and recommendations. Next in line are the Online Travel Agents, or OTAs (all the accommodation web sites). What surprised me in the research was the high percentage of people that mentioned TripAdvisor in the different studies I looked at. Its claim to be the world’s largest travel web site seems well justified.

I shouldn’t have found that surprising, since I have personally used TripAdvisor even to search for restaurants here in South Africa. I’ve checked more than once to see if a place I haven’t been to in a long time is getting good reviews. (This search is usually done on my mobile phone, which is of course yet another trend we’re all told to keep in mind.)

It’s easy to understand why we value recommendations from friends and family over other contributions. However, where it’s not possible to get all the information we need from our closest confidantes, the next best thing seems to be reviews from other “ordinary people” (travelers or diners like ourselves). We seem to trust their opinions more than the sales pitch we think we might be getting from the property web site or OTAs.

These are such natural impulses, that’s its difficult to understand why not all B&B owners or hoteliers or restaurateurs are embracing the review sites and using them to their full marketing advantage.

The overwhelming fear of a bad review seems to be what stops many suppliers from participating. Does it matter, in fact, if there are one or two ‘negative’ reviews? No – not if they’re responded to in a positive way. This shows that the management is present and caring – and this might even aid in establishing a property’s credibility rather than detract from it.

Contrary to popular belief however, the overwhelming majority of reviews posted are positive. And as Neil Salerno, the popular US Hotel Marketing Coach said: “Your “guest-record” of facilities and service on TripAdvisor could be one of your hotel’s best sales assets. If your hotel’s over-all record on TripAdvisor is very poor, you have much bigger problems…”

Advice: Actively Manage your TripAdvisor Listing

Our advice: Get a free TripAdvisor listing and actively manage your profile and reviews. TripAdvisor also has a Business Listing product, which adds direct contact details to your listing (e.g. your own web address, email and telephone number).

NightsBridge announced its exclusive 25% discount on the Business Listing option this week, which makes it more affordable for our clients to get high quality leads from their own TripAdvisor pages.

Read more on: www.tripadvisor.com/BusinessListing

For information on the discounted offer, see our previous blog post on Growing your Business with TripAdvisor.

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