The power of social media.

Service industries have long understood the value of customer feedback as an effective tool to measure customer satisfaction and loyalty. Businesses were able to use this vital tool to boost performance and service recovery and improve competitiveness to inevitably increase profits.

Traditionally, businesses would issue surveys directly to the customer through survey cards on restaurant tables or in hotel rooms, an email request or via telecommunication. However, with the proliferation of online technological advancements consumers can provide product reviews at their convenience for the entire world to see, a drastic change from the norm.

Online presence have mushroomed with third party websites such as online retailers, travel websites, web portals, social media platforms which allow consumers the ability to share video , images, and messages in real time. Today, these media platforms and third party sites, such as, Expedia, Trip Advisor, Yelp, Twitter and Facebook are so powerful that they are shaping the business model for the travel and tourism industry.

This web era have caused a paradigm shift giving online reviewers an unparalleled freedom to voice their opinion from ratings, ranking and tweeting which has had profound implications on the tourism and hospitality sector. With the travel and tourism industry unprepared for consumer’s onslaught of posts mostly negative, have forced many operators in the industry to chide away from engaging in social media platforms.

Trip Advisor, one of the world’s most popular review site for the travel and tourism industry has offered proprietary space for reviews on accommodation at every destination in the world in which their slogan suggests “Reviews you can trust”.

Interestingly, research has shown that online consumers are motivated by factors such as experiential, cultural, age, gender and educational factors. This feedback from the consumer can be categorized as opinionated, opportunistic, truthful, deceptive or revengeful. It can be argued that customers believe their own reality and therefore if customers regard fake reviews as credible, than management must assess the content and deploy the appropriate strategy to offset any negative consumer reaction that may engender.

In 2010, trip advisor were forced to remove their slogan because of numerous legal action from travel operators who showcased the many flaws in trip advisors methodology. In other words, the algorithm of trip advisor do not take into consideration variances, nor can it manage the weighting of posts.

In fact questions have been raised by many in the international travel and tourism industry in understanding how trip advisor can recognize fraudulent or fake reviews or even to rank their business?

The fact is whether service industries love online media reviews or loathe it, online media is here to stay and therefore the travel and tourism industry must be innovative to integrate social media components and survey handling strategies.  Obviously there is no cookie cutter approach on dealing with this and businesses whether large or small must have competent staff to deal with the sensitivity of online responses.

It is important to understand that this revolution of digitization has opened opportunities for businesses in the travel and tourism industry with various channels that has attracted millions of active users. For instance, Facebook attracts 500 M, Twitter about 21 M and Trip Advisor over 34 M and growing. These online billion dollar companies have been spending millions in improving its product to stay ahead of their competition.  Therefore businesses should embrace this technology to drive traffic to their official websites where more information can be provided for direct booking, promotions and incentives to a wider target audience.

Another perspective for the travel and tourism is to understand that consumers of all generation desire information 24/7 and this information allows service industries to develop personal relationship with the customer that goes beyond post-sales. The consumer feedback which is statistically presented from the online channel will help the establishment to be more focused, innovative and relevant to maximise sales revenue opportunity.

Therefore, it is essential that the travel and tourism industry should embrace the powerful tools of social media in their strategies, but it can also mean that the already complicated job of being a hotelier becomes even more complicated!

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