BluSky Marketing featured in Hotel Owner
Chris Larsen, Managing Director of BluSky Marketing, has been featured in the February 2012 issue of Hotel Owner magazine. Chris discusses the development of guest feedback surveys, like BluSky Maretings own Hotel Guest Experiene Surveys, and how hoteliers are using them to manage their online reputation, gain balanced perspective, accurate insight, and generate icremental revenue.
The full article can be read below or downloaded as a PDF.
The Changing Face of Guest Feedback
By Chris Larsen, BluSky Marketing, February 2012
Once upon a time a hotel guest would share their experience directly with the hotelier when they checked out (if asked). They may even have completed an ‘in room' feedback card placed in the room. What was said between a guest and an hotelier was pretty much kept ‘in house'.
However in today's dynamic and transparent world, the internet via mediums like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, has also empowered consumers around the world to share their most intimate thoughts regarding products and services they experience at the touch of a button on their smart phone.
It is not surprising that online hotel review websites, like TripAdvisor, have mushroomed very quickly and enabled guests to rant or rave about their latest hotel experiences in a very public forum. Positive reviews and high rating scores have translated into increased bookings and an improved ARR for an hotelier. One industry authority claims that a TripAdvisor score increase of 1% is worth approximately £10K or 5% worth £50K to the bottom line, while other commentators say negative reviews cost a business 30 lost customers at a time. Either way, what we do know is that negative reviews have the potential to distract and derail a hotel if not managed professionally.
However are those online hotel reviews truly representative of a hotel experience? Are 10 to 15 online hotel reviews about a hotel received over the course of a year statistically valid? If you were a marketing research purist, you would say that any "sample size below 100" needs to be handled with care.
However, online hotel review websites (whether you agree with the statistical validity or not) play an important role in today's climate of securing new guests to a hotel and provides a good indication of what a hotel has to offer. But can a hotel management team run a hotel purely on guest feedback via online hotel review sites? Can they really use that feedback to continue to refine their product to stay one step ahead of the competition and really satisfy today's savvy traveller?
Online Hotel Guest Experience Surveys
The majority of branded hotel chains and other leading hotels around the world have already moved to what the industry calls post stay surveys or online hotel guest experience surveys.
These online hotel guest experience surveys are distributed electronically by the hotel after a guest has left the property, ideally with an automatic integration with their PMS or as a standalone application, which allows the branded hotel chain to quickly and easily capture invaluable insight to the performance of their respective hotel properties. Could this be why hotel customer service in the USA has grown recently, lead by Hilton Hotel?
“The views expressed on TripAdvisor, whilst always useful to us are still very polarised... so now (via an online hotel guest experience survey) we have real, useful comments to act upon and use them positively to continually improve our offer and service.” Kelli Jenkins, Marketing Manager, Bovey Castle Hotel Ltd
Online Reputation Management
Online hotel review websites are causing quite a stir within the industry at the moment, with a number of high profile hoteliers challenging the authenticity of reviews posted about their respective properties. While others are prepared to invest in systems that will consolidate all the reviews "out on the web" to understand what is being said and the general "buzz" about their hotel (e.g. Review Pro).
In some ways, could this be interpreted as ‘after the horse has bolted', have guests gone onto these hotel review websites because during their hotel experience they wanted to give feedback but felt they weren't being heard, taken seriously or acknowledged, or maybe it was just easier to do it online rather than face to face.
"We booked this break to be pampered and spoilt for the evening and alleviate our stress. We should have complained at the time, but to be honest we did not need the hassle". Hotel Guest Response, January 2011.
What we are seeing for a number of hotels who are already using an online hotel guest experience survey, is that they are securing guest feedback in a period of 1 month equivalent to 4 years on some online hotel review websites or a response rate ranging from 25% to 50%, which for some hotels can equate to over 1,000 responses in 1 year.
We may be seeing these unusually high response rates from online hotel guest experience surveys because travel is emotive and when a guest, particularly a leisure guest, has had an interesting “experience” they want to share that not only with friends and family, but also the hotel management easily.
"Thanks for asking for the feedback. We appreciate being able to provide this and hope it is taken constructively thanks". Hotel Guest Response, December 2010.
When things go wrong as inevitably they do from time to time, it is also reassuring that hotels have an online hotel guest experience survey in place to ‘keep in house' that experience, and out of the public domain.
One of the country’s leading hotels recently secured 29 negatives experiences (out of 736 responses) within their online hotel guest experience survey during a 12 month period last year, of which only 4 negative reviews where posted on TripAdvisor during the same period (2 of which, were non residential Afternoon Tea experiences!). It is the same hotel that also successfully improved its TripAdvisor score from 80% to 85% (still visible via smart phones) during 2011.
Devil is in the Detail
For those progressive hoteliers who are continuously striving to refine their product, an online hotel guest experience survey will support them to evolve, anticipate changing guest needs and identify emerging opportunities. They will do this by reviewing the responses to the ‘open ended' questions within their survey.
These surveys are securing rich feedback that could not be written in the small space provided via an ‘in room' feedback card, nor captured by the receptionist while the guests check out. In some instances, guests are writing over 250 words in response to a question at the start of the survey like "Do you have any other comments regarding your arrival"?
It is this "rich feedback" which not only assists a hotel to continuously refine their product, but also creates opportunities to engage with guests, secure repeat business and incremental revenue.
“We find the feedback of our guests (via on online hotel guest experience survey) to be honest and constructive. It has helped us steer the evolution of our property in the best possible direction and our guests enjoy having the opportunity to shape our business too.” - Dion Chandler, General Manager, Adelphi Hotel (HIP Hotel), Melbourne Australia.
As we touched on earlier, the industry seems to be very TripAdvisor-centric at the moment and having the results secured from an online hotel survey with a significantly higher response rate provides the hotel management team with a balanced perspective.
Dion Chandler also comments that "the feedback that we have secured via our online hotel survey has been quite refreshing for a number of different reasons. As a hotel we do a lot of good things, which sometimes we forget easily in our industry, and when you read great comments continuously coming back from our guests it really helps and keeps us focused on the real issues. While from a GM's perspective, when we need to improve things, it is great to be able to take feedback from the "horse's mouth" to the owners and help prioritise investment requirements".
Measurement & Accurate Insight
One of the additional benefits of deploying an online hotel survey is that it provides an alternative and sometimes more accurate source of tracking data, regarding source of business and why guest’s stay. Data which is not always captured by the reservations or reception team, but is imperative for the hotel management team in making investment decisions. For example, social media marketing (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc) is all the “rage” at the moment, but what is the true ROI? Without an online hotel guest experience survey, how do we track the true value of time spent on this new communication channel?
Difference of Opinion
There is no question in the industry about the importance of managing guest satisfaction, as all hoteliers know that if a guest leaves their property having had a positive experience, there is a very good chance that they will become a "repeat guest", generate positive "word of mouth" and “recommend” the hotel to their friends and family, which will translate to an increase in non commission paid direct bookings.
However in speaking to a number of hoteliers, some feel that sending out an online hotel guest experience survey (as part of their guest management process), is "not really our style" or a "bit intrusive". On the contrary guests feel more open and honest when they are able to communicate directly and easily to a hotel, when it is convenient with them and in the comfort of their own space. If they do have something to say, they would prefer to take time and offer considered feedback rather than an "automatic" response while checking out as they rush to their next destination. In today’s connected world, hoteliers really need to offer more options for guests to communicate on their recent hotel experience as more and more consumers generally feel more comfortable “hiding behind technology”.
For the Sake of the Environment
Leaving a small note in a bathroom asking guests to leave towels in the bath if they would like a clean set, is nothing new. However, where did this idea generate from? How long has it been going on for and how much has it saved the industry over the years? Is it a green initiative or a cost saving opportunity "for the sake of the environment", or both?
There is a growing segment of the market where guests are actively choosing hotels that do their bit for the environment. Replacing ‘in room' paper feedback cards within an online hotel guest experience survey is of course more environmental friendly, but what is fascinating to read are the number of ideas generated by guests when asked the question "Do you have any ideas or changes we could make so that we can be greener as a business"? Some of the hotels are seeing 1 in 4 responses to this question and the majority of the feedback is common sense ideas on how to reduce operating costs!
Generating Incremental Revenue
Within an online hotel guest experience survey, there is also an opportunity for guests to "opt in" and receive future correspondence from the hotel regarding information about special offers, events, weddings, conferencing, membership, etc.
It is these requests from the guest for additional information that was not ‘captured' by the hotel until after they had left the hotel, though captured via the online hotel guest experience survey.
A Small Luxury Hotel of the World, based in the UK, secured incremental business opportunities up to the value £125,000 over a 12 month period off the back of an online hotel guest experience survey. It today’s economic climate, can an hotelier afford not to capitalise on these incremental business opportunities?
QR Codes, The New Frontier!
QR codes (a square matrix bar code scanned via smartphone and seen a lot on printed advertisements at present) enables hoteliers to take online hotel guest experience surveys to the next level, and it does this in a number of ways.
Firstly, a QR code is linked to their unique branded online hotel guest experience survey, and by printing a QR code on the bottom of the hotel guests bill or invoice, the hotelier enables the guest to instantly respond to their experience (rather than waiting for the email to be distributed by the hotel anywhere from 24 hours to 7 days after they depart). Secondly, a QR code can also be printed on the bottom of a till receipt, which bridges the gap between the residential and non residential guest. A non residential guest, who experiences for example “dining” at the hotel, now has an opportunity to comment on their hotel experience, while the hotel secures incremental data for future digital marketing activities.
Online Hotel Guest Experience Survey Options
If you feel, in reading this article that deploying an online hotel guest experience survey is worth trialling, there are a few options for hoteliers to consider.
There are a number of large international research companies already being used by the major international hotel brands. If the figures quoted by those companies are "out of budget", there are a number of ‘build your own survey' companies out there, like Survey Monkey. However, if you have no experience in market research, in building and distributing an online survey and/or are very conscious of your own "brand image", a low cost ‘build your own' survey solution might not be the right solution either.
As a final alternative, there are research or marketing companies that are able to assist in the design and build of an online hotel guest experience survey which is consistent with the style and tone of your hotel, and realistically priced. You will be able to locate them via google.
Last but not least
If you choose to engage a research or marketing company to design and build an online hotel guest experience survey on your behalf, ensure they use a cloud computing application which will enable anyone from the hotel management team to review the results online as they stream in live, with a 24/7 website login access.
However, be prepared, as your hotel feedback will be significantly higher than previously when secured via ‘in room' feedback cards or online hotel review websites so ensure that these are monitored daily by a member of staff who is empowered to respond quickly.
Finally, in these challenging economic times, can a hotel afford not to deploy an online hotel guest experience survey?
About BluSky Marketing
BluSky Marketing has developed an online hotel guest experience survey product for the independent or small chain hotelier after completing successful trials with a Small Luxury Hotel of the World, HIP Hotel and Epoque Hotel. Clients to date include Adelphi Hotel (HIP Hotels), Bovey Castle (SLH), Bingham (Mr & Mrs Smith), The Cadogan (SLH), Hotel Maiyango (Epoque Hotel) and Stapleford Park (SLH), to name a few.