In 2015, according to recent TripAdvisor data, the majority of hoteliers and travelers maintain that reviews are crucial to booking decisions. After more than a decade of arms-length relationships, the online reputation space is evolving into a closer network of partnerships between travel industry verticals and the third-party review space. The direct-channel website and brands’ mobile platforms — in the ways they align with, incorporate, and at times perform as booking portals for travel companies, are ascendent.
The role of the review in those formats is newly significant, and prompting fresh considerations of how the travel industry approaches the search/review-discovery/book cycle as an important focus of conversion-generating strategies. It is also fueling investment, with more than half the traveler leadership polled in a recent survey indicating that funds should be earmarked for ORM.
Focus on ORM is also introducing innovations. Often neglected, the time-tested in-room and post-visit survey is entering the ORM space as a valuable source of actionable data for both marketing and operations. This bolsters the content that travelers can find in the search phase of travel booking. It also helps solve internal challenges around content supply and new voices for marketing programs.
Review content has evolved to the point that it’s increasingly part of hotels’ direct-channel experiences. Partnerships between TripAdvisor and brands such as Radisson, Best Western, and Wyndham provide ratings and reviews as part of the individual properties their websites display. Book-now buttons are often poised directly within or alongside this content. It is a strategy that leadership at TripAdvisor suggests is critical to driving conversions in 2015. It stands to impact both the big-chain players and independently owned and operated properties.
These moves create an environment in which the traveler can be increasingly commodified. That is, their user-generated content adds value to the marketing campaign, drives interest and inclination to book among travelers who subsequently discover it, and it fuels best practices that can lead to retention and loyalty — and future spend — when marketing and operations put it to optimal use.
In tandem with these changes, the impact of traveler behavior in the mobile space is a significant factor. The number of reviews they can — or choose to — consume on smaller screens and during in-the-moment, shorter-term booking decisions is a factor that experts caution marketing leaders not to overlook. New moves may come as well in verticals outside of hospitality and accommodations. Experts are watching airlines and considering tourism models as these parts of the industry work to harness ORM within the social web and other channels.
The travel industry is looking closely at how hotels tackle the project of closing the conversion loop more often — and to higher returns — by paying attention to reviews and online reputation.