No other industry is as dependent on Social Media as the leisure and hospitality industry. According to Career Builder, 57 percent of companies that fit into that category say they use social media to promote their business, while the next closest competitor is the IT industry with a depressing 48 percent. The hospitality industry’s lead doesn’t surprise me; rooms booked through branded hotel websites lead the way with 31 percent of all bookings in the first quarter of 2012 coming through hotel websites. 28 percent of rooms are booked directly.
In the fourth quarter of 2011 bookings through discount Online Travel Agencies, such as Orbitz, Expedia and Hotels.com, has doubled, up to 11.4 percent from 5.8 percent in Q4 2010. The profitability of online travel agencies guarantees that their advertising budgets will increase, as will their share of overall bookings. Travelers are going to be subjected to reviews of your hotel in hundreds of places online, so it’s only smart to integrate an online marketing campaign to address complaints, improve customer service, and increase customer satisfaction whenever possible.
It has become such a large part of the business that most hotels have started doing their own social media management in house. It’s a good idea if you can choreograph a response by hotel staff after receiving feedback from patrons who are in one of your rooms. It gives you a chance to address a negative experience, which is crucial when so much of your future business is reliant on customer reviews and public perception.
Hospitality Industry: Leading Social Media into the Future?
As a business to business proposition, any industry that attracts experienced, educated, and savvy professionals into paid marketing positions is good for the social media’s perception right? Well, I thought so until I came across the Hotel Corpus Christi Bayfront.
Don’t Be a Ninja Sultan
Meet Don Jones, the self- appointed “Intergalactic Ninja Sultan of Revenue and Human Resource Development for Markwardt Properties”. If you still think that calling yourself a marketing ninja or any other fantasy laden synonym for “employee” is a good idea, please allow Don Jones to change your mind. In response to a complaint on Trip Advisor regarding guests finding empty beer bottles in their room, this is what Don had to say:
“Sorry, our place is old and it’s August. Our housekeepers are lazy, unreliable, and unrepentant drunks. They probably left their empties in your room. I’ve asked them before not to do that. Not sure which one drinks Negro Modelo, but I applaud her choice in imports. …..I apologize for the plumbing issue. I will alert our maintenance man when he sobers up. I can’t imagine sleeping in your car would be better” – Don Jones, Hotel Corpus Christie Bayfront
In an attempt to be humorous, Don Jones has made himself look like an idiotic ass who has tricked a business owner into letting him handle their PR. Not only did he make himself look like an idiotic ass, he did it on NATIONAL TV! The Hotel Corpus Christi Bayfront was recently featured on the Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible” (You can see an excerpt of Don’s Interview here, I strongly suggest you check it out – but try not to feel sorry for him). When asked why he would call himself the “Intergalactic Ninja Sultan” of anything, Don said that it was in an effort to develop an online brand. This is the most blatant example of misunderstanding branding I have ever seen, but it isn’t unique. You aren’t a comedian Don, and someone who just shared their hotel room with a large family of roaches doesn’t want to put up with your half-witted zingers. They want some hospitality.
Lack of Strategy Condemns Business
I was astonished when I first heard about this case. After visiting a few OTAs and checking out reviews, I realized that there are underlying problems that marketing cannot fix. Without addressing the problems that surface in the majority of complaints, no amount of apologizing will pacify all the visitors. Most people are going to be satisfied with a clean, cool place to sleep. If you can’t provide that, dumping money and time into online marketing cannot help your business.
Before a hotel concentrates on getting noticed, they need to concentrate on making sure their property is worth noticing. Many business owners are so anxious to test the waters when it comes to social media that they neglect the underpinnings of their business plan. When 80 percent of online reviews have the same complaints in common, those issues need to top your to-do list. When 80 percent of online reviews are positive, it’s a good time to blanket the Internet with your branding.
History of the Hotel Corpus Christi Bayfront
The HCCB is an older property in downtown Corpus Christi that occupies a spot previously occupied by the historic Royal Neuces hotel. The Royal Neuces was the premiere hotel in Corpus Christi until the 1950s, when increased competition and modern design made other properties more desireable as a meeting place and civic hub. It was damaged in 1970, and replaced in 1973 with the La Quinta Royale. Over the years the hotel fell into disrepair, and competitors impacted its profitability. It became a seedy, unsavory hotel that was dwarfed in reputation by its cross town neighbor, the Omni. The Markwardt family purchased the property in 2008, and started a program of renovation, repair and maintenance that is still ongoing.
…and the Winners Keep on Winning
Even though we’ve been conditioned to believe that keeping a customer is far easier than generating a new one, it doesn’t apply in the same way for the Hotel business. Low prices have kept the Hotel Corpus Christi Bayfront pretty well full, despite the low ratings. Some travelers prefer a specific chain of hotels, but who is going to stay at the same hotel in the same city several times a year?
A customer’s primary outlet for influencing other travelers is through the Internet, and online reviews play a much smaller part in decision making than recommendations from friends, or even social media contacts. Not saying that it isn’t important, it’s just not as powerful as it seems on the surface – at least not in the way you’d expect. You can check the reviews yourself and see that lots of reviewers disregarded negative reviews in the first place, and some hotels get positive ratings by the same customers who had negative experiences.
That’s right, if you had an equally bad experience at the Omni Bayfront, you would be more likely to rate it 3 stars or more anyway. There seems to be an overriding peer pressure controlling how users rate their experiences. Since the Hotel Corpus Christi Bayfront gets a lot of bad reviews, customers go in to the experience expecting to have a negative perception. They’re conditioned to find fault before they even spend the night.
The top ranked hotel in Corpus Christi on Trip Advisor is the Staybridge Suites. One of the latest reviews starts out positive, but ends with the user relating a story of waking up with a Texas sized cockroach crawling up his arm. Not only did he put a huge blemish on the top hotel’s review page, he also took a picture!! That thing was huge! Even with “the things nightmares are made of” waking him from his slumber, he still gave the Staybridge 4 stars and was hesitant to give a review that contradicted prevailing opinion.
An equal, but opposite sentiment is at work at the Hotel Corpus Christi Bayfront. Since the majority of reviews are negative, it’s much easier for a user to leave negative comments. This could be because the way travel reviews are set up, popular reviews gain notoriety and increase the influence of a particular reviewer. It’s a type of gamification that works in tandem with a user’s inclination to only weigh in if they have something polarizing to say. Then again, it could be something much more primal and simple than that. We may just want to feel like we’re right, or included, or heard.
Either way, the Hotel Corpus Christi Bayfront has dug a very deep hole for themselves in the Online Travel Agency world. Even though they’re investing in improvements and participated in a Hotel Impossible makeover, the hotel has been known as the “last resort Resort” for years in Corpus Christi, and it’s going to take an extraordinary effort to reverse prevailing opinion.
How Can You Fix a Broken Brand?
Like I said before, there are some underlying problems that can’t be met with a simple fix. Other hotels admit that pests are nearly impossible to fully eradicate in Corpus Christi. Some buildings are conducive to humidity problems, and you can’t control the weather.
However, there are still dozens of recurring problems that can be addressed. By hiring a cleaning staff that is motivated and trained, they could start by making their rooms cleaner than anyone else in town. Then they can put a friendly face at the front desk; this is one of the most often cited aspects that caused customers to give a positive review. Sometimes your problem has less to do with the marketing (even when your marketing is horrible) and more to do with the product itself.
Last but not least, they can send their ninja back to feudal Japan and hire a marketing associate or manager. Adopting what you see as a comical moniker for branding doesn’t help humorous bloggers much, so it’s really not going to help an employee in an official position. There is a problem with an industry with employees that buy twice as many iMacs, twice as many coffees from Starbucks and twice as many Prius’ than the average consumer. It’s an industry that is drunk on the Kool-Aid that they’re supposed to be producing. When a teenager brands himself as a Marketing Ninja without even rudimentary nunchuka skills and you see the term reverberate so far and wide that a man as old and educated as Don Jones follows suit, it’s time to take issue with ridiculous conventions.