The internet has completely changed how people research and find information, especially in the travel industry. Travelers are using review sites and resource aggregators like TripAdvisor and Yelp more frequently to research hotels and attractions in a certain city and are also using them for inspiration on what destinations to actually visit. According to TripAdvisor, 76% of travelers research multiple destinations and 40% end up booking a trip to a destination different than the one they originally intended to visit because of their TripAdvisor experience.
An online experience is made up of a number of interactions with all a destination has to offer, which means the interactions with numerous hotel and attraction websites, as well as the website of the DMO. So if a DMO can help choreograph the overall destination experience through the lens of online reviews, they can help tell a better story that is more likely to inspire visitors.
Historically, the role of the DMO was to provide the visitor with a listing of their area’s offerings online and distributing this list in a printed visitor guide. Simply listing businesses no longer provides the value it once did. It’s the relationships with your hotels, restaurants, attractions and events and how you guide the overall online brand experience that provides added value for DMO partners. Advising them on new ways of thinking to improve your city’s online image helps to increase the quality of overall online content, which not only provides more relevant value to your stakeholders, but will provide more value to potential visitors by inspiring them to travel to your destination.
Today CVBs and DMOs need to understand that they are in the business of helping tell stories about their destination. And online reviews are an important part of the story. It’s your job to help facilitate this new perspective with your hotel and attraction partners. Building relationships with your stakeholders and holding regular group meetings to discuss the value and volume of review site content is the beginning of this initiative. Structure the session into categories in an effort to be efficient and relevant by having separate meetings with restaurants, hotels, events, activities, attractions, etc. Having your area partners understand the importance of reviews and online “word of mouth” is critical as you continue to promote your city.
Here’s proof that online “word of mouth” translates into action:
- Approximately 90% of TripAdvisor users say what they see and read influences their travel decisions.
- A recent study by Cornell showed that a one-point rating increase results in a hotel’s ability to raise room rates up to 11.2% without impacting occupancy rates.
- Higher quantity of reviews can lead to higher “quality” online reputation. [Higher Quantity of Reviews Can Lead to a Higher “Quality” Online Reputation]The authors of the study in CQ — published by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration — analyzed nearly 17,000 hotels in 249 tourist areas. Their research showed initial reviews “tend to be disproportionately negative,” but an increase in reviews leads to a better balance of positive and negative comments.We regularly advise business owners and corporate counsel to have a strategic plan in place to encourage consumers to review their positive experiences online to overcome the sampling bias. With the unique relationship between a hotel and its guests, this should not be difficult to implement. For instance, it is easy to email guests after their stay or provide them a survey (or survey link) when they check out at the front desk or online.In a unscientific look at several hotels in different cities, we noticed most hotels had higher ratings on TripAdvisor — which typically has significantly more reviews — than other review forums such as Google or Yelp. For example, one Cincinnati hotel had a 3.0 rating (out of five stars) based on 22 Google reviews, 3.5 based on 35 Yelp reviews, 3.7 based on 433 reviews through Starwood, 4.0 based on 618 reviews on TripAdvisor and 4.3 based on 616 reviews on Expedia.
- More than half of the respondents to TripAdvisor’s TripBarometer study said they had written a review for an accommodation after staying there, and 41% noted that they also shared personal recommendations via Facebook or email.
Begin advising your tourism partners on how to curate their online reputations and make them aware of how collective online chatter affects the destination’s overall appeal. And you can better structure the online experience of your own CVB/DMO by enhancing your website to include content like recommended itineraries, trip ideas, the “best of” of your city, experiences and events that are unique to your area, and links to published articles about your city. This moves your CVB/DMO beyond being an old fashioned resource for marketing listings into the role of content curator and inspiration provider.