I submit to HT readers my first column for Last Words, a newly-created department in Hospitality Technology. In it, I will share insights into technology trends in the hospitality industry, great uses of technology in our personal and professional lives, and research findings from the University of Delaware.
How many times have you heard the word "blog" over the past 12 months? I suspect more than a few. Even if you have never written or read a blog, the term's prolific use in business and personal settings illustrates that this phenomenon is coming -- and in many places has already arrived.
Blogs, shortened from the phrase "Web log," are online diaries. Blogs are part of consumer generated media (CGM), or the word-of-mouth behavior that exists on the Internet, yet have the potential for far greater reach than traditional word-of-mouth.
Blogs in hospitality
There are many travel-related blog Web sites, including tripadvisor.com, travelpod.com, travelblog.org and travellerspoint.com. According to American Management Association, there were 57 million blogs in 2006, doubling every six months. Approximately 40 percent of Internet users in the U.S. read blogs, and 10 percent post blogs regularly. Considering the 92 percent trust rating placed on word-of-mouth, you can see how powerful this tool can be.
Consider this experience: I was traveling on business last May and booked a hotel online. It was in the budget price category. Having stayed in budget hotels before, I expected this to be a clean and simple, no frills property. I was greatly mistaken, as this was the worst hotel at which I have ever stayed.
When I returned from the trip, I checked tripadvisor.com and found many negative comments about this hotel, alleged by previous guests. This experience solidified for me the importance of checking CGM for reviews on properties before booking a hotel.
Likewise, later in the year, I was making a hotel reservation for a trip to New York City. During the search, I discovered that Affinia Hotels' Web site posts a link to tripadvisor.com, where you will find nothing but great comments about their hotels.
Can blogs be used effectively as marketing tools, or do companies such as Affinia simply hope for a lucky break?
Now consider the other side. What happens if an operator hires several individuals to write negative comments about rival properties? Could this happen? Likewise, could someone post a positive or negative review for a particular hotel, inadvertently misidentifying the property he or she was reviewing? It is possible.
Often, credible review sites will attempt some measure of checks and balances. Tripadvisor.com, for example, has a tool for hotel management to respond to user reviews. In addition, they limit only one review per poster for a particular hotel. Finally, they allow users to correct an unintentional wrong comment.
With blogs and other CGM such a growing and potentially influential medium, hotels should take charge of these tools and use them to their advantages whenever possible. Unfortunately, thus far, they are not.
According to preliminary results, 56 percent of respondents to a December 2006 University of Delaware survey indicated that they check travel blogs to determine opinions about their own hotels. The survey polled hotel managers who belong to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. The same survey indicated that just 37 percent of hoteliers respond to negative blog comments about their property, and only 28 percent encourage guests to write blog entries about their experiences.
Why would hotels ignore such a helpful tool for improvement and exposure? I suppose blogs have some time to go before becoming a mainstream marketing tool. Though in my opinion, they will be a very effective one.
Cihan Cobanoglu, Ph.D., CHTP, is assistant professor of hospitality information technology at the University of Delaware. Share your questions and comments with Dr. Cobanoglu online at htmagazine.com or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .