May 7, 2020 | Conversational Marketing | Reading Time: 5 minutes
*This article was contributed by Sarah Came, GuestRevu's Marketing Manager
“I hope you are well” was how emails used to begin. In recent months we have now added “in these uncertain times” to the obligatory greeting. This sense of uncertainty is likely to remain with us a lot longer than the virus remains in our populations. Uncertainty or even fear is likely to be the defining characteristic of the travel and tourism industry as it emerges from the clutches of Covid lockdown.
Of course, if there is a vaccine or equivalent medication, the focus of your online reputation management strategy will have to be slightly different, as tourism rockets in a euphoric release from the lockdown.
But, until that joyful day, your guests will always be slightly uncertain – the unknown and the adventure is part of what makes travel fun, however in a world recovering from a pandemic, supposedly unlike any in living memory, rather than asking themselves questions like “does this hotel actually look like it does in its photos?”, travelers will be questioning the very viability and safety of travel as a whole, grappling with questions like:
- Will I have enough money to travel?
- Will I get sick if I travel?
- Will the situation change (for better or worse) between making my booking and when I travel?
- Does the hotel take the health and safety of guests seriously?
- If I travel somewhere, what happens if borders close again and I get stuck there?
In a post-Covid world, the inherent riskiness and costliness of travel (both in terms of time and money) are pronounced and profound. In order to make sure people want to travel again, we must both remind them why the experiences travel provides are worth the risks, and reassure them that you have done everything in your power to mitigate those risks.
The soothing power of social proof
Many psychological studies have shown that people look to other people for guidance on how to behave, where to go and what to buy. This guidance from our peers that directs our actions is known as social proof. Online reviews are a strong form of social proof, so strong that a 10% improvement in traveler review ratings has been shown to increase online bookings by more than 5%.
What makes online reviews particularly important for post-Covid travel is that social proof is even more influential when people are unsure. If ever there was a time to focus on giving unsure guests confidence to book with you, it’s in “these uncertain times”.
Answering the questions listed above (and the myriad of others you will likely be bombarded with before booking) is vital. You can, and should, answer these questions yourself on your online travel agent listings, in your website copy, and even with a chatbot. However, you should also ensure that these questions are answered, as far as possible, by your previous guests.
People trust people more than they trust brands, and according to a consumer survey conducted by BrightLocal in 2014, 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. You can be sure that before post-Covid travelers risk their wallets and their immune systems, they will be looking to verify every claim you make as a brand with reviews from previous guests.
You should also be using social proof to highlight why your hotel, in particular, is worth the risk. Comb through your past online reviews (or request a free 6-month online reputation management report from GuestRevu) and search for recurring themes, isolate where your hotel is performing well, and make the most of these reviews and aspects of your offering in your promotional material and social media profiles.
What you can do to prepare
Keep updating your social media profiles
Online reputation management in hospitality has traditionally focussed quite heavily on online reviews, and rightly so, these are a crucial source of social proof. However, when your doors have been closed for a few weeks or months, it’s likely that you have had very few (if any) fresh reviews, so you will need to find another way to reassure the intrepid travelers venturing out of their homes that, at the very least, your doors are open and your lights are on.
Back in 2014, Google found that a massive 83% of people looking for travel inspiration online used social networking, video or photo sites, and, since we have all been stuck at home with our smartphones, you can be fairly sure that social media is even more of a source for escapism and travel inspiration than ever before, especially among adventurous travelers in the medically low-risk categories who are likely to be the early adopters of travel in a post-Covid world.
Add to this the fact that you can more easily control the volume of activity on your social media profiles, rather than relying on guests to generate the content, social media is a perfect place to maintain a vivacious presence, and let your audience know exactly when you are open, and what they can expect.
Recycle social proof if you have to
When fresh social proof is scant, as it’s likely to be when the first few travelers trickle through your doors, don’t be afraid to post glowing reviews from before the Covid shutdown on your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts, and remind potential guests that you can’t wait to provide them with the same great services and experiences.
You could also try to get past guests in on the reminiscing action, offering a free stay for the best pre-Covid guest photo of your property shared to your Facebook page, for example. This user-generated content provides not only social proof but also gives you an indication of how primed your market is to begin traveling again.
Encourage more online reviews from guests when they start returning
Tripadvisor’s algorithm ranks properties not just on the rating of the reviews given (i.e. four out of five bubbles) but also on the volume, and most importantly in this context recency of the reviews as well.
As movement and trading restrictions ease and hotels begin to operate again, those that get new reviews in the quickest have an opportunity to climb the rankings unlike any we have seen before. Make sure you have a system like GuestRevu set up to proactively ask guests for their feedback and reviews, and where possible, ensure it’s integrated with your property management system to automate the process.
We know that reviews impact travel purchasing decisions even during normal times, but instilling confidence in your prospective guests with a good ranking is likely to be even more vital as the market tentatively begins to travel again.
About the author: As GuestRevu’s Marketing Manager, Sarah is well versed in the latest hospitality news, and is dedicated to helping hospitality professionals to make the most of the latest marketing trends that may affect them and their guests.
About GuestRevu: GuestRevu helps hospitality professionals to listen to, learn from and earn from their guests by enabling them to leverage the power of their guest data to build lasting loyalty and drive revenue. GuestRevu’s mission is to give hospitality professionals award-winning tools that they can use every day to develop a guest-centric culture, optimize their guest experience, the running of their business, and, ultimately, to drive revenue using online surveys and reputation management. GuestRevu offers local support in South Africa and the UK, and is a TripAdvisor Platinum Review Collection Partner.