Industry Analysis: Hotel Review Sites and Social Media

On behalf of hospitality clients, I’ve been digging into how well social monitoring tools cover hotel review sites, including Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline, Kayak/Travelpost, Hotwire, TripAdvisor,, and a few others. These sites are important channels by which hoteliers can sell their inventory. They also, of course, are a source of guest reviews and ratings that are very valuable to guests and hoteliers alike – it’s the kind of consumer feedback that other industries must work hard to find or cultivate. Needless to say, review site content is must-have for hotels when we talk about social media. Plus, the potential for groundswell transformations within hospitality is significant because of the industry’s native focus on consumer feedback.

Nearly all of the review sites (also known as “TPIs” and “OTAs” in hospitality parlance) make it very challenging for monitoring tools to pick up their content. The result is that, for hotels and resorts, “social media” remains sadly fragmented between the reviews and ratings on these important sites and the other 95% of the internet. I’ve talked recently with over a dozen social monitoring providers: Small and midsized monitoring platforms simply don’t have this content, and enterprise class platforms have to deploy a roomful of humans to keep the content flowing. Even the few industry specialists who seem to have cracked this nut still silo “reviews” from “social media” from the user-interface level on down. In fact, the industry does not yet seem to be considering the review sites as social networking platforms, and I think that’s part of the problem.

Sadly, this current state inhibits the development of social media best practices at hotels and resorts, but it is just as damaging to the review sites as well. So today’s post is an open message to the hotel review/TPI/OTA sites…

For your own sake, open your content up to social monitoring tools now. You have little to lose and much to gain.

1: The market needs independent third-party review platforms. Reviews on a hotel website will always be held with a certain amount of suspicion by the public. TPIs provide a valuable service to consumers because the content is crowdsourced, passive, and unbiased.  And, the ability to compare the reviews of multiple hotels (from different brands) at a single site provides a lot of value to guests. Even as an increasing quantity of guests book their reservations property-direct, these two benefits remain firm.

2: Current business models are not compromised by monitoring tools. Remember that monitoring tools are for the hotels and brands, not the guests. Even the most bare-bones monitoring services are about $99/property/month – and they provide no real value to guests. Guests will continue to arrive at review websites for reading, commenting, booking, and clicking on banner ads.

3: Monitoring tools make review data more useful to hotels and, in turn, guests: Because ratings/reviews are fragmented across many review sites (including local/niche sites), it’s a challenge for hoteliers to find and react to users’ comments in a timely manner. Monitoring tools would enable all reviews, regardless of source, to be processed in a single place. The resultant increased response rate from hoteliers would add vitality and relevance to a given review site, resulting in greater end-user traffic.

4: You can’t hold onto user-generated content forever: There are significant trends at play that guarantee that reviews and ratings will be sprung from the review sights sooner rather than later. Consider Google Profiles, Disqus (and other comment communities), and the new Facebook APIs. Consider, too, the ever-growing sources of organic feedback – the real “social media” stuff that most other markets have to deal with. Review sites/TPIs/OTAs can act now to establish positive relationships within the community and to influence the future of “review portability.” Or, they can lose their current head start in the social media revolution and become victims.

In the near future, savvy hotel brands will be willing to entertain syndication deals that bring review sites’ unbiased content to the branded hotel sites, perhaps along with greater reporting insights. Holding onto the old models will only hurt review sites in the long run. The winner will be the first to make its content universally available to hoteliers via social monitoring toolkits, including third-party authoring tools like HootSuite, so that hoteliers gain greater reporting insights and can more easily interact with the reviews.

Am I missing something in today’s post? Is there an angle of the business model that I’m not giving enough weight? Comment. Contact me. Let’s discuss. This is an important issue for the industry as a whole…