Whether you ignore it or not, social media is helping travelers everywhere plan vacations and choose the right hotels according to their wants and needs…and other people’s opinions.

At the beginning of travel industry time, travelers would dream of the destinations they wanted to visit and travel agents were the fairy godmothers making those dreams become a reality.  Travelers grew to trust their travel agents to provide them with the best flight, hotel, and destination arrangements for their budget.  What choice did they have, anyway? Only travel agents had access to the GDS and the time to search through the various options to formulate a travel itinerary.

With the arrival of online travel agents, like Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, and Orbitz, the road to vacationing forever changed.  Travelers were able to access GDS through these sites, which would sort through the database of available flights and hotels and allow the traveler to put together his or her own travel itinerary.

But wait! What does this have to do with Social Media?

With the power of travel in every user’s hands, both business and leisure travelers began spreading the word about certain hotels’ policies, staff attitudes, room amenities and cleanliness.  Future travelers’ decisions were being based off of these reports and opinions, orchestrated on the social media platforms of TripAdvisor, Expedia forums, and Facebook.  According to Steve Pike, author of Destination Marketing, 81% of travelers “always or often use the internet to plan their vacations” and travelers were using social media to look for reviews of hotels, airlines, and services before booking.

Social media and social networks offer the same frankness in conversation as two close friends in a room.  A good way of looking at social media for hotels is that it’s like having the ability to have millions of people in your meeting room, discussing your hotel, offering suggestions and comments, conveying the experience for others, dishing out tips and ideas, and marketing to others who want to spend their time and money at your hotel.

The conversation isn’t one-sided, either.  Social media allows the hotel to join in the conversation, responding to complaints, expanding upon suggestions, and building long-term relationships with guests through brand awareness and loyalty.  This instant, direct response from hotel management to the guest provides for a better customer service experience for the guests and helps build a devoted customer base.  What’s more, it’s more profitable to foster relationships with existing guests who will only become more loyal and spread the word for your hotel, rather than the cost of reaching a continuous stream of new guests.

How can you optimize your hotel for social media?

Remember that social media is a fantastic marketing base in which your hotel can advertise specials, contests, and last-minute rates to a large number of viewers that, without social media, might not otherwise have happened. For hotels that do not currently have a social media strategy because they’re scared of the investment costs, here are some free and easy ways to get started in social media.

  • Register with sites, such as TripAdvisor, that have user generated content. There’s not much maintenance for the hotel, besides responding to user comments.  That also means there’s not a lot of control on the hotel’s end in terms of the content or pictures being posted for your property.
  • Create a Facebook or Google+ Business page. Social media affects search engine results, so the more “Likes” or “+1”and visits on your page, the more likely your hotel will be visible in search results over other area hotels.
  • Create a Twitter profile. Stimulate conversations with your followers, and announce specials or contests quickly (140 characters or less) and easily to hundreds of people.  Encourage your followers to re-tweet your tweets and you’ve just reached their networks with little to no effort on your side.
  • Start a blog. Personalize your hotel with a voice and stories.  Encourage guests to write quick blog posts about their stay at your hotel or comment on your posts.  Any platform where you can control or respond to the conversation about your property, the better.

Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – so those hotels that optimize for social media and learn how to use it to their advantage will gain the competitive edge over hotels that are still dragging their feet.  So, c’mon! Join the conversation!

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