Social media review sites such as TripAdvisor can be valuable resource tools for meeting planners, particularly when it comes to choosing venues, according to a digital marketer.
While these sites are generally perceived as geared for individual travelers, David Atkins, a founding shareholder at Expedia, thinks they provide a good starting point for planners – at least in eliminating venues that suffer negative reviews and which fail to respond to their critics. (Editor's note: Expedia was TripAdvisor's parent company until December, when TripAdvisor was spun off as a separate company.)
Travel Market Report asked Atkins, principal with the digital marketing firm Digital DNA Infusion, how planners should look at review sites and how they might help in site selection.
What clued you to the fact that planners are using review sites?
Atkins: It was based on attending MPI (Meeting Professionals International) and HSMAI (Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International) events where I talked to a number of planners. One planner for a large company told me that before they even issue an RFP – especially if it’s in a market where they haven’t recently held an event – they will look at TripAdvisor and other sites.
I asked them how they use the sites and they told me they look at the negatives, but not just that. They look first for a trend that is negative overall; and second that the hotel’s management was engaged and responding to negative reviews. If the hotel was not responding, that raised a red flag.
Why do planners think review sites are useful for groups?
Atkins: If they see a trend of negative comments about a hotel’s service it might make them think twice about planning a dinner, where the average cost at a conference is $15,000. That’s why we advise our travel clients that they need to respond to every single review that they get. That gets challenging for a large hotel but it is necessary.
How should planners use review sites?
Atkins: Aside from looking at those comment trends, they should also read the management responses and look closely at service recovery. We know there will be negative reviews so fixing problems is critical. And, whether we like it or not, the guest is always right.
What review sites should planners look to?
Atkins: Of course there will be TripAdvisor, but the OTA review sites are gaining because reviewers at some of them are certified as having stayed in the hotels they are reviewing.
According to PhoCusWright, TripAdvisor has a 90% share of the review sites. However, PhoCusWright does not put OTAs in the review category, and the OTA reviews are becoming more and more significant because of their credibility. TripAdvisor is trying to combat that with initiatives like a Facebook app that enables you to determine which reviewers you might know.
How can planners choose – or at least eliminate potential venues?
Atkins: It all depends on the planner’s objectives. If the planner has a high-end event, like a board meeting, they might look very closely at comments about that level of property.
Where else can planners look to for input from consumers?
Atkins: There is a small segment of planners that knows how to comb through Twitter and other social media to get information on venues and other matters. That’s at least worth exploring although a planner has to decide how much time it’s worth.