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by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

PAGI Sool NuaFor those of us who travel for a living, access to Social Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Trip Advisor has become almost as essential as carrying multiple credit cards.

If you’re in the meetings and events industry then social media become even more crucial because the content shared there can be vitally important in client conversations.

Some of my early Twitter experiences fall into the “surprise and delight” category. On arrival at the Hyatt in San Antonio a couple of years ago I tweeted how nice the room was but mentioned the lack of a bathrobe. 30 minutes later there was a knock at the door and there stood a concierge proffering the missing garment. Another time I tweeted my frustration with the JetBlue website and received an immediate DM from the airline offering help. A TripAdvisor review that I posted received a “thank you” response from the GM of the hotel in question shortly after it was published.

In all cases here I was listened to and heard. My specific comment as a customer was taken on board, there was follow up. I encountered the human face of the brand.

And what happened then?

Well, I became a brand ambassador and told everybody on line and off line about my delightful experience.

Are you really listening?

Two recent Social Media experiences, however, have had the opposite effect and highlight something at the very heart of the Social Media paragon: you’re better off not doing social media at all unless you do it with a fully resourced team connected to all aspects of your operation and empowered to make a difference.

Let me illustrate.

Mandarin Oriental

I have great respect for the Mandarin Oriental brand. I’ve always believed it differentiated itself extremely well among its luxury peers and I’m a great admirer of its marketing, particularly its celebrity fans campaign. In advance of my stay there in early February I tweeted about my excitement to be visiting the London property and I received a friendly response. All good so far!

We had passed in and out of the hotel about 10 times when I decided to tweet that the doormen were snooty. I’d had that feeling upon arrival when they didn’t snap into service and I wondered was it because they didn’t think we were actual guests as we arrived casually dressed, with modest luggage, by tube? Another time as we were leaving the hotel it was spitting rain and, instead of proactively proffering a cheery umbrella, I had to ask for one.  That stimulated my tweet and this is what then ensued:

MO Tweets


My tweet is balanced – I mention my complaint but also give a compliment. Initially my tweet is met with deafening silence (previous complimentary tweets were responded to immediately) but then a full week later I receive what I consider to be an unreasonable response. Why am I being asked to contact the hotel to explain myself? Surely the hotel should reach out directly to me if it’s really interested in listening? I’ve already said my piece. Also why should I have to DM my contact details? They are all available on my various social media accounts. Anyway, the hotel itself should have all my details.

Regardless of my annoyance, I provide the necessary contact details by return and 4 days later I still haven’t heard a dickybird from the hotel.

Perhaps the hotel is waiting for me to speak first?


I’m more annoyed and frustrated that I would have been had they’re been no social media engagement at all!

Aer Lingus

The airline industry have gone a long way towards rehabilitating its image by proactive engagement on Social Media. KLM, in particular, has take Social Media engagement to the stratosphere and is generating brand stories to rival Ritz Carlton and Zappos. Consequently I was delighted when Aer Lingus, my airline of choice, took to the airways. I frequently tweeted in praise of specific air stewards and stewardesses and saw the medium as a great way to give credit where credit is due. These tweets were always well received and responded to. Occasionally I’d tweet about the curious disappearance of Club Milks and Chocolate Kimberley from the Gold Service Lounge to be told these cult treats were “out of stock”

Aer Lingus has been systematically improving its in-flight food and beverage offering and recently signed up celebrity chef Clodagh McKenna as its culinary curator extraordinaire. I read an interesting article about the collaboration and noted with interest Clodagh’s desire to source and serve the perfect scone on board. I though it was a genius stroke from Clodagh and from Aer Lingus as good scones are as long associated with Ireland as Aer Lingus itself. They were going to create a unique brand experience and I was mightily impressed. I wondered how they might serve them and imagined that the scones would be oven-heated and then offered to you piping hot from a gingham lined basket. The visuals that accompanied the excellent marketing of this new initiative re-enforced my naive fantasy.

So what were the scones like?

They were like cold, hard stones.

Presented to you in a sealed plastic package with a plastic knife, an anonymous jam and a pat of Kerrygold butter these were as far from my expectations as Durban is from Dublin on a long haul flight.

So I tweeted my disappointment thus:

Aer Lingus Bia

And, credit where credit is due, I did receive a response:

Aer Lingus Bia Respnse

And I responded again and finally received this response:

Aer Lingis Response again



And since then?

Absolutely nothing. Perhaps Clodagh has gone back to the drawing board with the intention of selecting a provider of scones that isn’t located 150km from the airline’s main arrival and departure hub at Dublin? Or perhaps the Aer Lingus marketing guys are realizing that they over-did it a bit on the PR and have managed to over-promise and under-deliver?

Either way they haven’t reverted to me with any explanation at all. My comments have been passed on to the Catering and Bia teams but to what end?

Are you really listening?

So what’s happening here at Mandarin Oriental and Aer Lingus?

Both are “doing” social media – MO has assembled over 57000 twitter followers on its global account while Aer Lingus, a more recent inductee to Twitter, has 43000. But I wonder whether either has a truly coherent and integrated  SoMe strategy that knows what to do with all these big data that’s out there?

I’ll report back if either company makes contact following the publication of this blog.

With his business partner Patrick Delaney, Padraic Gilligan is Managing Partner of SoolNua, a boutique consultancy working for destinations and enterprises in the field of meetings and events. Previously the duo were Vice Presidents of Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s destination services division and VPs of Industry Relations at MCI




2 thoughts on “Are airlines and hotels really listening on Social Media?

  1. James Feldman, CITE, CPIM, CPT, MIP says:

    Airlines continue to amaze me. With all of the investment in people, equipment, etc. they continue to step over dollars to pick up pennies. If frequent flyers are their best customers then treat them that way. I read dozens of stories of million mile flyers that are complaining about poor service, baggage fees, change fees, etc. Let’s face it if most of the airlines were retail stores no one would shop there. The real problem is that we, as travelers, are faced with fewer and fewer choices. As the industry consolidates itself we are forced to fly with whatever airline services that area.
    There is a common sense future of customer-focused survival in marketing.
    In the past to create you as a passenger it was necessary to offer you your own expectations and reasons for using one airline over another. Today that is not the case and the airlines know it. Today the creation of a loyal passenger, with few exceptions, is a lost art. For the most part it’s an industry that shows us that nobody really cares…and the by-product of nediocrity is price. Most airlines treat passengers are cretin and force passengers to spend more time looking for minimally acceptable choices. From my perspective the airlines, as an industry, are besieged by a gripping apathy in passenger relations.

    Unlike many, I am humble enough to learn from history. History is very clear and loaded with common sense in one principle area of commerce:pay extra ordinary attention to your customers (passengers) and they will pay extraordinary attention to your business. Give me an airline that will accept the common sense information and I will show you an airline who will soar.

    1. padraicino says:

      Jim, your comments are particularly apt because you have immense legacy as a customer of airlines. You remember better times when airlines genuinely tried to surprise and delight and knew the value of a loyal, regular customer. I must admit I am impressed by what I have experienced directly and indirectly with KLM and their Social Media strategy. WestJet, Canada has also been disruptive in this regard.

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