by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Industry Relations, MCI Group
As a Irish born meetings professional I was obviously thrilled that 3 Irish properties were included in the recent Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Top 25 Hotels in the World. 17 countries of the world have properties listed amongst the 25: Greece, Belize, Czech Republic, South Africa, Morocco and Italy each have 2 properties while Ireland, uniquely, has 3. That the 3 Irish properties are all independently owned and managed, lacking the global marketing and PR budgets of Starwood, Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton makes the achievement all the more astonishing. So heartiest congratulations to Strandhill Lodge and Suites, to Loch Lein Country House and to Castlewood House which was placed 6th of the Top 25.
There are two distinct but interrelated lessons to be taken from this – firstly the awesome power of on-line channels and secondly, the enduring power of highly personalised service experiences. By now those of us who routinely attend industry events and conferences are pretty au fait with the on-line message. We’d had it shouted at us from the rooftops for about 3 years now and most of us get it – fail to have an on-line strategy for your hotel or venue or agency and your business is sure to fail. However, it’s the second lesson here that really intrigues – three small, modest boutique hotels in a 2nd or 3rd tier destination made it into the Top 25 hotels in the world because they offer world class customer service. Trip Advisor merely acted as the powerful amplifier to broadcast this fact to the 4 corners of the world.
Trip Advisor is comprised entirely of user-generated content which is assembled, collated and analysed with complex algorithms to create what the site owners claim to be a fool proof, fair ratings system based on the real experience of real people. This, perhaps, makes the rating even more powerful and authentic than the individual rating of an expert reviewer writing for a newspaper or magazine. While the journalist may be an expert on high end bed linens or the optimum temperatures at which to serve good claret he or she can claim no unique expertise or insights into what constitutes a warm welcome or whether you felt good or bad as a result of what you experienced at the property in question. Trip Advisor, in many ways, closely replicates “word of mouth”, the personal recommendation of somebody know to you which you believe to be more trustworthy and credible than a third party review in a publication or a paid-for advertisement.
So what can be done to take advantage of this extraordinarily powerful channel? I think the actions are suggested by the lessons analysed above. First, an on-line marketing strategy needs to be devised. This may be done by your marketing director or, indeed, outsourced to one of the growing number of experts in the field – try, for example, Simon Geraghty’s company DotDash (http://www.dotdash.ie/). The digital marketing plan will differ depending on whether you are offering a tangible product or an intangible service. Bricks and mortar businesses like hotels or venues will need a full suite of on-line tools – a Web 2.0 enabled website, a booking engine, top notch SEO, distribution via on-line consolidators, great social media presence and activity and, of course, a specific approach to on-line reviews and communication on sites such as Trip Advisor. But if you build it, they will come.
But when they come, what experience do they have? Is your product and service truly extraordinary? Have you benchmarked against the best out there and then fine tuned your product offering to focus on the little details? Have you created a highly personalised customer service experience that immediately creates differentiation in the minds of your guests? You can answer these questions yourself, or, perhaps, better pass them through the prism of expert consultants and trainers like, for example, Conor Kenny and Associates (http://www.conorkenny.com/).
Strandhill Lodge and Suites, Loch Lein Country House and Castlewood House successfully leveraged on-line marketing to bring guests through the door. However, they then wove the magic of amazing service to motivate these guests to tell the world about their positive experience on Trip Advisor. The rest, as they say, is history!