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Can Hotels Trust TripAdvisor’s Friend of A Friend To Influence Travelers?

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If you work in the hospitality industry you’ve probably debated the degree of influence user-generated review sites have on travelers’ decisions. The kinds of questions we most often hear from our travel clients go something like this:

  1. Is there a way to manage negative reviews and leverage positive ones?
  2. Which reviews do consumers consider most trustworthy?
  3. Do consumer-generated review sites have as much influence as travel magazines?

How can hotels tap into this digital referral source?

When leading consumer-generated travel review site TripAdvisor launched Friend of a Friend as a way to bridge the gap between marketers and consumers, the questions about the value of consumer-generated reviews only increased. Here’s how it works in a nutshell: for users of TripAdvisor, Friend of a Friend highlights reviews posted by people in that user’s Facebook network. The idea is that consumers will be more likely to trust reviews from people in their own network when making travel decisions.

Most people do trust family and friends for initial word of mouth recommendations but then go on to use consumer-generated review sites to research their options and validate their decisions, according to our recent marketing survey on influence. TripAdvisor’s move to combine Facebook’s social network with online travel reviews seems likely to be incredibly effective at leveraging the influence of consumers’ friends and their associates in the decision-making process.

But what does all this mean for hospitality marketers?

To alleviate some of the hand-wringing hoteliers have about all this, we sat down for a Q&A with the person we trust most for our travel recommendations, Jon Paul Buchmeyer, VP of Digital Engagement at Metaverse Mod Squad. Jon Paul walked us through the ways consumers are making travel choices now and how hospitality marketing directors can reach them in the future.

What is TripAdvisor’s Friend of a Friend feature? 
TripAdvisor continues to find innovative ways to integrate with Facebook—the latest is called “Friend of a Friend.”  If you connect your Facebook login with TripAdvisor and then search for reviews of a particular hotel property, “Friend of a Friend” prioritizes the reviews you are served up—first with anyone in your Facebook friend network, and after that, reviews from friends of your friends.  In essence, tapping into a broader network of people’s reviews that you’re most likely to trust.  What that means for hotels is that it’s now more important than ever to first boost their number of fans on Facebook, and then turn those fans into reviewers.

Do you believe that consumers will trust the opinions of their friend’s friends?
For years savvy travelers have always questioned, “who’s writing those reviews and should I trust them?”  Now, with friend of a friend, you have much more reason to pay attention to those reviews.
For example, if I see that my friend Stuart’s friends have reviewed a hotel, I’m more likely to think those comments are valuable and trustworthy.

How important is TripAdvisor and other user-generated review sites to a hotel’s business?
User-generated reviews are extremely important—they are often the tipping point for which hotel wins the reservation.  Even in the affluent and luxury travel market they are making an enormous difference.  Earlier this year, Four Seasons released its Luxury Trend report. It showed that more than 33 percent of its customers consider TripAdvisor reviews to be extremely important.

Are consumers relying more on the advice of friends than on travel magazines or daily newspapers?
Consumers have so much information at their disposal today, and I think everything is part of the mix.  So while they might hear about a new hotel in a travel magazine, they are going to trust a recommendation of a friend.  Word of mouth has always been the number one driver for hotel bookings and that hasn’t changed.  It’s just gotten easier and fasters to tap into a larger network of word of mouth recommendations.

What most influences a consumer’s decision to stay at a particular hotel?
Primarily, travelers are swayed by word of mouth recommendations from friends—that hasn’t really changed over the years.  Then depending on the situation, there are a number of other factors—location, price, amenities.  But a good recommendation or experience from a friend can tip the scales in a hotel’s favor.

Do consumers rely on their friends’ recommendations to book travel?
In every circle of friends, there’s usually someone who’s known as the ultimate traveler, the one who has great taste and has traveled all over—the one at the party you’re always asking for advice about where to go next.

How do you find out about awesome hotels to book? (Aside from the 50,000 PR people pitching you.)
Personally, I pay attention to reviews in Condé Nast Traveler and the New York Times. Both of those publications I know send reporters unannounced, paying their own way so I can pretty much trust the reviewers.  Then I pay a lot of attention to friends and their experiences.  There are a couple of friends in my network who are extremely well traveled and I’m always tapping into their advice.

TripAdvisor has had a Facebook map application with all of the places your friends visited, and the most popular destinations. Has this been helpful to consumers?
The TripAdvisor Facebook map application is definitely useful to consumers when planning a trip to a new or unusual location.  It’s great to easily see which of your friends might have advice on a trip.  Who doesn’t want to brag about their last vacation?

Thank you Jon Paul. As always, it’s been a pleasure.

Want to leverage social media to get more reservations for your hotel’s restaurant? Watch our slide show on The Dining Decision Ecosystem to see how it’s done.