The TripAdvisor Effect and the 1%: Winning the Bookings You Crave

TripAdvisor-630x350-630x348Word of mouth makes – or breaks – bookings at the highest end of hospitality. In your gut you probably believed that. But it has now been validated by research.

Reading a Luxury Daily write up of the 2016 Luxury Travel Reportthis paragraph jumped out at me: “when planning a destination, the top 1 percent is more likely to be influenced by peer reviews than the average traveler. Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed rated the importance of online reviews and ratings as a 9 or a 10 on a numeric scale, compared to only 20 percent of total travelers. The same is true of friends and family recommendations.”

Read that again. The research is saying that when pursuing bookings by the the top 1% what really matters is your reputation, as related by venues such as TripAdvisor and also by word of mouth from their friends and family.

An implication is that the time you are putting into SEO, bidding on Adwords, buying tracking ads and the rest, may be well and good – even necessary – but where this pedal hits the metal is in what people are saying about you, not what you are saying about yourself.

SEO is self-promotion. What others say about you has so much more credibility.

That principle is so very hard for many old-school sales and marketing execs to grasp – but grasping it is crucial to survival in the 21st century. Ours is an age of the reputation economy. Especially for the 1%.

If you are selling a genuinely luxury product, the 1% is who you want. And now we know how to get them.

Here’s the big question: exactly what can you do to stimulate more and better TripAdvisor reviews and more and better word of mouth from friends and families of the 1%?

The answer is also in that 2016 Luxury Travel Report. According to Luxury Daily, “Most revealingly, a whopping 69 percent of one-percenters say that participating in a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ activity is something they would like to do regularly on vacations, significantly higher than any other group.”

You want good reviews? The secret for unlocking them is to really wow guests with memorable service and also with one-of-a-kind experiences. That is the stuff that will get them talking.

I have read thousands of TripAdvisor reviews and, honestly, I cannot recall many talking about the threadcount of the sheets, the marble counter in the bathroom, or the tablecloth in the restaurant.

What I do read frequently are reviews that point out service home runs and service failures.

And when friends tell me about great trips they have been on, what do they talk about? Moments of service magic and also experiences that have etched themselves into memory.

Word of advice: experiences cannot be cookie cutter, they really cannot live on a page of activities where guests select one from column one, another from column two. I cringe when hoteliers brag about their menu of “special experiences” because if they are sold to all, probably they are special to none. The best experiences – where the magic happens – are the experiences that are bespoke, created explicitly for this guest, on demand.

That is magic.

That is where the words will pop from the guest’s mouth.

Great hoteliers have always gotten this.

Face this: the 1% – definitionally – has money (the report pegged $400,000 as the cutoff income for the 1%) and they spend it on travel. But earning your share of that money requires digging deeper, going beyond the formulaic, and really getting to know thisguest and her/his wants and exactly what your property is positioned to deliver.

The payoffs are there for those who commit to doing the intensive work to win the 1% business and the beauty of this is that when they are won, they will indeed tell their friends.

And their friends will come.

Will the 1% post to TripAdvisor? My experience tells me that frequently it is easier to get glowing word of mouth passed to friends than it is to win public reviews on TripAdvisor. Why? Maybe the rich are too busy to post to the public review sites – I don’t know – but I do personally know destination spas that get a lot of bookings via word of mouth but have comparatively few TripAdvisor reviews.

Don’t sweat it. If great word of mouth is bringing you business, celebrate that.

And just keep delivering the experiences that wow guests.

That is the winning formula.


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