In recent years, perhaps nothing has been more disruptive to destination marketing than social media. As more travelers turn to social media to consult the source they trust most for trip information and advice—other travelers—, destinations must adapt in order to stay competitive.
For destination marketing organizations (DMOs), convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) and other entities responsible for generating inbound tourism, this means shifting more resources from traditional sales and marketing activities, which have decreased in effectiveness, to engaging travelers on social channels and encouraging them to share destination content. It means monitoring and analyzing online review performance. And it means playing a more active role in managing the destination experience.
The hotel industry was quicker to catch on to the critical role of online reputation—as shaped by traveler reviews on TripAdvisor, Google, Booking.com, Expedia and over 100 other review sources online—in attracting travelers. Other sectors of the travel industry, from activities to attractions to restaurants and events, have been catching up. Next up? DMOs, who play a unique and important role.
Here are seven ways for destinations to harness the power of online reviews:
1. Understand reputation interdependence
The ability of a destination to attract visitors depends not only on its overall reputation but also on the reputations of individual travel operators within the region. Travel operators are the building blocks of a destination’s reputation because travelers review individual businesses, not destinations. When all stakeholders work together, they will be stronger as individuals as well as the sum of their parts. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.
2. Tap into the rich data provided by online reviews
Online reviews provide a stream of fresh, year-round content about traveler behavior, interests, likes, dislikes and recommendations. Destinations can tap in to the depth, breadth and wealth of this data to understand visitor sentiment, benchmark performance with competitors, and identify strengths and weaknesses among regions, sectors and individual stakeholders.
3. Harness big data with review analytics
While there’s no shortage of review data, the challenge lies in collecting, organizing and making sense of it. The solution lies in review analytics—the process of aggregating, analyzing and reporting on online review data and using it to make smarter decisions.
4. Mine reviews for content ideas
Online reviews allow DMOs to gain insight into travelers’ questions and concerns regarding a destination. This information is a rich source for ideas and content to feature in blog posts and articles, on website pages, on social media channels and in advertising. Content can address common questions and misperceptions, leverage the power of traveler testimonials, and reap the benefits of content marketing.
5. Use review data to guide investments
Online reviews come from the most incontrovertible source of destination information: travelers who have experienced the destination firsthand. This combined with the sheer volume of reviews represents the true “wisdom of crowds”. As such, review data can be a highly effective tool for lobbying government, industry and stakeholders on the investments in infrastructure, training and marketing required to attract visitors and increase visitor satisfaction.
“It’s not what we think, it’s what our customers say. This makes review data very persuasive—and useful politically,” said Dr. Aris Ikkos, research director with SETE, the tourism confederation representing over 50,000 businesses and members throughout Greece.
A client of ReviewPro, SETE analyzes hundreds of thousands of reviews aggregated by ReviewPro to gain insight into comparative visitor satisfaction by region, comparative review performance against competitive destinations, and the relationship between traveler ratings and revenue. The organization is using this data to identify regional strengths and weaknesses, to leverage strengths in marketing, to fix weaknesses and to guide training programs.
6. Integrate online reviews into official rating systems
Research conducted by the UNWTO found that people want to see official ratings from tourism boards as well as traveler ratings from online reviews when planning trips. (UNWTO, 2015.) To meet both needs, many destinations now integrate both models into member listings on official websites. Examples include Visit Scotland, Visit London and Destination British Columbia.
Star Ratings Australia, Australia’s national accommodation ratings organization, chose to integrate ReviewPro’s Guest Rating Score™,
a reputation score culled from over 175 review sources.
7. Provide guidelines, training and support to stakeholders
Destination marketing can take an active role in educating stakeholders on the importance of reputation management, on how to monitor, respond to and act on review feedback, and on the relationship between customer service and social media.
Destination British Columbia, early to recognize the power of social media and online reviews, commissioned my company Reknown to write a comprehensive guide to online reputation management and to conduct training seminars across the province to help stakeholders take control of reputation.
Delivery mechanisms may include guides, best practices, case studies, seminars and presentations at tourism conferences. Webinars can help reach operators in remote communities while reducing training costs.
Only when DMOs, CVBs, governments and other tourism organizations step up and provide the leadership, training and support necessary to manage online reputation will they realize the full benefits. This includes higher visitor satisfaction, a higher volume of positive reviews and ratings, and, in turn, more visitors.
Daniel E. Craig is the founder of Reknown and a leading expert in online reputation management in the travel industry. He is the producer and host of ReviewPro’s popular educational webinar series for hoteliers.