Why Hotels In The Middle East Should Care About User-Generated Content
May 3, 2016
After spending four days at Arabian Travel Market in Dubai last week, I am certain of one thing, the hospitality industry is extremely competitive in the Middle East. Feedback, across the board, was that Marketing Director’s are looking for new and innovative ways to convert more bookings and getting customers to spend more on site. Hardly a shocking revelation, but this was happening almost organically for a very long time for many resorts in the region, but not anymore it seems…
Looking at the UAE, and Dubai, in particular, RevPAR was down 6.2% in 2015. There are a number of factors contributing to this; the weakening of important market currencies like the Rouble and the Euro against the US Dollar / UAE Dirham, the fall of oil prices, and the constant influx of competition in the market. The latter shows no signs of slowing down also, with Expo 2020 driving construction of many new properties.
This all adds up to a very saturated market, and regardless of industry or region, the brands that have thrived through these kind of conditions have been those who constantly innovated. Anecdotally, I often hear it said that we are “5-10 years behind the USA” in the Middle East, and though the region is breaking down barriers of innovation and leading the charge in many ways, the statement is often true, unfortunately. However, this provides an enormous opportunity to those who want to go and take it. If someone offered you a glimpse into the future, would you not take it?
Looking at the Middle East, hospitality brands are now only starting to leverage their most powerful marketing tool… Their customers. Brands like Hilton, Carlson Rezidor, Loews and Ritz-Carlton have been championing UGC (user-generated content) in recent years in the USA.
(Marriott Marquis, lobby screen UGC social display)
But before we go any further, what is UGC? User-generated content is any form of content, i.e. social content, blogs, reviews, videos etc., that was created by users, rather than brands. We all know a marketing message when we see one, and we no longer believe anything that marketing tells us, however, we do believe other people, hence the importance of UGC. This is why TripAdvisor is so popular, and why 77% of guests read reviews before booking a hotel.
Now, why should you leverage UGC as a hospitality marketer in the Middle East? Here are three key reasons:
#1 Promoting On Site Spend
What is currently being displayed on the screens in your lobby? What happens when a guest turns on the TV in their bedroom? It’s some kind of slideshow, right, or maybe a video. Regardless of what it is, how often do you update that content and how much resources are using to create new content?
On your lobby screens, for example, by displaying a social hub / wall, filled with UGC of guest experiences in your F&B outlets, spa etc., you can offer a seemingly unbiased approach to what your hotel has to offer. Social media posts are reported to influence 59% of global purchasing decisions, and by showcasing great customer experiences (you don’t have to show the bad ones), you can drive more new customers to follow suit.
(The Ritz-Carlton, lobby screen UGC social display)
A popular term at the moment for a number of luxury resorts in UAE is ‘social concierge’, and the idea is simple. When a guest turns on the TV in their room, they are no longer greeted by the same boring video or slideshow that they have grown accustomed to. Instead, they see guest’s experiences from within the resort at the various F&B outlets (or other places you want them to spend money), mixed with marketing videos / images and whatever else you deem to be relevant to your audience, i.e. live weather, real time social content from sponsors, or what’s on in the area. The key is that the content is authentic, as it is no longer coming from a marketing team. It is up to date and trustworthy, and coming from people whom they can relate to.
(Sofitel The Palm, in room social TV)
#2 Converting Website Bookings
Many of the same principles apply to how this works for display screens, but incorporating UGC into your website impacts buyer behaviour at the most crucial time, when they are thinking about making a booking. A popular concern for potential guests when researching a hotel online and browsing through its gallery is “just how much does it actually look like that in real life?”
Hotels can take advantage of social walls to drive traffic by aggregating positive social posts about their location and brand right next to their reservation page online. As a marketer, you can showcase these experiences beside your own branded social posts, and even add native advertising with CTA buttons linking directly to your booking page. This leads to an increase in conversions as you are leveraging authentic, genuine content from your previous customers.
By displaying users posts on physical screens in your hotel / on your website, you are giving your customers a clear reason to post about your brand online. Using a banner explaining how the images will appear in these locations, i.e. using hashtags or geotags, and offering a clear incentive for them to do so will result in a huge increase in the number of impressions your brand receives on social.
(JW Marriott, clear banner and incentive example)
For example, if you have 200 guests on any given day, encouraging 50% of those to post about their experience online will result in 50,000 social impressions for your brand on that day alone (100 guests x avg. 500 friends / followers). As I have already mentioned, in the new age of crowdsourcing, your customers are your most powerful marketing tool and it is time to start leveraging their experiences.
With 52% of travelers changing their plans due to social media, it has never been a more important time to get the most from your customers.
Are you on top of UGC for your hotel? If not, or you would just like to have a chat to see how you could do more, I am part of the TINT team in the Middle East, based in Dubai, and you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a meeting.