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Hoteliers: What you need to know about fake reviews and views

Posted By HEDNA Brand Journalist Nick Vivion, Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The pervasiveness of technology has collateral damage: trust and accuracy. As the digital landscape evolves, bad actors seek to manipulate. The resulting tenuous trust in online content complicates reputation management for hotels.

Consumers tend to trust user-generated content (UGC) far more than other sources of information. Nielsen Customer Trust Index found that 92% trust UGC over traditional marketing. The appeal of consumer-to-consumer content has given great power to manipulators. Fake reviews and inflated engagement have become part of the online experience.

Fake reviews

Nearly since the advent of online reviews, the hotel industry has been combating fake reviews. Without a means to verify a purchase, many sites would make it easy for anyone to leave a review regardless of actual experience with the business.

Today, the review tracking systems are far more sophisticated: reviews link to purchases, algorithms detect fraud, and hoteliers monitor vigorously. While each review platform approaches review veracity differently, the result is a filter that captures the majority of suspicious activity.

It’s this minority that gets the most attention. Most algorithms use review scores, or an internal number that accounts for review quality, quantity, and recency. So a few false reviews can skew this number, which then affects a hotel’s placement in search results on most travel booking sites. False reviews also impact a brand’s reputation.

Whether positive or negative in sentiment, fake reviews game platforms -- and foster an atmosphere of distrust among consumers forced to make their own conclusions after sifting through reviews. From blatantly false reviews to biased ones, there’s a spectrum of abuse that muddies the waters.

Navigating through the choppy waters of fake reviews is fraught. Consumers might not be able to spot a fake review, lending it more credence than it should. Only 16% of respondents in BrightLocal’s 2017 Consumer Review survey could always identify a fake review, underscoring how important reputation management is for hotels.

The threat of fake reviews is ongoing and omnipresent. When asked about fake reviews of their own businesses, a majority of business owners had experienced some level of false negative and/or positive reviews.

How to fight back:


  • Never solicit fake reviews or post defamatory reviews about competitors.
  • Be proactive.
  • Report any suspicious review activity.
  • Highlight your honest and transparent approach to reviews with guests.
  • Build trust and earn word-of-mouth.
  • Provide the best guest experience that attracts glowing reviews organically.

Inflated engagement

Fake reviews may receive the bulk of the attention, but inflated engagement is also on the rise. This is an issue for the hotel industry, which often invests in influencer marketing to create organic marketing moments among targeted followings.

A recent New York Times article reveals just how easy it is to inflate engagement on YouTube -- and how hard it is for the platforms to combat paid views. Martin Vassilev, a fake views entrepreneur, knows that resistance is futile:

I can deliver an unlimited amount of views to a video. They’ve tried to stop it for so many years, but they can’t stop it. There’s always a way around. The only way YouTube could eliminate this is if they removed the view counter altogether. But that would defeat the purpose of YouTube.”

This issue is not limited to YouTube. There are organized “engagement pods” that like each other's posts on Instagram, and there are firms that promise increased engagement for a too-good-to-be-true price.

While there’s little incentive for an individual hotel to pay for engagement, an influencer could quickly (and affordably) boost the perceived value of a paid engagement. Vanity metrics still have pull, duping marketers into thinking a partnership was more fruitful than it really was.

How to fight back:


  • Be very selective when it comes to influencers.
  • Analyze actual engagement of an influencer’s following rather than vanity metrics alone.
  • Never buy likes or artificial engagement. Report those who do.
  • Avoid paying for performance, as that can encourage artificial inflation of engagement.

Evolving regulatory framework

Recently, the platforms themselves are increasingly public with their determination to punish bad actors. TripAdvisor, which led a detailed internal investigation to snag a business in Italy selling fake reviews, won a conviction with nine months of actual jail time.

TripAdvisor celebrated a potential turning tide, saying:

"We see this as a landmark ruling for the Internet," Brad Young, an attorney for TripAdvisor, told reporter Alex Horton at The Washington Post. "Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we've seen someone sent to jail as a result."

Even with this momentum, jail time is a rare occurrence for fake review peddlers. That’s why review platforms have severe consequences for those that don’t play by the rules.

The most visible consequence is visual: Hotels found to be in violation risk having a permanent badge on their listing, which warns travelers of potential distrust. There’s also a potential hit to revenue, with hotels suspected of fraudulent behavior dropping or disappearing completely.

The risks to reputation and revenue are generally not worth any benefit of stacking reviews in a hotel’s favor. Amidst this backdrop, hotels can provide more certainty and trust to guests by leaning into honest and transparent reviews and views. If the younger generation is aware of the bots that can fake behavior, how does that affect trust in travel? And trust in reviews?

Reviews are a powerful ally; the last thing we want is to cause fatal distrust in the accuracy of guest reviews.

Travelers now have personalized sifting algorithms, honed after countless hours online. These internal filters cut through the crap and drive decision-making. Be a trusted source of information, solicit reviews from guests, and respond regularly to as many reviews as possible. This is the best way to build trust in travel.

We’re “connected like never before.”

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Tags:  hotel marketing  reputation 

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Is your hotel ready for the evolution of in-destination?

Posted By HEDNA Brand Journalist Nick Vivion, Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Think of this as the era of the self-serve digital concierge. Travelers can find and book in-destination activities on their own before -- and especially during -- the trip. Technology has reached the point of saturation, where each aspect of a trip is bookable, trackable, and manageable on mobile.

This modernization of the tours and activities industry benefits hoteliers in one crucial way: an increase in the digital distribution brings more opportunities to match guests with in-destination activities.

This matchmaking service has another name in hospitality: a concierge.

Re-defining ‘concierge’ for the digital era

The standalone concierge is dwindling in popularity, with only 20% of American hotels employing a concierge in 2016; that’s down from 27% in 2010. And this number is slipping fast, as guests prefer more self-service, leading to reduced usage of the concierge. With pressure to reduce operational costs, all but the most upscale hotels have eliminated concierges.

On the digital side, many hotels have ceded demand to online platforms. Rather than booking at the on-site concierge, guests are turning to digital discovery tools such as Google and Airbnb Experiences. Guests are also being up-sold by the online travel agencies post-booking, which keeps the margins squarely in the favor of these third parties.

Hotels must re-claim the rightful position as local experts that can ably and accurately recommend the best things to see and do in-destination. As Jack Nargin of Les Clefs d’Or recently emphasized, human curation is a competitive advantage:

“We are human beings. We are the people who know our cities the best. So no app, no Internet, can ever replace us.”

While human-powered recommendations still matter, there’s a middle ground that effortlessly merges human and digital to build a better guest experience.

The need for curation

Calls for the death of the concierge are misguided, as travelers are bombarded with so many options. The “paradox of choice” is alive and well when it comes to tours and activities! Whether it's on Airbnb, an online travel agency, or a tour operator’s own website, travelers have many travelers to choose from. It really comes down to which brand they trust.

With this trust, hotels have an advantage: guests that book with them are already somewhat inclined to trust the brand. That means that the hotel can be a trusted source of curation for guests overwhelmed with options.

By providing curation, the hotel positions itself as an expert and stands to benefit from increased incremental revenue. This expertise can be showcased in two ways: 1) through a standalone concierge interacting with guests, and 2) a digital channel that highlights the expertly verified and recommended experiences.

Tech-enabled discovery

Today’s world of digitized commerce is the perfect backdrop for hotels to re-claim the “local expert” mantle. Now, even without a dedicated concierge desk, hotels can provide guests a curated selection of recommendations.

Here’s how that works:

  1. Partner with a technology solutions provider in the tours and activities space to gain access to mobile-bookable inventory.

  2. Verify each experience by actually going out and doing the experience.

  3. Only recommend the best-of-the-best as part of the curated list.

  4. Create content about each in-destination activity to highlight what it is and why you recommended it.

  5. Infuse recommendations throughout the hotel’s operations: mentions at the front desk, placement of in-room collateral, callout boxes on all pre-arrival communications.

  6. Ensure that all bookings can be completed wherever the guest wants: on desktop, on mobile, or even at the POS across property.

Throughout the guest journey, from before, during, and after the stay, there should be a complete integration of the “recommended for you” options. Often, there is an underinvestment in the integration needed to promote the curated recommendations through all available guest channels!

Booking sweet spot

Even if actual concierge services are on the decline, today's’ mobile-first guest is eager to engage with in-destination recommendations. Recent Checkfront research shows that hotels are ideally positioned to convert guests: the booking sweet spot is from one week prior to a trip up to the same day.

These stats underline how hotels can engage with guests both before and during the trip. Of course, this is nothing new; one of the concierge’s primary tasks has been booking in-destination activities. Even so, it bears repeating: hotels can deploy merchandising strategies to earn more incremental revenue from even the most self-serve guests.

Douglas Quinby, CEO and co-founder of in-destination conference Arival, warns against making the typical “set it and forget it” error:

"The biggest challenge is making the commitment to invest in understanding your guests, developing curated options that are relevant them and consistent with your brand, and tracking performance. The classic mistake made over and over is, the hotel or other brand resellers just plugs in a tech partner without thought to the options offered, the merchandizing, when and how they are pushed to the customer, and the special incentive for booking the experience through the hotel."

As an example of a brand doing this well, Quinby mentions Marriott Moments, which is a program done at scale and tied to the brand’s loyalty program. “But,” he continues, “there are lots of examples and even individual hotels can take advantage of this.”

Today’s technology stack empowers hotels to be more active as trusted digital concierges. To successfully capture this revenue, it just takes some investment to identify the technology -- and in-destination recommendations -- to offer a modern concierge that improves the guest experience.

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Tags:  hotel marketing  revenue 

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How to use pop-ups to build a remarkable reputation for your hotel

Posted By HEDNA Brand Journalist Nick Vivion, Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Updated: Monday, November 19, 2018

Retail as entertainment

Retail is becoming a form of entertainment, shifting the relationship of hotels with retail. As hospitality expands from traditional revenue streams to encompass experience-driven events and activities, retail has become a business driver.

Massive global brand MGM Resorts knows this first hand, as CIO Sy Esfahani shared during the recent Oracle Industry Connect:

“We are rebranding ourselves because our gaming business is not growing; it’s actually shrinking. We’re becoming more of an entertainment company. The people who come to Las Vegas are not elderly, sitting for hours in front of slot machines. They’re coming here wanting to be entertained; they go to events, they go to clubs, and they go shopping.”

Within the rubric of “wanting to be entertained,” hospitality brands must now craft a multi-faceted experience beyond a hotel’s core identity as a place to sleep.

One of the most compelling tools to address this trend is a temporary branded pop-up. The pop-up is an effective tool because it doesn’t have a high upfront cost, leverages existing space, and encourages engagement due to the urgency of its temporary nature. The fear-of-missing-out is a powerful call to action!


 The benefits of pop-ups

When compared to other forms of marketing, the experiential nature of pop-ups makes them attractive to hospitality brands seeking differentiation.

In today’s fast-paced environment, where attention is at a premium and customer acquisition costs are rising, pop-ups are a low-cost, high-impact investment in a hotel’s reputation.

Here’s why pop-ups make sense for hotels:

  1. Cost. Pop-ups often use existing space at a hotel, so there’s little upfront cost. The brand partners will handle installation and labor, so there’s a huge upside for hotels who are using existing space.

  2. Buzz. When a temporary retail experience captures the imagination of consumers, there’s unlimited potential for free buzz. Buzz builds interest thanks to the power of exclusivity and urgency -- especially if the space is seasonally relevant.

  3. Revenue. And yes, this buzz translates into revenue! Pop-up retail experts The Lionesque Group have logged great results: “We have seen a 20% lift in ancillary revenue, like guest room and event space bookings, from the hotels that have partnered with our pop-up clients.”

Shannon Shepard, the director of sales and marketing at the 11 Howard in New York City, distills the power of pop-ups as such:

“Pop-ups enable us build partnerships within our local community, create an immersive interactive experience for guests and connect with new audiences. It also allows us to create engaging social media content and foster a sense of newness in a hotel market that is increasingly competitive.”

Loyalty can also be a side benefit. Consumer behavior data from EventTrack reveals that 98% of consumers are more inclined to purchase, while 70% turn into regular customers, after experiencing a pop-up-style event.


The flexibility of pop-ups


There are many ways to approach pop-up retail in hospitality -- it’s a type of marketing where creativity reigns. Two of the most common approaches are to develop a full pop-up experience that reflects the hotel experience, and to partner with a brand on an immersive retail experience within an area of the hotel.

For a standalone pop-up, the Ruinart Hotel 1729 is the one to beat. While technically not within a hotel, the champagne brand Ruinart has crafted a unique experience within the welcoming frame of hospitality.


This event stands out with its exclusivity and elegance: “Enter Hotel 1729 and experience a night of indulgence that surpasses expectations and will stimulate the eyes, ears, and taste buds; and enjoy a menu of experimental food paired with Ruinart Champagne.”

Most hotel event spaces can be easily converted to pop-ups. Spaces can be as small as a lobby corner, such as this Kit and Ace pop-up series, or as large as a dedicated space, such as The Market at the Roger Smith Hotel in New York City which welcomes a rotating cast of characters to its dedicated pop-up space.

Food pop-ups are also as popular way to bring food to non-restaurant spaces around the hotel -- such as this poolside event with local chefs at the Ace New Orleans, which also doubles as a fundraiser for the Red Cross. Bonus millennial points!

Selecting the right brand partner

When considering a pop-up, don't rush too fast into selecting a brand partner. Success hinges on a perfect match.

Things to consider: Does this brand partner give you access to new customers within your target demographic? Will there be investment on the other side as far as soliciting public relations wins and social media marketing? What operational considerations need to be addressed? What are the metrics that you will track?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can proceed more confidently with selecting a brand partner for your pop-up. As you pursue your experiential marketing strategy, remember that the correct brand partner unleashes the power of the pop-up. So invest the time upfront to reap the rewards down the line.

Have there been any recent pop-ups that you've enjoyed? Or do you have some learnings to share from a pop-up partnership from your professional past? Spread the knowledge in the comments below.

Tags:  hotel marketing 

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35 of the top Twitter Lists for hospitality professionals

Posted By HEDNA News team, Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2018

Twitter can be an overwhelming place. That's where Lists come in. This functionality allows users to collect Twitter accounts to follow, according to whichever category or distinction that works best for them.

Lists are a shortcut to Twitter. Grouped by similar interests, topics, or affiliations, Lists are useful to track relevant industry conversations, prospect for new leads, and discover new people to follow.

To find relevant Lists, browse over to the Twitter profile of a given user and look at the Lists tab of any users you follow. You can also use the Timelines filter under the general search on Twitter. For more detailed tips on using Twitter Lists, check out the Lifewire guide.

Caption: How to search for Lists to follow on Twitter, per PostPlanner.

To unleash the power of these Lists to curate and strengthen the Twitter content discovery experience, we did the legwork to find the top Twitter Lists for hospitality professionals.


Not many brands leverage this functionality as you’d think. Here are the active brands that have compiled lists of Twitter accounts related to hotels, hospitality, and accommodations.


Influence and intelligence are two required qualities of an effective thought leader. Curating a variety of lists related to your expertise is a simple way to emphasize what you care about by segmenting those with similar interests.

Here are lists created by individuals with relevance for hospitality professionals.

Broader topics

Maintaining an understanding of industry trends involves branching out. Here are some broader topics of interest that have an impact on, or overlaps with, hospitality.

This breakdown is by no means comprehensive. Do you follow other lists that you find extraordinarily valuable? Please share; there are many lists out there, so let's reward the best with more followers.

Tags:  hotel marketing  social media  Twitter 

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What hoteliers should learn from private membership clubs

Posted By Nick Vivion, HEDNA Brand Journalist , Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Members-only clubs were very popular throughout history. Outside of university settings, private clubs were prominent features of urban areas throughout the 20th century. But as the Internet created new channels for like-minded people to congregate, membership clubs diminished radically in popularity.

Recently, the tide has come back in. Riding a wave of disenchantment with the digital experience, membership clubs are more popular than ever. Global behemoth Soho House has 19 locations catering to its 71,000 members, which usually include rooms for overnight stays alongside exclusive bars, restaurants, rooftops, pools and events.

“People always want what they can’t have, and they want something that’s special,” says private club consultant Frank Vain. The new clubs “have redefined special. There’s an anticlub aspect to them that is creating a buzz.”

As membership-based brands push further into hoteliers’ territory, it’s useful to consider their appeal -- and apply any potential learnings to the hotel experience.

Lean into history

Hoteliers seeking a modern brand perception are often reluctant to highlight legacy. However, the benefits to promote history have never been greater. It's not just millennials interested in the past; travelers of all kinds appreciate the legacy of a place. The businesses that shape a specific place are crucial to this appreciation of place.

One of the oldest members clubs is Boodle’s, in London. It was founded in 1762 by the Earl of Shelbourne. The rich tapestry of history imbues the club with a reputation for quality and longevity -- two qualities that certainly are welcome for any hotel.

So, if you have a history, be proud of it! Don't shy away from highlighting what makes your space historically significant. And if you're able to make a connection with history that also ties into a modern design, your hotel will be well-positioned to sit astride the past and the future.

Foster community through events

Events drive reputation. And we don't mean happy hours! We mean smart, appealing, and well-executed events -- because fostering a true community requires well-thought-out events.

Remember that one of the most valuable elements for any member that joins a club: networking within the context of a robust event calendar that isn’t repetitive or uninspired.  

Events are a great tool for hoteliers looking to engage the local community. Consider offering low-to-no fee event rentals to certain organizations, such as professional networking associations. Hosting these events is your chance to showcase your space and build up your word of mouth marketing among target demographics.

Events outside the typical promotional-type offerings also engage staff by creating opportunities for you to connect your hotel to the community they live in. Events can range from social to educational, with some hotels even focusing on science-based talks to help improve wellness for those who attend.

Nurture a familiar-but-local experience

Experiencing a destination “like a local” Is a global mantra for the hospitality industry. This concept has been used so much that it’s nearly become meaningless. Even so, travelers often seek out familiar brands, with known quality standards, while still offering an atmosphere of local conviviality.

The key to successful hospitality across locations is to provide a familiar experience with a distinctive local vibe. By nurturing a community of locals that frequent your hotel, you bring the local vibe organically to the property.

Members clubs follow this maxim by designing a familiar-yet-distinctive physical experience. The design of the space is typically welcome, lush, and inviting. It's a space that members want to hang out in and time and time again. And that's essential because clubs want members to return regularly to spend money!

Clubs also imbue local flavor. Thanks to investments in design, furniture, and fixtures, members get the feeling that they are at a club in a specific location, so the space is both inviting and familiar. All without being boring or losing a sense of place.

Consider a members-only experience

While this isn’t appropriate for every brand, a members-only experience could become a healthy side business.

Especially given the fact that many hotels and restaurants offer a token “locals” discount -- and also given the reality that demand for memberships often outstrip supply. Soho House, which has a staggering 27,000 people on the waitlist, recently told the Wall Street Journal:

“Ultimately, there’s more demand than supply,” said Soho House’s Chief Financial Officer Peter McPhee.

Ask yourself: Is there a particular demographic that you're targeting with your on-property offerings? If so, can you craft a membership that focuses on solving 1-3 needs of that demographic? Is there a natural fit with a celebrity visionary that might find inspiration in filmmaker’s David Lynch’s Parisian private club Silencio?

Even if it's an unpaid membership, the data, engagement, and brand loyalty are valuable assets in the long term. After all, ancillary revenue doesn't only have to come from room upgrades, food and beverage, spa, and activity add-ons!

Tags:  hotel marketing  loyalty 

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