Review sites such as TripAdvisor and Feefo have long since secured their roles in the shopping baskets of travel consumers. Consulting reviews and other user generated content (UGC) is now a key part of the purchase journey for many travellers. TripAdvisor alone reaches 350 million people per month, with 200 new contributions added every minute. Online reviews harness user generated content as a powerful marketing tool, but some brands are still anxious about putting the consumer and their opinions in the driving seat.

It might seem scary stepping away from the helm, but here’s why travel brands should loosen their brand control.

 

Unsurprisingly consumers are more likely to trust content from their peers than from brands. According to the 2015 Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey, 81% of people feel that personal recommendations are the most trusted form of advertising. Second only to this is the opinion of other consumers online (58%).

According to the survey, peer recommendations and reviews are more important to consumers than brand-created content, including emails, TV ads and websites. UGC presents a huge opportunity to help tell your brand’s story. Rather than view it with trepidation, consider it as a creative collaboration with those who live and breathe your product.

When it comes to making a decision over accommodation, price is the most important factor, but it’s closely followed by online ratings and reviews according to TripAdvisor’s 2016 TripBarometer Travel Trend report. Consumers aren’t just after a low price, but great value too. The report concluded that Millennials are more likely to pay attention to reviews than Generation X and Baby Boomers, suggesting that the value of UGC will continue to grow.

Reviews are consulted at a crucial part of the purchase journey. By the time a user is searching for reviews they are intending to buy. They have already made the important decision to visit a location, but reviews can help make sure you are in their list of considered destinations while also boosting your organic search visibility online and website traffic.

The beauty of UGC is the honesty, so you have to prepare yourself for a few interesting ones, but, if you’re confident, there’s nothing to worry about. Most consumers are savvy enough to work out when a negative reviewer isn’t trustworthy and will discount their opinion – but what they will assess is how you respond.

Nothing says ‘poor customer service’ like an overly defensive reply. Recognise the issue, demonstrate how the problem is solved, and sign off with a wish to see them again. Too often a customer fails to raise issues at the time, leaving owners defending problems they could have easily fixed, but knew nothing about. Discuss how you would have dealt with the issue, bracketed with a few pleasantries. To go the extra mile, suggest that the consumer makes a return visit so that you can demonstrate it won’t happen again.

Sometimes negative reviews can be helpful. Your reviewer may point out that your establishment is ‘not child friendly’ or that there are ‘lots of steps to climb’. While this traveller may not have had a great time, their comments will save anyone else from the same experience, which in turn saves you from any further complaints. Being honest about feedback, if issues are resolved, gives you additional points for integrity.

Once people start talking, share what they have to say with your social following. Through social media you can also reach out to regular contributors and build up a team of advocates, creating more opportunities. Through this, you retain some control, while advocates spread your message.

Reviews aren’t the only way to embrace UGC. Images are more powerful than words, especially from customers. The issue of trust extends to photography too. If your UGC matches your marketing assets then consumers are more likely to believe your service. After all, your customers are more than likely already sharing pictures of your product – you just need to tap into the conversation.

Still not convinced by the potential financial gains, the SEO benefits and the free content creation? Don’t take my word for it. According to TripAdvisor, more than 90% of all travel businesses feel online reviews are important to the future of their business and online reputation management remains the top area for investment in 2016, and a key priority for the future of their business. So what are you waiting for?

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