More than one in ten hospitality and leisure operators now generate up to half of all sales through social media according to new research from Barclays, but despite this the industry still questions its business potential.

More than 60% of the sector, which includes hotels, pubs, restaurants, travel and leisure operators, say that they only see ‘some’ or ‘limited’ opportunity in using social media tools to engage consumers. This comes in spite of the benefits emerging from these channels: nearly a third (29%) of respondents directly attribute up to 25% of all their sales to social media, and a further 13% state that these platforms generate up to half of sales. In addition, more than two thirds (68%) of those currently using social media report that they have had a ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ experience, attracting new customers, and receiving positive recommendations.

With estimates suggesting that more than half of UK consumers now own a smartphone, and almost one in five have access to a tablet device, consumers have come to rely on networks and sites such as Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor to provide peer to peer recommendations and as a convenient way to connect with businesses.

Yet more than one in ten operators do not currently use social media, nor do they have any plans to do so, and state that this is because they do not see any value or return on investment.

Mike Saul, head of hospitality and leisure at Barclays, said: “The industry is missing a trick. Social media has blurred the line between personal and corporate communities - something that has been encouraged by consumers who now expect to be able to interact in an immediate and very personal way, not just with friends, but with their favourite - and not so favoured - brands.

“This can create a very powerful feedback loop – if operators can successfully tap into these networks, both good and bad reviews can be used to their advantage. If a flight or dinner reservation is delayed for example, it’s easy for consumers to vent their frustration to the online world – the trick is being able to respond helpfully, turning a negative experience into a positive one.

“Social media is everywhere, and for many businesses it not only influences and directly generates sales, but provides a personal link with consumers, building loyalty and driving repeat footfall. This is vital when consumers are increasingly cost-conscious and discerning about where they choose to spend their hard earned cash."

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