By Edward Munro
Red Rokk Interactive
The Bellingham hotel community is gearing up for another summer season, and Red Rokk was interested in finding out more about its outlook, marketing strategy and tactics.
We visited with sales representatives from two of Bellingham’s well-known hotels and asked about online rating systems, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, and how they respond to what guests are saying online.
The online buzz
How much influence do these review sites have and what does the future look like?
According to Rick Steves, a Washington state native and well-known European traveler, the expectation is, “that fewer people will rely on guidebook listings for their hotels and more will use online services.”
In a recent Quancast study, Yelp is now the number-one travel application for the iPhone. More than 19 million U.S. consumers use the service each month (100 million worldwide), while more than 1 million people use it to find hotels and write reviews.
According to its website, TripAdvisor has more than 100 million travel reviews and opinions from travelers around the world. With more than 700,000 hotels listed, we found that this service was the best as far as guest hotel reviews being matched by responses from hotel staff.
How has the increased use of these review sites affected the local hotel scene?
Red Rokk spoke with the top sales people at the Lakeway Inn and the Bellwether to hear what their thoughts were about these review services.
Online Reviews: Lakeway Inn, Bellwether take notice
When we met up with Christine Jenkins, director of sales at the Best Western Plus Lakeway Inn and Conference Center, she was enthusiastic about the prospects for the summer season.
Jenkins said, “Bellingham is a relationship market where 80 percent of our business comes from face-to-face efforts, especially with the business community.”
The five-person sales team at the Best Western Plus Lakeway visits with their customers every day, developing partnerships where they have been known to create all-in-one packages for guests that include limousine service, personal assistants and much more.
With all this personal service, we wondered if the online reviews had much effect on Jenkins and her sales team.
We asked if they had a procedure for addressing good and negative comments.
Jenkins replied, “We manage online reviews and rating services daily and respond to each and every review, whether positive or negative, and every Tuesday during at our managers’ meeting we discuss solutions to these kinds of challenges or issues.”
In addition, Jenkins said that Best Western encourages its guests to fill out their own surveys so they can manage expectations and always find ways to improve.
“Best Western automatically sends a survey to those who booked through bestwestern.com and we have placards in every guest room and at checkout that encourages guests to provide feedback on bestwesternfeedback.com,” she said.
We checked with TripAdvisor and found that Jenkins and her team were true to their word as they responded to all customer reviews within 48 hours – both positive and negative. Yelp had many nice guest comments, but there were no responses from the Lakeway Inn staff.
Over at the Hotel Bellwether, we spoke with the hotel’s sales manager, Kendall Pickerill. She explained that the Bellwether is a 66-room beautiful waterfront boutique property that caters to the corporate community, while approximately 20 percent of its guests come from Canada.The Hotel Bellwether also has an outstanding reputation during the wedding season, as its picturesque setting down by the water has been the backdrop for countless wedding parties.
When asked about how comments from Yelp and TripAdvisor are handled, Pickerill said, “I try to respond to each precious review as soon as I see it on my iPhone in the morning. I live for that feedback and turn absolutely giddy at each positive word spoken about our staff and our property in those reviews.”
She said the Bellwether team responds by thanking the reviewer and is quick to addresses any issues that may have come up during the guest’s stay. Pickerill also added, “before doing so, we ask the relevant departments what happened during their stay to get the complete story.If it concerns the restaurant or our food and beverage team, then our general manager will address the comments directly.”
The Bellwether sales team also goes through the online reviews at their weekly meetings. Pickerill explained, “We are a team, and everyone’s input is considered to create the best positive reaction to both positive and negative comments.”
The Bellwether also offers an area for guest comments on their express checkout forms, which they also review at their weekly meetings.
When we checked with TripAdvisor, we found that the Bellwether had several excellent reviews from many satisfied guests with many responses from the Bellwether staff. On Yelp, there were also many nice comments from guests, however, much like the Lakeway Inn, there were no responses from the Bellwether staff.
For the hotel industry, the ability to respond and have conversations with their guests represents an opportunity to develop long-term relationships. For interested travelers looking at customer reviews, they can gain a lot of insight about the staff and the atmosphere of the hotel just by looking at the hotels’ responses to the comments.
Both the Best Western Lakeway Inn and the Hotel Bellwether have excellent reputations in Bellingham and part of this stems from their responsiveness to the online reviews.
Ed Munro is a marketing and communications consultant at Red Rokk Interactive, a marketing and advertising agency located in Bellingham. The company specializes in developing high impact campaigns that create awareness and drive sales. Columns from the Red Rokk Interactive team appear monthly on BBJToday.com. Red Rokk is online at www.redrokk.com.
Send questions to the Red Rokk Interactive team by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.