Rethink Your Guest Review Strategy

It’s time to think outside of the TripAdvisor box with Facebook, GooglePlus and Pinterest Reviews –and guest interaction on YOUR WEBSITE. Oh, we all know how important TA is –and its an easy review mechanism. BUT! Did you know that asking guests to leave a review on TripAdvisor is leaving your lodging property vulnerable? If you continue to keep all of your eggs in the TripAdvisor basket, you give them undue power, pay more and more each year, and are not capitalizing on the opportunities of social media. If you’re sending guests only to TripAdvisor for reviews, then it’s time to rethink your guest review strategy.

Start with your Website. Independent Resorts, Inns, B&B,s -you KNOW your guests, they know you. Begin a strategy that encourages interaction between your guests and yourself -using your property’s website as the platform. Build and reinforce their positive experiences from their stay. Build a greater nurturing experience for them, encourage future visits and bring them further into your fold.Sterling Ridge Resort Comments

You’ve done the hard part. Why let TripAdvisor control and benefit from that relationship? Over the years, they have trained lodging owners and managers to use and consider TripAdvisor, like it’s a benevolent service, but don’t be fooled; they are a FOR PROFIT company and a big one at that. Why are you sending your hard-earned relationships to them? Its time to involve your past guests online with your business and at a far higher, more personally rewarding level than can be done with TripAdvisor.

Create a strategy, similar to Sterling Ridge Resort in Vermont, that pulls guests into your fully owned online presence, your own website. Ask for comments about your guests’ stay that will be posted exclusively on your website. Ask them to write a guest blog of their vacation (or an activity, dinner, etc.) or email you a favorite photo from their trip. You’ll want to offer a couple of involvement levels and ‘assists’ depending on the degree your various guests will choose to be involved. Be sure to make a super easy, enticing option for those that might resist. Make it fun and run a campaign from time to time giving something away. Over time, this single tactic has the potential to provide the best return –no exceptions.

Google Plus

Google Plus is one of the most important places for guest reviews. Aside from the growing audience with Google+, its direct connection to your Google Local (Places) account is priceless for conversions and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) aka Getting Found on Google. Having reviews for guests to read will pull them closer to your webpage, where you can actually make the conversion commission free; sidestepping the “Book Now” buttons that are populated everywhere (including your Google Places/local account) that try to persuade people to book with the many OTAs. Oh you’re not on an OTA? Oops! Then they’re using your ‘juice’ to sell to these shoppers to your competition!

Facebook Reviews

Facebook Reviews

Recently, Facebook revamped how Guest Reviews appear on lodging pages. Here is a screenshot of it in action on Posada Yum Kin’s Facebook page. This seems much more directed and appealing than the ‘app’ they had before. It shows how Facebook is embracing the travel space with solid effort. Sure, they might not take over TripAdvisor, but their reviews WILL be valuable in converting fans to guests.


Though its not technically a review, a picture is still worth a thousand words. Do your guests have a Pinterest page? Ask them. Connect. Follow them. If they plan to share their travel pictures on a board, let them know you’re excited to repin their pics to your properties’ board. This is a natural exchange for Pinterest users and hits a great female demographic and leisure travel decision-makers.

There are many social media networks that are important for travel, general and travel-specific, but lodging professionals are a very busy group. My advice is to get the ones noted above under control and moving before you spread yourself too thinly. Always make sure your basecamp is secure!

Travel Planning With Facebook


Watch out TripAdvisor, travel planning with Facebook might just catch on. Their new Graph Search, is a little known tool that could come in handy for your next trip. You can add a search like “Friends that have traveled to Chicago, Ill” and receive a whole page of suggestions based on your friends’ travels. I just did ‘the test’ and I was actually surprised how accurate it was for well-known places in Chicago. It was also easy to see some of my favorite people that have gone to places I’ve either been or might want to go. My next step might be to ask them for more details. Yes, it could work.

Though this of course was Facebook’s intention, after a cursory look at Facebook, I had discounted it as having no real merit. Until I read this article by Darren Craig where he suggests that Facebook has a chance to take over TripAdvisor. His article shares some good examples of how Graph can be used and he also has some tips for hoteliers. I’ve shared those tips below:

Facebook is one of the most targeted platforms for marketing so here are some tips to add to your online strategy to enhance your business on Graph Search…. (You do have a Facebook page don’t you?) :

1 – Ensure your Facebook page isn’t a “ghost”

People will ‘Check-in’ to the first page that matches your business name, whether it’s your official one or not.  Claim any unofficial pages, and merge them with your real one – you may be missing out on more Likes than you realise.

2 – Reward ‘Check-ins’

Check-ins to your business indicates someone physically visited you and checked in to let their friends know.  This check in contributes to your engagement scores on Facebook.  You can encourage check-ins with small notices in the room, arrival cards, or provide offers like discounted drinks if guests ‘check-in’ on Facebook.  If you think of traditional online searches, where everyone was rushing to get backlinks to their website to increase their ranking, a check-in is almost an equivalent in Facebook terms – every little helps.

3 – Encourage Facebook Reviews

Hopefully you already request reviews on sites like TripAdvisor on your post visit follow up emails.  Existing links in your emails could be switched to encourage Facebook reviews for a period of time.  Online you need to meet your guests where they hang out, so you could offer a variety of review sites like Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor and others, or split test them to see which ones gets the most traction, or highlight the one you need more reviews on.

4 – Get Some Facebook Love

Looking after your guests in the real world should always be your priority.  If you’ve done this well, your recent guests should be your best ambassador.  Don’t forget to request a ‘Like’ in follow up communications, or in a booking thank you email.  If a guest ‘Likes’ you pre-arrival, it gives them the option of finding out more about your offerings before they arrive.  You could also ask guests to share and tag any photographs they have of your business.
Remember those earlier search examples?  If you get guests Liking your Facebook page, this is how their friends could find out about you in the future.

5 – Don’t Forget the Locals

Your local guests may be your most regular visitors if you have a great restaurant, spa or golf course, therefore could be your most engaged Facebook users.  Advertising to people who like your page, or to a custom audience of emails extracted from your mailing system (such as a member’s list) is likely to be the cheapest form of paid advertising you will ever get.  You can use this to fill up that spa, or empty dining tables or even advertise discount coupons if required.

This is one more recent example that reinforces the importance for hospitality professionals to keep a balanced social game in play. One cannot afford to focus only on TripAdvisor and later find that your guests are moving to new methods of getting and sharing pre-travel information. With the new happenings at Google, I’d suggest keeping them in the mix as well. Thanks for playing…


10 Alternatives to TripAdvisor Connect

This is the final part of our 4-part series. Our first 3 articles focused on how TripAdvisor Connnect is likely to impact the marketing plans of independent hotels and lodging properties. Now, it’s time to look at alternatives to TripAdvisor Connect. Of course, there are many things one can do instead of placing your business at the mercy of these large behemoth companies. Here we’ll look at a few of those options.  TripAdvisor Business Listing Pricing

As we wait to learn the final details of TripAdvisor Connect, it’s interesting to see how they are currently positioning themselves. I just discovered that TripAdvisor has doubled and tripled its Business Listings in preparation for their launch of the new TripAdvisor Connect. This is what a client was recently told, “With the introduction of TripAdvisor Connect and new property specific pricing, your Business Listing price has significantly increased as of October 1st. The rise in price reflects the increase in subscription value and highly qualified traffic, which means an increase in your property’s direct bookings and revenue.” They were then directed to a pricing wizard that spits out a price based on the Trip Advisor profile of the hotel. I understand this is based on ranking and number of rooms. Find the the price of your Trip Advisor Business listing here. Surprised? The writing is on the wall, prices are going up. How will this price increase affect your lodging in property’s ROI?

So what’s an Independent Lodging Property to do?

My advice, whether you go with TripAdvisor Connect or not, is to broaden your marketing base. As OTAs and TripAdvisor struggle to increase their profits, it’s more important than ever to create a strategy that gives your hotel wide exposure with multiple online sales channels.

The goal is to refine that mix over time until it returns consistent acceptable ROI, is affordable, and doesn’t suck all of your time. The entire list would be exhaustive, but here are a few suggestions.

1. Sign up with traveler experience and review sites like, TripWolfYelp!, Many allow you to create a free listing for your hotel. So split your reviews between the ones that fit your demographic best. Ask some of your guests to provide feedback on some of these select sites, instead of Trip Advisor.
Try to sign up with This is a revolutionary, professional review site brought to us by the Travel Channel. Their team investigates, reviews and rates each hotel. If your hotel is less than honest in its advertising they will expose that, too. So proceed with caution. Is your property up to snuff?

2. Buy annual commission-free subscriptions to sites like, VRBO, or FlipKey (a TripAdvisor company). If your property fits into their business model (meaning- is your property set up so that you can advertise with a single room in mind? i.e. cabins and suites that resemble a condo experience) this can bring in excellent leads.

3. Encourage your guests to review via and/or Expedia. Guest reviews on these sites are generally seen as more credible. Unlike Trip Advisor, these reviews can only be submitted by people that have actually stayed at the hotel. Good reviews here will also advance your ranking for better conversion on actual bookings.

4. Run a promo with your OTA partner (Expedia or, etc.). Recent online development on these sites now include promotional wizards that you can set up on their Extranets and link directly to your PMS.
Run a sale and let those reservations feed into your system automatically. Some of these include:  Early booking, Minimum Stay, and Last Minute deal promotions.

5. Maximize your SEO to get found on the 1st page of Google & Bing. Obviously, the best lead for your business is one that links that guest directly to you. Approach SEO with a long-term goal of establishing a solid online presence and reputation and this will feed your hotel direct sales for many years to come. Start a Google+ Business page (Build your Google presence and gain even better SEO to drive guests to your website = no commission).

6. Register with online directories, like SuperPages and Hotfrog, that offer great exposure and valuable backlinks. Many travel-specific sites are available that achieve great position in Google for little to no money. Some examples of great local sites include, Mexican Caribbean, and Stowe Travel Guide.

7. Become active on as many social media networks as you and your staff can manage. Of course, Facebook and Twitter are vital and basic. But for hotels, focus on sites that focus strongly on photos like Pinterest and Instagram. Photos are simply the best conversion vehicles.

8. Encourage guests to review your hotel on Google Local (formerly, Google Places). Make sure that your listing is complete with lots of photos from your property.Reputation

9. Run a group promotion like LivingSocial Escapes or Groupon Getaways. If accepted, these can really give nice returns. It may seem like you’re giving away your rooms too cheaply, but understand that many of these vouchers go unused which relates to free money in your pocket.

10. Keep nurturing your Trip Advisor rank, BUT simply allow your bookings to flow through to your from your OTA partners. Yes, you pay the commission but as we’ve shown you in a previous article, this may be the better alternative. The Show Prices button sends your potential guest to your page on the OTA, where they hopefully book and then you pay the commission on an actual booking. That might be more affordable than trying to buy all those clicks!  (Con- The thing to watch here is to check that the link goes to a specific page of yours and doesn’t send them to a menu of other hotels. This can happen when/if you’re not doing business with the winning CPC bidder. Its bait and switch at its finest.)

After you’ve broadened your online presence, then it’s time to track your progress. A vital part of achieving your goals is in choosing a PMS that supports various marketing channels and allows your bookings to be tracked for accurate measurement. You will need to continuously measure and refine, but over time you will be able to see exactly which channels are paying off. You’ll need a system that allows this to be done without being labor intensive. Give me a call. I’ll be happy help you explore your options (I do not charge for initial PMS consultations).

As an e-business advisor to the hospitality and leisure industry, Social Energizer helps with the selection, integration and implementation of property management systems, online sales channels and social media networks with a special focus on independent hotels, inns, resorts, and campgrounds.

Social Energizer integrates inbound marketing techniques into each marketing plan, creates dynamic and affordable websites fully optimized for Search Enginesthen utilizes digital channels and strategies like BlogsTwitterFacebookLinkedIn, and web-integrated Email Campaigns.

Choosing a TripAdvisor Connect Internet Booking Engine


A typical Booking Engine

A prerequisite to launching a TripAdvisor Connect campaign is having an approved TripAdvisor Connect Internet Booking Engine (IBE) on your lodging property’s website. An Internet Booking Engine (IBE) allows your guests to review room and amenity details and browse availability. After they have made a choice, they are able to book directly on your site’s secure booking engine using a major credit card. This has become standard protocol in today’s online travel world, but there really is a lot more to getting a hotel functional online than just selecting an Internet Booking Engine.

Choosing only an Internet Booking Engine would be like buying only one tire for your car instead of a whole set. Not real far-sighted, right? From a hotel’s perspective, the Internet Booking Engine is just a portion of what is needed for successful online integration. A hotel or resort’s support structure should be designed to encompass all of your hotel’s goals, like an attractive, branded website, online credit card acceptance which includes PCI compliance, one or more OTA connections, and a cloud-based PMS that is mobile-optimized.

Eggs in one basketI would caution anyone from putting all of his or her eggs in the TripAdvisor basket or only one marketing partner’s basket for that matter. In these turbulent times, it’s important for properties to have long-term, multi-level plans that can easily address local and niche opportunities and provide flexibility in partnering choices. All this can be accomplished by making the right PMS choice and working outward from there.

TripAdvisor has partnered with quite a few companies that offer Internet Booking Engines to their customers. The list changes daily and can be found at TripAdvisor’s Partner Page.

TripAdvisor has 3 levels of integration from their IBE providers.

Premium Partners will include

    1. The TripConnect CPC program
    2. Review Express- which automatically sends review requests to departing guests
    3. ROI tracking- which provides Property-level tracking on the confirmation page for each hotel booking through TripAdvisor.

Plus Partners will have:

    1. The TripConnect CPC program
    2. Review Express- which automatically sends review requests to departing guests

Partners offer only the TripConnect CPC program.

Find the right PMS

Separating the wheat from the chaff is the difficult part. As you can tell by the enormous TripAdvisor Connect Partner list, finding a PMS company with an approved IBE that provides what you need for an affordable price is not an easy task. If you choose to go it alone, I suggest using Capterra’s exhaustive list as a starting point. First, select the features that are important to you and narrow your search with their filters. Choose a few and compare your needs and the user reviews. After you have a few selected, you might want to set up a demo with a sales person and have a conversation on pricing. Include the pricing of all needed interfaces in your estimate. Two interfaces you will most likely want would be a credit card merchant account with PCI compliance and a credit card gateway. These price out separately and present their own complete shopping comparison challenge. Be sure to collect a complete scenario. Use both your ‘must have’ and your ‘wish list’ and price them out. Things can change quickly in today’s turbulent marketing world and is why I recommend including your ‘wish list’ into this process. It’s important to keep your plan flexible by positioning yourself for the future and unseen contingencies.

Watch out for transaction fees and double hits

We found that some PMS companies are charging up to 3x more by use of small transaction fees placed on high-volume tasks. I call them double hits. You pay the OTA or channel partner their fees, plus you will pay the PMS company again –each time, for every transaction. I think, it’s pretty sneaky. Not all PMS companies do this. These fees really add up and can take a huge chunk out of your sales. Instead look for PMS companies that charge for set-up with a small monthly support fee for each connection. That will keep your costs under control no matter how many bookings you have each month. Or give us a call today and we’ll help you through it!

Focus on the details

I also recommend evaluating PMS systems based on the following factors: how long have they been in business? (a good system takes years to develop) where is support located? language spoken? fluency? their support hours –including weekends? their response commitment? ability to export data out to a ‘flat’ file (is it usable, or broken into several lines and columns for each reservation?), report features (does it export to a .csv file?), can you follow each transaction right into the bank? how many ‘clicks’ does it take to report on commonly-used info? Will both, the guests and staff, be able to access all parts of the site from mobile phones and tablets? What will it look like and how will it function?

Before you switch providers, ask your current provider of their plans for TripAdvisor Connect. There is a lot happening and things are changing daily. Don’t jump ship just because your provider isn’t on the list. Ask them their opinion of this new tool, they are one of your technology partners.

Finding this all too daunting of a task? Give us a call today!  Our experience and passion is in working with small independent hotels and lodging properties in North America. We operate from the hotel’s perspective, one that is customized to your unique situations. We don’t try to ‘sell’ you everything that is available online, but try to keep it lean and affordable. We don’t talk about what should be done, we help get it done.

Next week, we will look into other promotional options beyond TripAdvisor Connect. It’s always good to have other choices. This is part three of a four-part series, if you missed our other articles then you might want to check out Rolling Out TripAdvisor Connect and A Likely TripAdvisor Connect Scenario.

A Likely TripAdvisor Connect Scenario

Let’s cut through all the noise of the upcoming TripAdvisor Connect announcement with a real life example of a likely TripAdvisor Connect scenario. In last week’s post, Rolling Out TripAdvisor Connect, we dissected the FAQ posted by Trip Advisor and speculated a bit on what’s to come based on what industry insiders are discussing. What will it all mean for you?  Today, let’s dig into the details.ROI of TripAdvisor Connect

I was recently negotiating with one of TripAdvisor’s sale team while working on a client’s behalf. They kindly provided the past year’s data for the hotel. The scenario below is set-up using an approximation of that data for a feasibility study on implementing a TripAdvisor Connect campaign. So even though this article is speculative, it is based on actual data provided by TripAdvisor for a small independent hotel.

The TripAdvisor ROI Calculator reports this 10-room hotel had approximately 70,000 Pageviews annually on its Trip Advisor page and experienced an estimated click-through rate (CTR) of 5%, which is 3500. From the CTR, TripAdvisor derives the expected conversion rate (5% again) predicting the hotel will end up with 175 in annual bookings from their site. Sounds good, eh?

Each TripAdvisor Business Listing subscription is about $9-1,000 usd per year.

With the new TripAdvisor Connect program, the CPC to capitalize on all of these click-throughs, is estimated to be about $2-3 per click (industry estimate from We’ll use $2.50 each for today’s calculation. But remember the OTAs are also competing for this position, so it may actually become quite a bit higher.

ROI TripAdvisor Connect

Based on the last year’s numbers the CPC campaign would use an annual budget of $8,750.00. The business listing and CPC come to an approximate total spend of $9,750.00 and would earn an annual gross total of $31,500 (based on a $90 per night room with 2 nights each on average) for the hotel.

The TripAdvisor take is roughly ONE-THIRD of gross sales ($9,750 is 30.95 percent of $31,500). Since a large part of the click-throughs last year went to OTAs and this new tool was invented to ‘even that playing field’ a shift could occur and that number may increase substantially. And remember, this cost does not factor in website upgrades, pass-along costs from your IBE provider, etc.

It’s important to note that this small hotel actually tracked their conversions from TripAdvisor and realized only 23 bookings, not 175, as projected by TripAdvisor. That equated to about $4140 in actual sales.

What are your TripAdvisor numbers? Is your system able to track where your leads come from?  If not, do you track them manually? How much would you be willing to pay for the new CPC campaign tool from TripAdvisor? Please share your anticipated results or thoughts on this trending subject below in the comment area.

This is the second of a four-part series on the expectations of Trip Advisor Connect brought to you by Social Energizer, Independent Hotel & Lodging Marketing and Operations Integration Advisors. There’s a lot to sort out in today’s online hotel world, let us help you plan your course!

Give us a call today!

Next week I will review and compare the various Internet Booking Engine offerings. If you’re not onboard with the new TA Connect service, our final post of the series will offer ideas on positioning your property to minimize the disadvantages this may bring to the lodging industry.