B2B spoke with Mr Charles-Henri Chevet, General Manager of Sofitel Hotels Cambodia, and Mr John Neutze, Director of Sales and Marketing at Raffles Hotels Cambodia, about how online hospitality review platforms are strengthening the Cambodian tourism industry.
TripAdvisor, the markets leading travel booking and review website conglomerate, reaches nearly 280 million unique monthly visitors, hosts more than 170 million reviews about upwards of 4 million accommodations, restaurants and attractions in 44 countries worldwide. From TripAdvisor’s outset, its no-holds-barred accounts of accommodations and restaurants were welcomed by the online travelling community. Users gained the power to challenge glossy hoteliers’ brochures through direct access to personal accounts from actual customers.
Chevet notes the advent of online review demands that customer care, before, during and after the stay, is more important than it has ever been. Neutze concurs, “In the past we knew what guests thought of us because we always surveyed and asked them. The difference now is that this information is absolutely open to the public.” For this reason, many major hotel chains, including Sofitel, email directly to recent guests encouraging them to post reviews. This way, the tourism vendor may right any wrongs prior to a review’s publication and encourage positive feedback generally.
All hospitalities managers must be vigilant of their public image; however, their control over this image is seemingly smaller than the bygone pre-user-reviews era. Alongside an onus of proof that is essentially “guilty until proven innocent”, a new tourism enterprise can crash and burn under the weight of just a few negative reviews at the outset of their business.
But travel review sites offer the industry a double edge sword.
Firstly, new tourism enterprises gain equal opportunity to expose their business alongside well-established competitors. Because online review mechanisms demand no fiscal contribution from hoteliers, a new business with small resources can quickly generate positive reviews from their first guests and establish a trading history almost immediately. Operators of Bed and Breakfasts and small capacity hotels with good ratings, for instance, will quickly earn high exposure on the reviews website regardless of their lack of experience and market share.
By demanding self-regulation, online review mechanisms also offer some substantial benefits to the hospitalities industry generally, says both Chevet and Neutze.
Through continuing and highly specific feedback, Chevet believes these review mechanisms constantly raise standards of service. A clever business will utilize these review systems to their own advantage by paying a large amount of attention to them. Chevet suggests, “If the business replies to poor reviews quickly and with sufficient care, they will improve the service offered to all customers in the long term, and limit the chance of continuing negative reviews.”
Further, these review mechanisms often highlight weaknesses in customer services and facilities that management were oblivious too. Due to the competition in the industry and the inability of businesses to be exempt from the online review sphere, to not improve these services in reply to negative reviews is an almost invalid option for any tourism vendor.
These mechanisms can also bring human resource training to the fore front of sustainable tourism business practice, as so often reviews are centred on customer service and a particular reviewer’s direct interaction with staff. This calls for continued human resource and learning and development training for all staff, an area in which both Raffles and Sofitel invest considerably.
Such transparency also encourages hospitalities businesses to consider customers wider concerns, beyond the level of service. Chevet sees an increase in tourism vendors publicly prescribing to best practice standards in environmental care and waste management, eco-tourism initiatives and standards of care for employees under their management. Social review sites can likewise highlight any Corporate Social Responsibility programs undertaken by the vendor; such as local community development projects, alliances with local and international NGOs, and charitable donations.
Because online the customer demonstrates so clearly what they value in a hotelier, the final outcome provided by the macro-industry is a mirror of this expectation: an overall higher standard of service in everything and anything that the customer wants.