NB: This is a guest article by Mark Hayward, a hotel and tourism marketing specialist and freelance writer.
Are you seeking more guests for your hotel or customers for your tourism-related business?
Whether you’re a long-time user of TripAdvisor, or even if youâ€™ve just registered as an owner and begun taking advantage of the free resources available to you, such as the management response tool and the ability to upload photos, etc., you should also take full advantage of the TripAdvisor Forums.
About five years ago I purchased a defunct small hotel in the Caribbean that had no customers, no cash flow, and certainly no online existence or marketing presence.
With a hefty monthly mortgage payment to meet, I set to work learning everything I could about creating a comprehensive social media footprint for my newly acquired business.
A good part of my social connection strategy – in combination with blogging, creating photo and video media, and email marketing – has included answering questions and consistently being active in travel forums.
Over the years my forum efforts have been unquestionably rewarded with an increase in lodging inquiries and paying customers. Perhaps, even better, many arriving guests comment on the fact that, due to our online interaction, they felt like they already “knew” us.
Consistently engaging with travelers online is a key to success, and forums are a great place to begin interacting with potential guests online.
Forum success requires a consistent long-term strategy
Whether you own a six-room B&B or a 1,000-room mega resort, being active on TripAdvisorâ€™s destination forums is a great way to develop your reputation and cultivate relationships with potential guests and returning visitors.
Be aware, however, that online communities are like any real-world social situation – you canâ€™t just show up there as an unannounced guest, post a spammy announcement, and then expect to be taken seriously.
This would also be against TripAdvisorâ€™s policies. Instead, your focus should be on building strong relationships that indirectly drive business.
Building trust within forum communities is a time-consuming process and is generally determined by how long youâ€™ve been a member and the value youâ€™ve provided.
For the best results, spend at least a couple of weeks (or preferably a couple of months) helping, engaging, and supporting fellow forum members.
Being an ambassador for your business and a regional expert works best when you approach it in the spirit of truly wanting to educate and help the consumer.
The act of gaining member trust has to be done well before you can build strong relationships with potential guests; otherwise, youâ€™ll be seen as a troll or as someone whoâ€™s just spamming the community.
Six tips for driving more business with destination forums
Travelers who are planning to journey to a particular location for the first time, be it for work or pleasure, have innumerable questions about what to do, where to eat, and where to stay.
Most will use the Internet for conducting their destination research and many will come to TripAdvisor seeking accurate and current answers for their queries. Simply stated, community members want to hear your expert voice.
Below are six tips that will help you to drive more business by actively participating in the destination forums.
1. Start slowly
As mentioned above, if you were attending a cocktail party with 5,000 people you had never met before, you wouldnâ€™t typically run around trying to introduce yourself to everyone in the first ten minutes.
To be sure, you would enter the gathering and ease yourself into conversation by gracefully making your way around the room. Likewise, as a new member to an online forum, you want community members to get comfortable with your presence as you begin to develop your reputation.
If you are going to be participating in the TripAdvisor destination forums for the first time start off slowly by answering one or two questions per day for the first few weeks, get your post count up, and build your expertise with a gradual consistency.
2. Always be transparent
If you glean one kernel of wisdom from this article let it be the following statement: In an online world trust is everything.
Would you patronize a restaurant or stay at a hotel if you did not trust the reputation of the staff and management? Whether you are participating in TripAdvisorâ€™s forums or another online travel community, you want to be as transparent as possible with the members.
Specifically, if you own a tourism-related venture, make sure that you brand your profile with the name of your business, or where appropriate, include a disclaimer in your responses that lets individuals know who you are and what you do.
Forum participants will appreciate your honesty and willingness to be upfront as you work to engage members and cultivate relationships.
3. Donâ€™t sell, but educate
When travelers search online for destination information they are attentive, eager, and readily want to hear the most current and reliable input from you the “expert”.
Thankfully, TripAdvisor has largely done the work for you by creating highly visited, niche destination forums for most locations throughout the world. The destination forums provide a convenient online space where you can interact with community members as they work to plan an amazing vacation or successful business trip.
With regard to your business, if you are hoping to gain more guests by participating in forums, there is an Internet marketing philosophy that stresses being helpful and teaching over strictly selling your services.
When building trust and interacting online, striving to educate visitors who are researching your destination in a non-spammy manner is exactly what your efforts should entail. On the surface this methodology appears to be more work than just posting “stay at my hotel” or “eat at my restaurant”.
However, by building relationships and developing your reputation, via being helpful and answering questions, potential customers will become genuinely interested in who you are and what your business is about.
Adding value and being helpful pays off in customer loyalty in the long term.
4. Maintain consistency
People today have more stimuli vying for their attention than ever before, and in this hyper-connected world attention spans are decreasing.
When considering online forums as a means of building your social media footprint and connecting with travelers, you need to have a long-term mindset and a consistent approach.
Make it a habit to check your preferred online communities on a daily basis and take note of the times when activity seems to be at its highest.
Additionally, it can be easy to allow forum participation to become a major time commitment with minutes easily turning into hours.
Plan on targeting approximately fifteen minutes to half an hour in the morning and in the afternoon or evening every day to check on threads and respond to questions as needed.
5. Donâ€™t participate in flame wars
TripAdvisor does a good job of moderating their destination forums but occasionally in online communities you may encounter people who are argumentative.
When you see this type of interaction developing avoid being drawn into this negativity. The best thing to do is to keep your correspondence polite, professional, and non-confrontational and perhaps inform the forum moderators.
You are much better off putting your energy and limited time into assisting forum participants who are sincerely seeking your knowledge and assistance.
6. Does it pass the New York Times “test”?
A golden rule that you should follow with all online interaction is to ask yourself if you would be comfortable, if for some reason, whatever youâ€™re getting ready to post suddenly appeared on the front page of the New York Times.
If you can answer yes, and are comfortable with what youâ€™ve written, then chances are it passes the test. Keep in mind, everything you write, post, or publish online is a direct reflection of your business and it will affect traveler perception.
With the above-mentioned tips, all thatâ€™s required now is for you to take action and become an active community member. Remember that using destination forums to grow your tourism business is about giving, helping, and providing real value.
NB:Â This is a guest article byÂ Mark Hayward, a hotel and tourism marketing specialist and freelance writer.
NB2: Disclosure – Hayward authors guest articles for TripAdvisor and he remains the owner of a small hotel in the Caribbean.