Friends and family most influential for hotel, TripAdvisor catches up but apparently social media nowhere

Hotel guests still rely heavily on recommendations from friends and family, but the impact of social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter is negligible.

Or so World Independent Hotels Promotion (WIHP) found in a recent survey of almost of almost 20,000 guests during the second quarter of 2012, asking them how they heard about a hotel.

The study was carried out OFFLINE – an important consideration as many surveys are often produced over the web, so more often than not the results are skewed towards those that actively use the internet.

The “other” in the study is probably where search engines figure.

WIHP ran a similar survey last year, so while the differences aren’t huge they are interesting in terms of what remains a low factor.

Here’s a table giving a comparison to the same data from the previous year.

Channel20112012% change
Friends and family24.1%22.9%down 1.2%
Online travel agencies20.2%20.7%up 0.5%
TripAdvisor16%18.2%up 2.2%
Other17.2%17%down 0.2%
Repeat guests11.8%12.3%up 0.5%
Travel agent2.7%3.1%up 0.4%
Magazine/newspaper2.1%2%down 0.1%
Facebook2%1.6%down 0.4%
Blog2.7%1.5%down 1.2%
Travel guide1%0.5%down 0.5%
Twitter0.1%0.2%up 0.1%

The biggest change year-on-year is TripAdvisor, which increased by 2.2% and has moved up to third position from fourth place in 2011.

But, as Martin Soler, marketing director of WIHP, claims, social media “isn’t winning at this race”. This, he claims, points to the “low level of ROI” on social media marketing.

WIHP believes social media is not a good marketing tool, but serves well as a “great public relations tool”, meaning hotels must use it primarily as a channel to communicate to customers and potential guests.

But what makes for a good headline might also be illustrating where there is an increased blurring of the lines between what is seen as the influence of pure-play social media and how it effects “normal” (and offline) conversations and purchasing decisions.

Friends and family might be losing and social media gaining some of their respective influence as channels in the survey y/y, but discussing a recent hotel stay within a personal social network (such as Facebook) is also probably recorded in the minds of others but not necessarily as being considered as the trigger for research further down the line.

At that, annoyingly for marketers, is what makes social media so tricky to measure and, inevitably, often justify back upstairs to the board members in the leather chairs or bean counters in the accounting department.

NB: Hotel welcome image via Shutterstock.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. Adele Gutman

    Great article! One thing to keep in mind when considering this is that there is a blurred line between Social Media and Friends and Family, the top influencer. A lot of the inspiration I have for future trips does come from friends and family but that is only because they are sharing their photos and experiences with me (and many more) on facebook. The circle of people who share their travel experiences with me is much wider due to social media, and the scope and depth of information I have about their trip is far more than I could before social media. As a hotelier, I do consider PR an important part of marketing, but I don’t spend money on that platform but I do invest my time. I simply consider it in my best interest to do all that I can to promote social media sharing, thereby strengthening the demand for the hotels that comprise the Library Hotel Collection.

    • Martin Soler

      You are totally right, I mentioned that in my original article, a guest who heard about a hotel because a friend shared it on their wall will most likely say they heard about it from a friend. And in your case, one can say the incredible service of Library Hotel Collection hotels is part of the marketing strategy because it get’s word of mouth going. There is an extremely blurry definition of marketing that would include everything from service, hiring, cleaning, decoration etc. We prefer to separate them as it helps hoteliers understand what they need to do internally and what their marketing agency should do.

  2. Disarm Doors

    Am a tad puzzled by WIHP belief that “social media is not a good marketing tool, but serves well as a ‘great public relations tool’, meaning hotels must use it primarily as a channel to communicate to customers and potential guests.”…how is that not ‘marketing’?

    I can’t help but think that a fair chunk of “Friends and Family” might actually mean “Facebook”…any chance we can see the actual survey?

    • Martin Soler

      @disarmdoors see more about this on our magazine. Marketing is about selling a product. Selling your product on a social media channel just isn’t going to go down so well. However increasing goodwill does. I wrote an article about this together with Phil Butler some time ago on SEJ.

      • Disarm Doors

        Thanks for your response, Martin, but I respectfully disagree.

        Marketing isn’t just about “selling” a product. Advertising is.

        Purely seeing Social Media as an advertising platform is a very narrow view…and not one I imagine too many marketers hold. Interrupting conversations with purely commercial/selling messages is kind of “What not to do on social media 1.01”. So, perhaps we agree there.

        But marketing is about telling stories, building emotional connections and brand values, relationships, and developing a community of engaged brand advocates. Perhaps this is what the article refers to as “public relations”.

        Social Media, if “done” thoughtfully as part of your broader marketing strategy (let’s not forget it’s just a platform/channel) provides a potent force for this.

        That’s my two cents.

        • Martin Soler

          You are totally right about how to create a social media strategy. Unfortunately too many are looking for a quick ROI through that channel which they aren’t seeing, and that’s mainly because they look at it as an advertising platform.

  3. antoinegrillon

    Good clarification Kevin regarding the difference between a headline and the definition of “social media” and the blurring of the lines.

    A few points to consider when discussing Facebook vs. OTAs vs. Tripadvisor etc…:
    – On Tripadvisor, the Instant Personalization feature allows for users to automatically see hotels recommended by their friends and friends of their friends (via Facebook Likes and Check-ins) instead of top-rated properties for a certain destination –> Is then Facebook or Tripadvisor getting the “How did you find this hotel” race?
    – 72.9% of travelers will search for a property on search engines once they have made their short-list of hotels (via Tripadvisor, OTAs, friends, etc…). Many branded search engines results include the property website but also OTAs when a proper SEO optimization and engagement would instead allow for social media profiles to rank, effectively pushing OTAs links down. The chance that the reservation is made on a property website vs. paying a commission to an OTA is then much higher –> Who’s winning then?

    Those two examples show how the definition of “social media”, and the way we look at it, can greatly mislead properties looking at the efficiency of it. Interactions between individuals are considered true social activities and reviews / forums fall into that category. In that sense, the value of social cannot be undervalued and Tripadvisor should be considered as a social media channel (even OTAs!).

    I feel that there is a great focus on “social media” as a platform or channel vs. having an integrated and strategic aspects to such things. Take the example of the new Facebook ad exchange options (Ad retargeting and Custom Audience ads). Is “social media” inefficient in that case, when the ad is being displayed in Facebook and driving a positive Return On Investment?

    It is time to start having a real integrated approach to business and effectively look at it from an Owned, Paid and Earned perspective, instead of playing the life-long game of who’s the best. As long as we will look at “social media” as being a simple acquisition channel (eg. equals Facebook, Twitter), Social as a discipline will be depreciated, undervalued and misleading hoteliers.

    • Martin Soler

      Antoine, you are so right about that. The problem with “social media” is that too many have tried to advertise it as a quick and cheap advertising solution, which it is not. In the same way as many have tried to use it as a cheap advertising solution. Those are just wrong uses.
      Social media is efficient. In fact it’s one of the best ways to communicate, interact, get people to share your hotel. As I write in my article, who knows how many of those “friends and family” shared the info over a social media channel.
      As you say social media needs to be used as an integrated whole and not a platform to try and advertise.


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