The rise of the digital native

Hotelier Middle East asks Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts vice president of distribution, Heiko Siebert, about the appropriate response to user generated reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor.

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By  Administrator Published  March 15, 2008

Hotelier Middle East asks Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts vice president of distribution, Heiko Siebert, about the appropriate response to user generated reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor.

The internet has become an integral part of our everyday lives, and is used as a communication tool by everyone from businesses to indivdual citizens.

Even if I don't like the comment, or the comment is completely out of the blue there is nothing I can do about it.

For hotels an important aspect of this development is the emergence of 'social media', blogs and comment sites - anyone can say anything about their properties on the internet by commenting on one of a growing number of review blogs, the most popular of which is Tripadvisor.

Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts, vice president of distribution Heiko Siebert and his team are responsible for "everything that relates to the internet", including monitoring these sites and deciding how best to respond to them.

"We have to understand that we are moving and we have constantly to adapt to a changing market. We have to look at the internet in a different way than we used to. Everybody prior to 2005 was focusing on keeping control of the channel.

Today I believe it is not something that you can't try to control - it's impossible to control," he says.

"So every one of us has to find his own way of working with the internet and number one is acknowledging and understanding that, then spending some time on it. If I can't control this channel at least I should react to some of the parts that are appearing, and in order to react I have to identify everything that applies to me, to my brand, to my hotel, as a person potentially that is out there."

Siebert has identified a new generation of hotel guests, which have been labelled 'digital natives' or people who were born post-1980 and have grown up with the internet, whilst people born prior to that date have been labelled 'digital immigrants' who have had to come to understand the new technology.

"After 1980 that means that today those customers are today 28 and very soon they will come into positions, or are already in positions, where they can make buying decisions, not only as individuals but also as corporates," he says.

And not only that, these ‘digital natives' are hotel guests who make use of websites like Tripadvisor, using them to make both positive and negative comments after their stays at a hotel, but also to inform their choice of hotel prior to booking.

Siebert and his team have decided that a response to this challenge cannot be ordered from the top down, but is the responsibility of individual properties, even individual employees.

"This has to do a lot with understanding and acknowledging [the changes], and we encourage all properties, all employees on all different levels to have a look out there and if they find something about their hotels and about their brand, positive or negative, to react to that," he explains.

"If it is negative they have to decide how to respond, and if it is positive then there is business out there that can be captured through that channel. That is a decision that has to be made locally in each hotel for each employee because centrally it would not be manageable."

In time Siebert believes that blogs, or something similar to a blog, could replace tools like email as a means of communication and bloggers will become bookers, but at this stage Mövenpick participates in blogs and monitors comments made about its properties online.

"It is not a worry it's fact, so it's something we have to deal with. Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts identified that quite early, about two years ago, and each of our hotels has a link to its page on TripAdvisor so we give the customer the opportunity on our website to have a look at the hotel's reviews," says Siebert.

He sees this as a way of drawing attention to the issue both internally and externally, and now hotel staff have recognised that the sites exist they are able to respond appropriately.

"We encourage our hoteliers to actively respond to these comments, to embrace the feedback from the customers and also get feedback on how we can optimise our service for the guest and we also have examples that prove that a hotel with a significant or a high Tripadvisor rating can turn this into bookings."

There are many other sites, which Mövenpick tried to monitor and respond to, but TripAdvisor was chosen as "the most influential" and the one on which it was easiest to respond to negative comments.

"One of the reasons that we chose TripAdvisor to link to our website is that they allow us to respond to these reviews, so we do reply to negative comments, not always but increasingly. Other websites with customer reviews don't allow this facility. We monitor [the other sites] and try to get into contact with the guest if we can, but it's not always possible." says Siebert.

"It is something where we feel as long as we can react to the comments we are fine, but as soon as we run out of options and there's nothing we can do about it, that of course makes us vulnerable.

"It's not always easy but it's just the new way of communicating and there's nothing I can do about that. Even if I don't like the comment, or the comment is completely out of the blue there is nothing I can do about it."

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