So many technological innovations these days put the power in the hands of the consumer and the service recipient. Gone are the days when the occasional peed-off customer would only tell a few friends (and what did that really matter, in the grand scheme of things), but now they can broadcast to wide audiences with a few taps of the smartphone in their pocket.
Businesses large and small, politicians, film stars, musicians, charities are all at the mercy of the Twitter-stream and the fact that the largest organisations have dedicated ‘social media teams’ is testament to the force this has unleashed.
Hospitality is no different. OK, so an independent hotel in a small town may not have the same to fear from Twitter – it’s only the household names that really end up facing the PR nightmare of a temporary hashtag #headsneedtoroll with 30,000 people joining in the clamour. But the influence of reviews websites, particularly TripAdvisor, is undeniable even for the smallest B&B.
Most savvy holidaymakers these days will find their hotel on a holiday search engine, and then they’ll go straight to TripAdvisor not only to read the reviews of recent guests, but to see if those guests’ photos of the place are anything like the professionally-taken ones the operator has posted on their own website. Re-touch merchants, beware!
Until now, TripAdvisor has seemingly occupied a passive territory, a mere platform for guests to vent or praise. But this week it stepped firmly into an active role, by announcing the launch of its ‘Exceptional Service Awards’ – effectively an editorial endorsement of some of the best hotels and restaurants out there. The awards will be given to specific employees who have been nominated by website visitors for – you guessed it – exceptional service.
Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor, said: “Hospitality professionals can be the difference-maker between what makes a trip simply good or absolutely amazing, and TripAdvisor wants to help shine a spotlight on those who do it best. The Exceptional Service Awards are a way for our travellers to publicly recognise and celebrate hospitality professionals who went the extra mile to make guests feel special.”
This sounds rather like the website is setting itself up as the ultimate accolade: awards by guests and customers, rather than by hospitality trade magazine journalists. The sheer democracy of the thing means that hotels and restaurants are under more pressure than ever to make that guest experiences sing.