Inside Yelp – how should hoteliers manage their online reputation? [interview]

Yelp LogoA few weeks ago I learnt that someone I’ve had the pleasure of knowing over the last few years through EyeForTravel, has moved roles and joined a company that’s always intrigued me – Yelp.  Rosie Akenhead had a key role in organising many of the EyeForTravel events, including the fantastic Travel Distribution Summit, from which so many stories have been derived for my blog.  I was keen to talk to Rosie about her new role and get an insiders view of Yelp to see what I could learn from the experts about how hoteliers should be working with Yelp and managing their online reputation.

I’m sure you have already heard of, or even use, Yelp.  But by way of background, Yelp is one of the biggest consumer review and recommendation sites on the internet, with an average of 108 Million unique monthly visitors and a total of 42 million local reviews contributed as of the end of Q2 2013.  Founded in 2004 in San Francisco to help people find great local businesses, Yelp provides a platform on which to share what’s, good, great and not-so great about local businesses – from hotels, restaurants, shops and local services to spas, mechanics, pet groomers and health professionals. The following transcript is an interview with Rosie Akenhead, Manager of Local Business Outreach, UK,  who shares with us some key tips for hoteliers looking to navigate the online world of reviews

Q: Tell us more about Yelp

A: Yelp, in a nutshell, is a site and mobile application that connects people with great local businesses – anything from hotels, restaurants, bars and spas to dog groomers, mechanics, even dentists!

The Yelp community is made up of engaged locals who connect online and off, to share their opinions about local businesses, and have written more than 42 million rich, local reviews to date. With an average of 108 million monthly unique visitors in Q2 2013, Yelp is the leading local guide for word-of-mouth recommendations.

This video from the owners of Avo Hotel in Dalston, London, helps explain how businesses fit into the mix at Yelp:

Q: Tell us about your new role, and what your objectives are as you begin working for the company.

A: I’m the Manager of Local Business Outreach for Yelp here in the UK and Ireland.  In plain English, that means I help educate local businesses, including hotels, about how to use the free suite of tools Yelp provides business owners, and how to manage their reputation online.

Yelp ImageQ:Did you use Yelp before you started your role, if so, what were your primary uses?

A: I did indeed.  Before Yelp, I was working for a travel trade publication, so I was always using it as a resource for good local businesses to test out when I was in a place I didn’t know so well. What’s different now? I use it all the time to wow friends and family with my great choice of cool hangouts and suggestions of places to check out right in my backyard!  It hasn’t let me down yet.

Even before I took the job at Yelp, I mainly posted reviews where I had an ‘average’ to ‘great’ experience and wanted to share it with others. I think that feeling must resonate with other reviewers, since nearly 80% of our reviews are three stars or above on a five star scale (a fact which certainly surprises most hoteliers).

Q: How strong and how widely used is Yelp in the UK?  Strongest markets?

A: Yelp was born and bred in San Francisco, USA.  We now have people working for Yelp in over 100 cities in 22 countries across the world.  We have Community Managers in 7 cities in the UK and Ireland (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin) whose role it is to interact with Yelp users and business owners in that city, and provide opportunities to connect them to each other.

With the acquisition of our European competitor, Qype, last year, Yelp’s presence on this side of the pond is going from strength to strength as we move forward with integrating the two companies to create a single platform under the Yelp brand. We’re seeing consistent growth in all our European communities.

Q: Hotels are forever being told they have to manage online reputation – how does this fit with Yelp?

A: Having worked in travel and hospitality for four years prior to my time at Yelp, I know for certain that hoteliers already know that that they need to manage their online reputation. That’s obvious. Most have made efforts to better monitor their presence online in one way or another. Yelp is a key place for hoteliers to have a presence, and this can be done relatively quickly and free of charge.

The guidelines that we set out for businesses are to a) make sure you claim your listing, b) fill out your profile and c) make sure you take the time to respond to reviews either privately or publicly.

Managing your reputation online starts with ensuring consumers can find the right information about you, wherever they look. The conversations you then have with those consumers helps build their trust and awareness of your hotel. Consumers are already looking for local businesses on Yelp, and research has shown that the information they find drives them to a purchase decision, so hoteliers need to make sure they are a viable option when they are searching in their hotel’s area by claiming their page and making sure the information is up to date, correct and complete.

I’d say one of the best steps for hoteliers to make is to respond to reviews (which you can do privately or publicly on Yelp) and start conversations with customers past, present and future.

Q: What steps should a hotelier take to have visibility of their content on Yelp, and how should they go about managing their reputation?  Are there costs?

A: As mentioned previously, the first step really should be claiming their business page on Yelp. It only takes a few minutes to claim the page and set up an account and is completely free (honestly, it is, no catches).

I always say to people, you need to claim your Yelp listing! All it means is you are optimising a channel whereby a different set of educated, affluent customers can find you and do business with you directly. Having a listing with photos, full contact information including your website and telephone number, is an easy way to improve the number of people doing business with you.

Yelp Image 2Q: Is a hotel automatically included in search results of Yelp, or does the hotel need to add themselves to your service?

A: Most hotels are already listed on Yelp, and if a hotel is not listed, it is a very simple and quick process to add the business from the Yelp mobile app or the website. To check, simply type in your business name and location at www.yelp.co.uk. Once created, the place to claim and set-up your business account is here: www.biz.yelp.co.uk

Most people are quite surprised to find that their business is already listed, has reviews and that people are viewing that page every day.

Q: Can you give us some stats please?

A: On top of the 108 Million unique visitors to Yelp every month and the 42 Million reviews submitted to date, it is also worth noting that our mobile app is used on 10.4 million unique mobile devices every month, and every second a consumer generates directions to or calls a local business from the Yelp app.

Also, 59% of all searches on Yelp came from mobile web or our mobile app combined, highlighting further just how many people are searching for information whilst on the move. What does this mean for hoteliers? People are looking for instant information, instant resources and a place to stay and spend money.  if they can’t find it, they’ll turn somewhere else.

Q: Will Yelp look at becoming a hotel booking application in the future?

A: I think it’s important to initially state that Yelp is, first and foremost, always about the customer’’s experience.  We seek to show them authentic, honestly reviewed local businesses which they can trust, and that remains core to Yelp’s DNA.

We do have an API facility available for hoteliers.  This can be implemented in a number of ways from within your own website or mobile app to help highlight the great local businesses in the vicinity of your hotel, whether that be restaurants, shopping districts, services or the nearest theatre box office.

We’re always looking to improve the consumer experience and make Yelp as helpful as possible, so keep an eye out for future updates!

Many thanks to Rosie for sharing with us just how hoteliers can manage their online reputation with Yelp and some great stats.

If you have any questions or comments, please do leave them at the end of this post.

The Trivago webinar – What did you think?

On 30th October I wrote a post about Trivago and more specifically the fact that they were reaching out to hoteliers and offering a webinar to explain how the company works and offer tips on how to represent their hotel effectively on the website.  This post proved incredibly popular and today, the webinar took place.  I caught up with Helena, Hotel Relations UK & Ireland for Trivago about how the session went and asked her to summarise the key takeaway points for anyone who couldn’t attend:

“The first in this series of Trivago webinars went really well. We had a very good attendance with hoteliers from both independent hotels and chains getting involved. It was a great opportunity for them to learn how to use the Hotel Gateway and how to represent their hotel most effectively to trivago’s 20 million monthly visitors.  After demonstrating the key functions of the service, I gave advice on what type of photos to add for the best impact and how to respond to customer reviews to show off an open attitude and dedication to customer service. Some important points to take away from the webinar are:

  • Make sure your listing is complete, with comprehensive information, a well-written description and at least 10 high quality photos
  • Encourage guests to review your hotel on Trivago and always respond to reviews as they come in
  • Always ensure your listing is up to date
  • Make sure you have uploaded a main photo and match it to the season if you can!

As this was the first webinar, it has been great to receive such positive feedback and I’m really looking forward to hosting our next one next month. Our next webinar will take place on Wednesday 12th December at 11am GMT and the topic will be “Managing Your Online Reputation”. Anyone wishing to attend can register free by clicking here “.

If you missed the session, the full presentation can be found by clicking the image below.

I think this is a really good initiative from Trivago to help hoteliers improve their online profile.  There is still a huge amount of confusion around this topic and how you can improve what’s being displayed about your hotel.  Many of these points are transparent to other OTA’s and serve as a good baseline to consider when you want to control how your being represented online.

If any hoteliers reading would like to contact Trivago, they should email:  hotelier-uk@trivago.com   – if anyone attended the webinar, please leave a comment on this post and tell us what you thought.  Did it help?  What did you learn?  Do share your thoughts with us.

Worried about how to optimse your hotel on OTA websites? Trivago offer a helping hand

I was interested to hear that Trivago, the  largest hotel price comparison and information website, will be holding a webinar for hoteliers to introduce the ‘Trivago Hotel Gateway’ and give an insight into how a hotelier can optimise their online presence.  I found this particularly interesting as I’m often asked how a hotel can control, change and  improve their reputation and increase bookings on OTA websites such as Trivago.  Hoteliers often feel powerless to change content that OTA’s are displaying and are desperate for a way to do so more easily, so I think it’s a great idea for Trivago to start such an initiative.

Put simply, the premise of this webinar is to invite hoteliers , both from small independent properties and hotel chains, to attend an online seminar to equip them with the knowledge needed to optimise their hotel’s listing on the Trivago, covering the main functions of the ‘Hotel Gateway’ portal, such as uploading new photos, writing a description of the hotel and responding to a customer review.

Trivago attract over 18 million unique visitors to per month so you can see just how important it is for a hotel to ensure that they’re giving the best representation and perception of their property as possible.  The webinar will also include information on the importance of having a comprehensive and up-to-date listing in order to attract customers and the importance of online reputation and how a hotelier can monitor and improve it on Trivago.

Of course, this may be a Trivago initiative, but much of the information that will be given I am sure will apply to multiple OTA’s so this is a real opportunity for you to gain a greater understanding of how this part of hotel distribution works and what you can actively do to help your property shine amongst so many hotel results.

This event takes place on the morning of the 7th November and you can register for free by clicking here.

Over the last few years, Trivago have really grown and become one of Europe’s most well-known online travel brands.  You may have seen their recent TV campaigns (show below) as the company really try and grow their name against the established names of Booking.com and Expedia.

Trivago is a pure search engine – they don’t actually sell anything – in my view, they aggregate hotel content from different sources, combine the result sin a powerful search tool and they direct you to the best place to make the booking.  They only show prices that hotels offer on the own websites or third part booking websites are already charging if you visited them directly, Trivago purely bring all of this together.  Trivago make their money with a kind of advertising fee, and are proud to say that they do not offer any promotional space – they stay independent (a real key selling point for the travel shopper, if you ask me).  Clearly the technology strategy that Trivago have in place has to be highly sophisticated – with prices changing every minute and room rates and availability varying from day to day its a tough business to be in, so I’m hoping that this webinar enlightens us a little more on how they are doing this effectively.  What we do know is that Trivago’s live search tools scans over a hundred different hotel booking sites for information (prices, availability, images, reviews etc.) within seconds.  Here’s the impressive stats – With close to a million searches a day, Trivago classifies, structures and compares roughly 5 billion hotel deals a day.

For those who can’t attend but are interested in this initiative, Hotel Insight will be in attendance and will report the key takeaways on this blog.

ReviewPro Releases Global Review Index™ Top Hotel Rankings for UK Cities

A company that I admire a great deal, ReviewPro, have this week released their Global Review Index Top Hotel Rankings some of Britain’s busiest hotel cities, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle and Oxford.  ReviewPro are a leading provider of online reputation and social media management solutions to the hotel industry who aggregate hundreds of millions of social media mentions from hundreds of the most relevant Online Travel Agencies, review websites and social media platforms.  If you’ve not taken a look at the service ReviewPro can provide your hotel, then you really should.  In my opinion, they are by far the market leader in this field and are truly experts in reputation management.  ReviewPro provides the analysis, customer intelligence, competitive benchmarking and automated reporting needed to help hoteliers more effectively manage their online reputation.

The Top Hotel Rankings are based on the Global Review Index, a benchmark for guest satisfaction in the hotel industry that is calculated with guest review scores from hundreds of the most relevant Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and review sites worldwide.

In London, The Halkin took the #1 spot in the ranking, followed by Hotel 41 and The Milestone Hotel. The Chester Residence (Edinburgh), Hotel Indigo (Glasgow), Posh Pads at The Casartelli (Liverpool), Velvet Hotel (Manchester), Staybrigde Suites Newcastle (Newcastle upon Tyne) and The Old Bank Hotel (Oxford) took the number one spots in the other UK cities in this ranking.

ReviewPro CEO RJ Friedlander says: “We have released similar rankings in several European and North American cities over the last year, and feedback from individual hotels, chains and industry experts has been amazing.  We are excited to expand these powerful rankings at this key time for the UK hotel sector, when all eyes are on London in the run up to the Olympics.”

Originally piloted in 2011, these B2B rankings are calculated based on guest reviews from more than one hundred of the most relevant review sites and online travel agencies (OTA) and evaluate reviews for 3, 4 and 5 star hotels over the course of a 12-month period. The ranking are based on the Global Review Index, a proprietary algorithm developed by ReviewPro in conjunction with leading hotel industry experts.  It enables hotels to know their current quality score, track their performance over time and compare their online reputation to their competitors or to other hotels within their chain with a single index.

Thousands of hotels in more than 70 countries, including some of the most recognized hotel brands in the world, rely on ReviewPro to better understand and improve guest satisfaction and to profit from the social web. Clients include Alila Hotels & Resorts, the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Cavendish London, Citizen M Hotels, Concorde Hotels & Resorts, Corinthia Hotels, Epoque Hotels, Hotel Bel-Air, 1895 Historic Hotels, Hotusa Hotels, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, Louvre Hotels Group, Melià Hotels International, Millennium Hotels & Resorts, Occidental Hotels & Resorts, the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, the Roger Smith Hotel and Swiss-Belhotel International.

Everything you need to know about Pinterest [Infographic]

I’m a big fan of Pinterest. You can check out (and of course follow) my Hotel Insight Pinterest Boards by clicking here.  But for those who want to know exactly how Pinterest works and if it’s a social channel that your hotel should be present in, take a look at this infographic, courtesy of TechCrunch.

Aloft Hotels utilise technology and introduce ‘Smart Check-In’ service

You may remember in a previous post, that I was talking about how hotels needs to start using technology in their properties for the benefit of guests, to speed up or improve current processes.  In the UK, Premier Inn have by far optimised technology the fastest, introducing self-check in services at some of their properties, which especially work well with their budget business model.  Of course, this also helps their running costs, removing the need to numerous check-in staff in busy city centre hotels and enables guests to retrieve their reservation and be issued with a key card and invoice.  However, other than this example, you struggle to see good examples in the UK of technology being utilised by hotels.

I was interested to read that Aloft, part of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts, have introduced a “Smart Check-In” service to it’s brand, starting off with four properties in the United States.  It’s a very simple process, but perfect to avoid lengthy check-in queues, or for those times where you simpy, want to go to your room as quickly as possible and relax.

So how does it work?

On the day of your arrival at any participating Aloft hotel, you will be sent a message to your mobile device with your room number.  When you arrive you can bypass the front desk and proceed directly to your room where you can just touch and hold your Aloft brand SPG card to the door lock and the door will unlock.  Any costs incurred during your stay will be charged to the credit card used to book the original reservation.

“With your Aloft brand SPG card, you will be able to take advantage of one of the easiest and fastest check-in experiences ever offered in the hotel industry. You will no longer need to check in at the front desk or kiosk when you arrive, but still enjoy full access to the front desk throughout your stay”.

I really like this idea – very simple and a very streamlined process.  When you think about our processes in the hotel indsutry, we are still very old fashioned in our approach and traditional in our method.  In particular, if I make a booking with a hotel chain that I am a loyalty member of, that hotel chain already have all the information they need about me.  Name, address, contact details, past booking information – I’ve also either pre-paid the booking, or used my credit card to guarantee the reservation, depending on the channel used to make the booking.  So in theory, I do not need to fill in a form at the front desk, as I have to on every single occasion I stay in hotels. 

Hotels need to ensure they are moving with the times and not only making the best use of technology, but providing guests with options outside of the usual norm – options they are already experiencing (and have been for some time) in other travel sectors.  Airlines particularly lead the way with online check-in, self-service check in and bag drops at airports and mobile enabled boarding passes. 

It will be interesting to see how this trial goes and if Starwood Hotels & Resorts spread this to their other brands in the future.

The Athenaeum teams up with ‘The Boy Who Bakes’ to create The Pudding Parlour

I was recently invited to sample the newly created Pudding Parlour at The Athenaeum hotel in London.  This follows on very nicely from Rachel’s recent post about adding extra revenues to your hotels balance sheet, with this being a prime example of making use of the space you have available at your property and attracting guests in a unique way.

The concept is simple.  Ever really fancied something sweet or indulgent in the evening and not known where to go?  My own prime example is after a trip to the theatre.  It’s too early to give up on the night and hit the sack, but you don’t want a heavy meal, just something sweet.  This is where the idea has come from, and The Athenaeum created the Pudding Parlour to meet this need.

Each month Edd Kimber, baker of the minute and winner of The Great British Bake-Off 2010, will add a new and special ʻPudding Of The Monthʼ to the menu.  The Pudding Parlour at the Athenaeum will be open every evening except on Sundays in the Athenaeumʼs Garden Room.  The menu will consist of an ever-changing array of treats, cakes and tarts made by the hotelʼs French pastry chef and her team as well as a very special ʻPudding Of The Monthʼ by The Boy Who Bakes.  To accompany the exquisite puddings an extensive menu of delicious pudding wines is on offer, all of which have been selected specifically to compliment the puddings being served.

The Boy Who Bakesʼ ʻPudding Of The Monthʼ will be; Plum/Damson Almondine (October), Deliciously Creamy Curd Tart (November) Traditional Home Made Mince Pies (December) Apple and Pecan Tart (January) and White Chocolate & Matcha Mousse (February).  There is also the chance to buy special signed copies of ‘The Boy Who Bakesʼ to take away as a souvenir.

I know what my regular readers will be thinking.  I get all the best jobs, right?  Well, I do feel very lucky to have discovered this, and wanted to share the experience with you.  For someone who is a foodie like me, and with a love of hotels being innovative and thinking outside the box, it’s the perfect combination and certainly a very tasty and enjoyable one too!  You’ll be pleased to hear that I was restrained and did limit myself to just two puddings, opting for a delicious macaroon and then one of the most delicious Rhubarb crumbles I’ve ever tasted.

Undoubtedly, this is a very clever way to promote the hotel.  Coming up with ideas like this is often the hard part, but if you think logically, these kinds of concepts can easily fall into place.  It’s actually taking the words right from Rachel’s post – knowing and understanding your own backyard really is crucial.  Rachel has this spot on and it’s the key weakness that most hotels have.  You can take the Athenaeum as a perfect example of a hotel doing this perfectly.  They are very conveniently located in Mayfair right around the corner from the West-End with a passing footfall of theatre goers.  They also have an elegant yet relaxing area where afternoon tea’s are served, but like most such areas in busy city hotels, they see this area of the property really quiet down after 9pm, leaving an underused resource (especially as the property has a separate Whisky bar!).

So it can be as simple as that – finding a need and matching it to the space in your hotel can be a great way to raise awareness of your property and of course bring in that much converted extra revenue.  One piece of advice – don’t over price.  The Athenaeum have understood this perfectly, and set their pricing at just £10 per visit, £15 including a glass of Pudding Wine.  Set too high (no matter how luxurious your property is) and you’ll get nothing but an empty room once the initial buzz has dies down.

So if you find yourself in London and fancy a late night sweet treat or a post-theatre bite, give the Pudding Parlour at the Athenaeum a try.  You won’t be disappointed.