eWilko speaks to Simon Taylor

Following on from the interview I hadwith Simon Taylor, founder of Hotel Insight, I spoke to him about his experience of the shift in consumer behaviour and how the hopitality industry is adapting.

Please could you tell me a little about yourself and what experience you have in the hospitality industry.

Hi Emily, I am the founder and editor of the Hotel Insight blog and have worked in the hospitality industry for most of my life.  Hotel Insight is about talking about industry subjects, news and opinions and interacting with others with a passion for hotels.  As well as the blog, I also offer hotels advice and consultancy on any aspect of their business – from property management, technology or even online marketing.  My past roles include product and hotel contracting for small and large tour operators, hotel inventory and yield management, hotel risk management as well as hotel technology.  I currently work for a large technology company and am responsible for all hotel product and services for the UK & Ireland.

The use of social networking has really started to develop this year. Do you think that the hospitality industry have taken advantage of this shift in behaviour or do you think there is still a resistance to reaching out to consumers in this fashion?

In my opinion, social media in changing the way any business operates and reaches out and interacts with it’s customers and is especially relevant to the hospitality industry, which is incredibly customer driven.  I think that it’s also an industry that has lived with social or online marketing channels for the longest, starting predominately with TripAdvisor.  Who hasn’t checked out their hotel on TripAdvisor before they booked or travelled?  Providing somewhere for travellers to leave their opinions and let others know what they think has become a key website for everyone and something hotels must manage. Some do, some don’t.  But naivety can really cost a hotel.  There is certainly a level of reluctance.  It can be daunting to start using Facebook or Twitter for your property.  People think it’s expensive, hard to manage or a waste of time – but they need to look at what they do, who they are serving and asking themselves if those very people use these services.  If the answers yes, then they need to be as well.

One key area in my industry is video – the power of virtual tours is immense, so I also count this in my social media speak.  You Tube channels are popping up more and more for hotel properties which is good to see.

How have you seen the hotel industry adapt to the changes social networking has provided? Do you have any examples of good and bad practise within your industry?

There are some great examples out there.  Marriott International always come up as a great example, but also look at some of the smaller independent guys out there.  I just posted actually on a hotel in Bournemouth called the Urban Beach – a unique product and I only found them by talking on Twitter.  Check out my blog for more information – they are a great example of how to get started with online marketing.

Dependant on their size, hotels can have many employees working in multiple locations with a variety of job roles. Do you think this creates a greater challenge for hotels to integrate this new way of working into the organisational structure? What barriers do they face?

It can do, but to be honest I view this as an opportunity.  For example, if your following a hotel, what do you want to hear?  That property telling you how wonderful they are?  Probably not so much.  So let your hotel staff talk through social media.  Interview your housekeeping staff, your head chef, your guest relations team… let them talk about your hotel for you.  This makes them feel included and tells the traveller extra information they can’t find on any website.

Do you have personal experience of using social networking within the hospitality industry? Can you tell me about your experiences so far and any best practise tips that could be useful for others in this industry?

Hotel Insight was started to create a talking point in the hotel industry.  To tell people what I am doing and thinking, and to interact with colleagues and people from my industry.  Blogging is a great way for anyone to do this in any industry, or on a personal level.  I also use Twitter to both publicise the blog, and to talk to people and I have to say it’s a fantastic tool.  It took me sometime to get used to Twitter, finding the best way to interact and asking myself “am I achieving anything here”?  But now, undoubtedly, it pays off – hundreds of new contacts and information gained.  I also have a Hotel Insight Facebook page, but have to admit time is preventing me from seriously getting this up to date.  I also use Foursquare and of course, I also have a Linked In profile.

As far as best practises go I can sum it up in one sentence: think about your audience, think about your product, make it relevant and most importantly, assign resource to carry it out.

Foursquare is the (relatively) new-kid-on-the-block and Facebook have recently launched Places. Do you see this as something hotels can utilise in their marketing strategy or is it just a bit of fun?

I think Foursquare is still relatively uncharted territory and certainly hotels and either wondering what it is, and if there is a benefit to them.  I use Foursquare and always “check-in” when I am at a hotel or airport etc and let my followers know.  It’s a useful tool for a hotel to track loyalty and see what people are saying.  I see more and more people getting involved with it, but the introduction of Facebook Places might take over – but only on convenience, not functionality.  We shall see!

When it comes to social media, the same question is always asked – how much money will this make me? Do you think this attitude is similar in the hotel industry? Do you think there is any way to put an exact figure on return on investment or do you think it is impossible to apply the same structure to a new way of thinking?

I get asked exactly the same question too and it’s hard to provide a clear answer on cost.  In certainly depends on the size of property or hotel chain and who they are trying to interact with.  However, I usually point out some key facts about social media which get everyone thinking…

  • Facebook tops Google for traffic (weekly) in the U.S
  • Years to reach 50 Million Users: Radio 38 Years, TV 13 Years. Internet 4 Years.  Ipod 3 Years.
  • There are over 200,000,000 blogs out there.
  • Facebook added over 200 million users in less than a year with over 60 million status updates daily.
  • If Facebook was a country it would the world’s third largest behind China and India.
  • Ashton Kucher and Britney Spears have more Twitter followers than the entire populations of Sweden, Israel, Ireland, Norway and Switzerland.
  • You Tube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world.

To read more about Hotel Insight, you can read Simon’s blog here

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