Mark Twain on Hotel Brands

The Vancouver Sun newspaper reports that the UGC behemoth Tripadvisor has come out with a survey that forecasts "a nose dive in hotel brand loyalty." The TA survey of 3000 Americans found that 39 percent of travelers claim to be faithful to one hotel brand which is down from 59 percent one year ago. The Sun notes that "travel industry watchers have noted for several years that travel brand loyalty, be it to hotels, airlines or rental car agencies, has dipped.

The Sun report also qoutes a TripAdvisor spokesman who, somewhat self-servingly, speculated that the drop came in response to travelers being better informed of their options. Travelers have access to a lot more information that allows them to make savvy decisions, said the spokesman while noting the power of user-generated reviews.

If TA's prognostications are taken at face value it is the beginning of the end for hotel brands but to paraphrase Mark Twain rumors of their demise are premature. While a decline in brand loyalty was also noted by the respected technology and market research company, Forrester Research they were rightly circumspect in offering broader reasons for it saying that they "attributed the drop to several factors, including a wobbly economy."

Tripadvisor's thinly veiled gloat about brands misses the obvious point that user-generated-content can, in fact, supplement and validate a brand's pre-eminence or not. Forrester's analyst rightly notes that "(Hotel) rewards programs remain a huge factor in preserving loyalty which makes business travelers stick with a few specific brands. But when competing for travelers, it usually comes down to one simple truth for an airline or hotel, you’re only as good as your last interaction." In a downturn both airlines and hotel tend to pull back on services, consciously and not, quite obviously resulting in a decrease in brand value. An uptick in the economy, even an anemic one based on current insights, will revive brand loyalty.

Interestingly, with regard to Tripadvisor, the technology and distribution oriented travel website tnooz reports  that the Expedia subsidiary has somewhat petulantly blocked Google Places from streaming reviews from Tripadvisor. TA says that it "continues to evaluate recent changes to Google Places it believes the user does not benefit with the experience of selecting the right hotel. Tnooz notes that, at this stage only  Google Places is mentioned but the ban could extend also to Google Maps or elsewhere and that "an initial search found no TripAdvisor reviews on Google Maps".  One reason for TA's curmudegeonly behavior could be the fact that Google Places aggregates reviews from other User-generated sites some of whom could benefit from the exposure and move up the UGC totem pole and pose a real challenge to TA.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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