Social Media & The Indian Hospitality Industry

After the eCommerce bug bit aviation, OTA’s and airline ticketing aggregators like MMT, Yatra & Travelocity went ballistic, in a span of less than half a decade aviation ticketing had become the single most revenue driven activity on the internet, pretty much nothing came close. Post this era however, the internet landscape is panning out to be much more than just a play ground for OTA’s & Airlines.

While this revolution was taking place something else was brewing the background at a much larger scale. Till not too long back Orkut was an intrinsic component of this new development, but before anyone could take notice Twitter and Facebook had ensured that Orkut was no longer in the picture, all of this in a couple of years.

Having managed the eCommerce & digital marketing operations at a group level for a chain of hotels, I have had to opportunity to understand the shifts and trends to the dynamics in digital marketing at a micro level as far as the hospitality sector is concerned.

A majority of hotel groups until 3 or 4 years ago, really cared only about room sales through the GDS and OTA’s, they never really bothered about anything other than the booking engine system on their respective website’s, this they thought was enough to capture the internet audience thanks to a limited understanding of user behavior on the internet and the lack of any sort of far-sight on their end.

Having said that, it is very difficult to blame hoteliers entirely; hospitality is undisputedly the most complicated vertical as far as the service sector is concerned.  Major reasons that contribute to this complexity are:

a.       Extremely Human resource intensive

b.      Extensive Inter-operational dependencies

c.       Extremely finicky clientele

d.      Capital Intensive business structure.

e.      Extent of localization is huge

This being the case any changes that need to be adapted in terms of a marketing approach or strategy take ions if not ages to adapt.

Coming back to the point when TripAdvisor launched India operations in Aug. 2008, the hospitality industry was still waiting for OTA’s and Aggregators to do an encore of what they seemed to be able to manage with the aviation world. This in my opinion was the defining moment as far as entry of travel social media in India was concerned. 08 went by 09 went by too and in 2010 when the hospitality giants awoke to realize that social media is a place they needed to be on it was possibly too late, no doubt trip advisor was doing an awesome job of getting users to talk about their stays at various hotels across the country and rate different properties, but by then Facebook had surpassed every possible social networking portal to amass a 5 million odd registered user base with engagement and interaction levels that were unheard of.

Hoteliers consistently shied away from Facebook and twitter because in their minds, social media was the enemy; a platform where the smallest service glitches could snowball into a PR and Operations nightmare, so they stuck to providing worthless template based management responses on TripAdvisor and expected miracles to happen.  Until a few months back this had been the story.

But as I have seen off late, hoteliers, PR managers & e-marketing managers in the hospitality industry are realizing the importance of being actively present on social media platforms. They are gradually making an effort to reach out to those people on the internet who are the very reason they’re in business. This is a good sign and there is still quite a distance for them to go unlike the more evolved and digital savvy sectors like entertainment, retail among others.

This was a prelude to more of what I will put up in the future. Till next time I will be glad to take any comments or questions.

-V

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