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Owning your guest=owning your future - August 15, 2011 - by Jeff Higley


NASHVILLE, Tennessee—The emergence of social media has made guest satisfaction more important than ever.

“It’s public. People are basing their decision on another customer’s opinion,” said Michelle Wohl, VP of marketing for Revinate, a San Francisco-based social media and online review tracking company, during a Hotel Data Conference panel discussion called “Owning Your Guest=Owing Your Future.”

Matthew Woodruff, VP of Atlanta-based Hospitality Ventures Management Group, said online reviews are important, but so are the responses that hotels post.
“Guests are smart—they don’t believe every comment they see. They’re going to filter,” he said. “They also look at the response. They understand that things happen in a hotel, and what they want to see is that the hotel cares.”

“Guests aren’t at your hotel because they want to be,” said Chris Klauda, VP at D.K. Shifflet & Associates. “It’s a means to an end for them. You don’t want to create problems for guests, but when they do occur, you need to fix them. Problem resolution is critical for guest satisfaction.”

“Consumers are conditioned today to report issues in an online review,” Wohl said. “The big disappointment for hoteliers is they’d love to resolve the issue if they know about it (before it is posted on a review).”

Wohl said tracking reviews is important to be able to ascertain where more profitable guests are generated. But it’s also important to treat guests the same regardless of where they booked because social media in some ways levels the playing field. She also said placing reviews next to the booking engine on a hotel’s website is a good way to make it easier for guests to learn more about the property.

Wohl said 79% of people say seeing a management response to an online review reassures them, according to Forrester Research and TripAdvisor research. She said hotels own their reputation, but customers own the online marketing as online reviews become more prevalent. She said 42% of the hotels her company tracks are responding to reviews—but overall in the industry only 7% of hotels are taking the time to interact with customers on TripAdvisor.

“As a consumer, I’m going to TripAdvisor, Twitter, Facebook,” she said. “If hotels want to attract that business, they need to be in those venues.”

She said it’s just as important to be involved in emerging geo-social sites such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Monitoring them and interacting with customers who use those location-based applications is part of the next wave of guest satisfaction.

It boils down to service
Customer satisfaction goes beyond the social-media aspect. Woodruff reminded the audience about the basic tenet of the hotel industry.

“The biggest piece I see is excellent service,” he said. “Don’t settle for good, don’t settle for OK. Ask the customer if everything was excellent with their stay. If they say ‘OK,’ a light needs to go off in your head and you need to follow up. Convert your hotel from a hotel that people like to a hotel that people love.”

Hospitality Ventures trains the employees at the 28 hotels it owns and/or operates to ask guests if everything was excellent during their stay.

“If you ever worry at your hotel that you’re saying it too much … I have yet to see a hotel that does say it too much,” Woodruff said. “When customers remember it, they want to tell you about it.”

It’s important that hoteliers look at guest satisfaction from a broad perspective if they want to own their guests, according to Klauda. The top priority is to give the guest what they want (within reason).

“Look at it from a broader perspective,” she said. “It’s bigger than social media.”

“Be more customer centric and develop stronger, better business practices,” said moderator Paul Breslin, managing partner of Panther Hospitality and professor of hotel management at Georgia State University’s Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality.

‘Isolated togetherness’ has an impact
Klauda pointed to the “isolated togetherness” concept that is sweeping the industry as something that is helping with guest satisfaction. The concept is evident in the living-room style lobbies hotels have adopted to allow guests to do their own things in a communal environment.

Klauda said the mobility of technology has dramatically changed during the past 10 years.

“Guests don’t need to stay in the room anymore, so the whole experience of that hotel is changed,” she said.

Woodruff concurred, saying Hospitality Ventures is among the companies inviting guests to make themselves at home in the lobby.

“We’re designing lobbies to try to get guests out of the guestroom and into the lobby,” he said. “Some of our atrium concepts in some of our hotels have over 20 televisions. A lot of brands are getting into that.”

But it all funnels back to making the guests happy by giving them what they want and meeting their expectations. That’s why the upper end of the industry is outperforming the lower end—which was emphasized during various discussions throughout the conference.

Stuart Greif, VP at J.D. Power & Associates who was an audience member of the  panel, said the formula is simple.

‘If you were to be one of the mediocre or lower performing hotels, you’re going to see that in the numbers,” he said.

The bottom line for solid guest satisfaction scores?

“If you are getting that much satisfaction, you can raise that rate,” Klauda said.