Travelers have been conditioned to believe that there's always a better deal out there, which is why the average online consumer visits more than 20 sites while researching travel online.
Just as importantly, consumers are desperate to have their decisions validated. A recent study showed that almost half (49%) of all online shoppers ranked the lack of customer reviews as the reason they would leave a site. And, nearly two-thirds of travelers report being influenced by traveler-generated ratings.
So why is it that only 9% of the travel brands that ISM evaluated as part of our collaboration on the L2 Digital IQ: Travel study offered customer reviews on their sites?
We know that customers are going to search out these reviews and try to inform and confirm their decisions, yet the industry remains reluctant to make it easy for travelers to find this kind of information within their branded sites.
Perhaps more brands will rethink that approach when reviewing the findings from our study which revealed that traffic to sites that incorporate user reviews grew 24%, versus just 7% growth for those without reviews.
Scott Galloway, the head of L2, has openly expressed that TripAdvisor and other review aggregators wouldn't even exist if the travel industry had the courage to collect and post the data for itself.
In talking to many brands, there is a lingering fear about negative reviews. But research shows that negative reviews are actually to be embraced, not feared, with some research showing that even if up to 20% of the reviews have negative feedback, they still led to increased bookings. Indeed your community of brand advocates will often defend and correct negative feedback, providing an even stronger and more authentic voice for your brand.
Unfortunately, even among those brands offering reviews, most segregate them from the booking experience or sanitize the feedback. Although laggard in other dimensions, the cruise category has been among the first to embrace guest feedback. Among them is Norwegian Cruise Line's online forum, "Freestyle Voices," which allows past cruisers to post reviews on the ship and shore excursions. Future passengers can even ask questions about their upcoming trip and start a countdown clock that doubles as a vehicle for connecting cruisers pre-embarkment.
Of course, the great thing about reviews is that they not only liberate your community of users, they give you the chance to actively respond and participate in the dialogue. Seventy percent of U.S. hoteliers already monitor guest reviews on their own and third-party sites weekly at a minimum, so it's clear that brands are widely recognizing the importance of these reviews.
And, some brands are looking for more unique ways to present user feedback, as demonstrated by Sheraton's "Better When Shared" virtual community. It allows travelers to recount their experiences and memories from various Sheraton properties and to offer advice on local attractions, dining, shopping and more to future travelers. While the microsite presents a good first step to building a digital commentary, most of the posted stories seem forced and artificial and read as little more than advertisements for a specific property's amenities.
There's no doubt that travel brands are still trying to come to grips with how to deal with customer reviews and where they should live. But if you truly believe in the quality of your product and services, then why not welcome customer reviews into your site -- where users will use and appreciate them. Not only is it a way to stand behind what you sell, but it's an important opportunity to openly and actively participate in the conversation with your customers and to listen and respond to what they say. What better way to forge trust and believability and to instill in them the confidence they're already looking for.
If you don't begin to proactively give them user reviews, they're sure to find them somewhere else, along with a variety of other products that are happy to vie for that same customer.
User reviews are a reflection of your product. If you can't stand to see your own shadow, why should your customers?