Posted At: August 9, 2013 4:15 p.m.
by Aime O’Keefe
Ten years ago vacation planning and booking were left to the niche market of travel agents. Travel agents were given exclusive complimentary passes to luxury resorts and hotels to bribe and sway clientele to book a particular resort. The experience was completely dependent on bribery, and the travel agent didn’t truly experience the hotel service.
But as social media has evolved over the past 20 years, consumers have taken control of their buying power. Families are booking online and turning to Internet forums for true testimonies of value and service.
What is a forum? According to MakeUseOf.com, forums were created in 1994 as “centralized locations for topical discussion”. Think of a forum as an online bulletin board for people to discuss any topic imaginable.
In the luxury hospitality and tourism industry, one post online can cripple your business.
I witnessed the dependence of consumers and businesses on forums, like Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic, firsthand while I interned with a resort on the Caribbean island of Roatan. The island itself is relatively untouched by the commercial world, with resorts making an extra effort to preserve the tropical paradise. But this exclusivity does not keep patrons from returning home and posting every small detail of their vacation to the Internet.
Fantasy Island is a resort on the island that recently had some struggles filling its rooms.
Now why would a scuba dive resort established more than 30 years ago need to suddenly find a new market?
First, as the management changed, the level of service slipped and patrons began to make reports of poor experiences on forums. The inconsistency is apparent when you Google “Fantasy Island Roatan reviews” and a variety of ratings are listed on several hosting sites.
Second, Fantasy Island is out of touch with its original market — SCUBA divers. The resort features 115 rooms spread over 21 acres of land. If 100 rooms were occupied, each with two people, the dive resort would be too full to run a safe and successful dive operation, with dive groups of 10-15 people. As a consumer trend, scuba divers are known to hate crowded resorts with minimal personalized attention from the resort staff.
Third, the management comprised of locals who had limited knowledge of social media or the importance of an online presence to reach American consumers. The resort’s Facebook has been making posts in a mixture of Spanish and English since April.
To resist going out of business, Fantasy Island has redirected from a scuba dive camp to a long weekend vacation resort for wealthy Hondurans on the mainland. The resort only has dive operations Friday-Sunday and occasionally for groups from cruise ships, and functions on a new website published in Spanish.
A consistent online presence helps to maintain brand image. A business needs to be active in the forum conversation and be available to answer questions and to correct assumptions. If no one is present to represent the business, angry patrons will misrepresent it and drive away potential customers.