Social media has empowered customers like never before, says a consultant specializing in online marketing.
Daniel Craig, founder of Reknown, addressed the annual general meeting of the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island (TIAPEI) in Charlottetown Friday.
Reknown is a consultancy specializing in online marketing, social media and reputation management strategy for hotels and the travel industry.
"More and more travellers are talking about their trips before, during and after their experiences,'' Craig said. "If they're not happy they can express that publicly . . . and it can be embarrassing (for the tourism operator).''
Craig showed a portion of a video put together by Canadian singer Dave Carroll to get his point across. Carroll penned United Breaks Guitars after his instrument suffered at the hands of baggage handlers with United Airlines.
That video has become a YouTube sensation, with more than 12.5 million views so far. United eventually opened up its chequebook.
It was a situation Craig used to underscore the point that customers who have bad experiences can cause tourism operators a lot of grief on social media websites.
"Social media has raised the stakes. (Carroll's video) is the little guy getting back at the big guy.''
He implored those in attendance — the courtyard at the Rodd Royalty Inn was packed — to take care of their customers before it comes back to bite them.
"Our customers are more empowered. The cost of a negative experience is higher.''
Customers want quality, value, comfort and convenience but, most of all, they want to know that the people behind the desk at the hotels care.
"We can make up for a number of shortfalls with good service.''
In fact, statistics indicate an operator is five times more likely to achieve a five-star rating simply by offering good to exceptional service.
He told tourism operators to smile and make eye contact whenever possible.
And, when things go wrong, be creative.
Craig said when his air conditioner broke while he was staying at a hotel in Austin, Tex., the hotel immediately sent up ice cream to his room.
He also recommended operators monitor social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. A bad comment on Twitter will escalate into a bad review for everyone to see. However, customers will be equally as vocal about good experiences.
He suggested tools for monitoring social media websites can be found on Radian6, ReviewPro and Revinate. Some are free, others are not.
Elaine Thomson, president of TIAPEI, said good service always drives satisfaction.
"We need to embrace social media,'' Thomson said after Craig's address ended. "We need to make it work for us and own our reputation.''