It’s an axiom all of us have burned in our brains: “Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.” Getting someone to recommend our products and/or our services remains one of business’s most holy quests – particularly in the tourism and meetings industries where the competition is so intense.
Until recently, activating that word of mouth or unleashing the voice of the customer was cumbersome and expensive. For years, tourism and meetings/events space buyers and sellers have effectively activated word of mouth at tradeshows and industry events, discretely networking with each other to get the inside scoop on the latest hot…and not-so-hot places, service-providers and spaces. In fact, decades ago I recall a survey from a major industry event that identified “candid conversations with peers” as the second most valuable reason to attend the event.
Enter the community review digital platform. Consider TripAdvisor: Between 2000 and 2012 there were 100 million reviews posted. As a result of an integration with Facebook in 2013, another 50 million reviews were added last year alone! And if that hasn’t got your attention TripAdvisor is now seeing 260 million unique visitors… per month! One can challenge the validity/credibility of some of the reviews but when over a quarter of a billion people are checking out reviews monthly on TripAdvisor alone, there’s some serious cred in play that fill a significant consumer traveler need. And for DMO’s consider these user stats from a 2013 PhoCusWright survey of 12,225 respondents:
- 77 % usually or always reference TripAdvisor reviews before selecting a hotel.
- 50 % usually or always reference TripAdvisor reviews before selecting a restaurant.
- 44 % usually or always reference TripAdvisor reviews before selecting an attraction.
While TripAdvisor is a leisure-focused consumer experience site, I’ve heard from meeting/event professionals and business event attendees that they will typically check out TripAdvisor as part of their destination/venue/vendor due diligence. They are also quick to point out that because the reviews are not specifically for the meetings/events experience, they do not carry as much weight as a recommendation from a professional colleague or peer.
Which begs the question: why isn’t there a community review platform specifically for the meetings and events experience? (I fully realize that there are several meetings industry sites/platforms that have a review component or function. What I am exploring is a community platform similar to TripAdvisor or Yelp!.)
I’m envisioning a digital community where planners, their attendees and exhibitors (if applicable) come to seek feedback/guidance, post and consider reviews of specific destinations, venues, services and events (e.g. tradeshows and exhibitions) etc. I’ve not thought much about the business model but for some digital businesses that’s a very fluid element.
I have asked meeting professionals this question for years and I always receive the same two answers:
- “I wish we had one specifically for meetings and business event experiences.”; and
- “I don’t want to burn any personal supplier-partner relationships so I won’t participate.”
Hmmm…let’s unpack these answers:
- Clearly there is a need. In private conversations, in client advisory board sessions and in focus groups, planners admit to checking out TripAdvisor and other service-provider review platforms in the course of doing their jobs. If they don’t, they know full well that their bosses, attendees and clients are. But they are also quick to point out that they have to hunt through the reviews to try and find one from a meeting/convention attendee. And while few, if any, planner reviews exist on these sites, I am aware of some private, invite-only social media group spaces where conversations take place about key meetings industry venues and suppliers.
- The “sharing is caring” ethos in the age of transparency seems to take a back seat to planner personal relationships at the moment. And this is a significant barrier to effective content generation (i.e. reviews). As a boomer I know the value of personal relationships in determining my business partners and clients. I also expect that they will be direct: sharing the good and also the opportunities for improvement with their peers exactly the same way they would share them with me. I also know that for many millennials, providing a review is almost a social obligation to their peer group.
The question then becomes: Is it merely a matter of time before the needs of the many (or the attention of a TripAdvisor or a Yelp!) outweigh the personal relationships of the few and a community review platform for the meetings industry gets developed?
Let’s see what the future holds…