Frederic Gonzalo’s Blog

Does the travel industry over promise and under deliver?

USA Today Travel posted an interesting article yesterday on the fact that hotels don’t live up to their online hype, disappointing many guests along the way.

“With the rapid growth of the Internet, many travelers rely on hotel photos and marketing descriptions — as well as consumer reviews on TripAdvisor and other travel websites — to select a hotel. Too frequently, they say, photos and marketing information do not accurately portray the hotels and lead to disappointing stays.”

Gary Stoller, USA Today

Even though we work in the travel industry, and we’d prefer to duck our heads in the sand, you will have to admit you probably have experienced this in some shape or form. I know I have. Planning a vacation looking at brochures, checking the web site and catchy videos, checking reviews on TripAdvisor or chatting with some friends about a destination on Facebook or MSN. In other words, building expectations.

And when you actually travel to the destination and the chosen property, it’s not exactly as you had expected or what you had been “sold”. Now, there are some pleasant surprises that can happen every now and then, but these usually happen when you start off with lower expectations. It’s then easier for them to be met and exceeded, thus the very topic for this post.

Is travel any different than retail?

A knee-jerk reaction to this over-promise vs. under-deliver dilemma could easily be that “everyone else is doing it, so it’s no different with the travel marketing industry”. In fact, this has got to be one of the biggest criticisms towards the advertising world, whereby it tends to make things better, bolder, nicer or sweeter than in real life, somehow. I can’t help but thinking of this classic scene in the movie Falling Down, featuring Michael Douglas, where he throws a fit when he sees the hamburger served to him, and compares it to the picture on the backdrop wall of the restaurant.

But the fact of the matter is, there is a huge difference between “over-selling” everyday consumer goods like food & beverage, toothpaste or clothing, versus when you are selling a dream, or an experience, which is what tourism is all about. If you travel on business, you expect rapid service at check-in, a functional business centre, clean and confortable rooms with wifi access, perhaps a gym to stay fit. If it’s for leisure purposes, you may take a closer look at room amenities, kids program, restaurant and in-room dining, entertainment options, etc. Either way, we tend to have higher expectations, specially if and when it’s your once-a-year family vacation with the quality time you have been working for all year.

The big challenge is therefore to strike a balance between showcasing what your product or service is famous for, yet keeping it authentic and unpretentious. Brands that engage with their customers online, whether through their website or through social media, should bear that in mind. It’s all about KISS: Keep it Simple & Significant! How hotels and the hospitality industry promotes itself online should also align to this principle.

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