I have interviewed Daniel Edward Craig, a recognized expert in the hospitality industry, speaker, author and Hotel consultant. With a focus on why Hotels and those in the hospitality management industry should pay attention to Reputation Management, here is Daniels responses to this interesting and valuable topic.

Q: Is Reputation Management just another buzz word? Or do all hotels need to start to pay attention to it?

I don’t think reputation management is simply a buzz word, but it is a bit misunderstood. It’s a critical new function in the travel industry that grew out of the explosive popular of social networking and the influence of traveler reviews on buying decisions. It’s about monitoring, analyzing and reacting to online reviews and opinions of your hotel and participating in social media to shape perceptions of your brand.

The hotel industry has woken up to the importance of online reputation management but is still trying to figure out how to make room for it given competing demands on our time and the increasing complexities of travel marketing. Social media and reputation management are traditionally considered a marketing function, but it’s a property-wide concern that touches virtually every aspect of a hotel, from operations to revenue management.

Q: What in your opinion is the minimum Reputation Management understanding hotels of today needs to have?

Hotels have been quick to embrace social media, but I think a lot of hoteliers are confusing priorities. Facebook and Twitter can be effective channels for engaging travelers and driving advocacy, but the real buying decisions are being made on review sites. People go to Facebook to socialize; they go to TripAdvisor to shop. At a minimum hotel need to be monitoring and reacting to online reviews.

It’s important to note that reputation management isn’t about trying to pass a property off as better than it is. That sets up false expectations a property can’t live up to. It’s about authenticity and transparency.

Q: TripAdvisor, one of the first to generate online reviews for travelers, just reached 50 Million reviews and opinions. How important is it for hotels to monitor and respond to these types of reviews and opinions?

Given the volume of visitors TripAdvisor receives and the direct connection between reviews and bookings, I think TripAdvisor is the most critical component of a hotel’s online reputation management program. If a hotel does nothing else in social media, it should be listening and reacting to TripAdvisor reviews and using the feedback to improve the guest experience.

Q: Consumers today are getting savvier about sharing their travel experiences through Social Media and New Media. Some critics have indicated that Social Media makes Reputation Management more complex and that it slows down the ROI (Return Of Investment). What is your response to these critics?

Social media definitely does make reputation management more complex. Across the Web, travelers are discussing hotels: on review sites, social networks, blogs, forums, online travel agencies and travel communities. Monitoring the feedback alone can be overwhelming, much less understanding it and deciding what’s relevant and how to respond.

Social media can be a monumental waste of time if a hotel does not have a clear strategy and staff are not disciplined and focused. Because it’s difficult to measure ROI some hoteliers cling to traditional marketing activities. But the way travelers research trips, make decisions and interact with brands has changed dramatically. To adapt to this shift hotels must reallocate resources from “push” marketing activities like advertising and direct mail to owned and earned media, and specifically to publishing useful, relevant content on websites, review sites, and social networks.

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about the role of social media and reputation management in both revenue management and the sales department. Increasingly, group organizers, event planners, and corporate travel managers are consulting review sites and social networks as part of the decision-making process, and often high volume business is at stake. Reviews affect not only demand but the prices travelers are willing to pay.

Q: Google has recently removed reviews from TripAdvisor, Yelp, Urbanspoon etc. from Google Places listings and is starting to focus more on reviews from Google users. On their new project, Google Hotel Finder they also make reviews from Google users more prominent. Do you see this as a challenge for Hotel Reputation Management, or does this provide Hotels with new unique opportunities to engage with their market segments?

Both. In recent months Google has introduced so many initiatives in the online travel space it can make your head spin. With the recent addition of rates and availability on Google Places and Maps listings and a push to stockpile user-generated content, Google Places has become an essential part of a hotel’s reputation management plan. That means optimizing content, soliciting reviews and imagery from guests, and reacting and responding to reviews. So yes, that means more work for hotels, but it also means new opportunities to enhance visibility in search and engage travelers.

Q: There are several tools on the market today when it comes to Hotel Reputation Management. How important is it that hotels understand these tools? And who are some of the providers that you recommend for your clients?

If a hotel is serious about managing its reputation and receives a significant volume of reviews, I recommend subscribing to a reputation monitoring tool. But first you must commit to taking the time to review the data, understand it, and take action. There are dozens of monitoring tools out there. I recommend choosing one that specializes in the hospitality industry. Some of the ones I’m impressed by include SAS Analytics, eBuzz Connect, ReviewAnalyst and ReviewPro. I work closely with Revinate and am a big fan.

Q: What are some of the top benefits for Hotels that are considering applying Reputation Management to their Marketing Strategy?

By monitoring, reacting to and responding to reviews and social media feedback, hotels can drive incremental revenue and gain a better understanding of strengths and weaknesses and how they compare with competitors. They can use feedback to make improvements and to be more targeted in sales and marketing activities. By actively participating in social networking, hotels can help shape perceptions of their brand and build loyalty and advocacy among guests.

Q: Capturing new and exciting trends is an art where all Hotels want to be the best in their class. Will Reputation Management provide Hotels that apply this to their Marketing Strategies with an edge?

Absolutely. By formalizing the online reputation management function, hotels become more in tune with guests, are more effective at sales and marketing, and will be better prepared to take advantage of new opportunities as the travel industry becomes more social, more mobile and more driven by user-generated content.

Q: For Hotels that are looking to learn more about Reputation Management, where can they find more info about your services?

My website provides a wealth of free articles and resources for hotels and the travel industry in marketing, social media, and online reputation management. I also provide reputation audits customized social media guidelines and training programs to help hotels strengthen their online presence, engage travelers and generate revenue. For more info about Daniel visit Reknown.

Daniel Edward Craig

Daniel Edward Craig is an author and Hotel Consultant. Daniel is an expert in the hospitality industry and an exceptional speaker. He provides a presentation, seminars, and webinars for the Hotel Family.

Follow @dcraig on Twitter