Recently there?s been a lot of buzz regarding Social Media and how marketers need to incorporate it into their overall marketing plans. As a result, the phrases User-Generated Content (UGC) and Consumer-Generated Content (CGC) have become mainstream marketing terms. For travel professionals though, there is only one kind of Social Media worth tapping into ? Traveler-Generated Content (TGC).

Traveler-Generated Content refers to all travel-related reviews and blog entries posted on the Internet for fellow travelers to read. TGC has taken a stronghold on the Internet as hotel reviews and blog comments are being published at phenomenal rates. As a hotelier, should you pay attention to this flurry of communication, or is it just Internet clutter?

Experts agree that the content is not only being read, but it also has become a trusted resource that travelers rely on during their purchasing process.

TGC is more trusted than professional travel reviews- In a survey conducted by Compete Inc, 56% of respondents considered consumer-generated content (regarding travel) to be credible while only 36% said they trusted descriptions created by a hotel or other travel suppliers.

TGC affects travelers? purchasing decisions- According to Forrester Research, about a third of American travelers who research trips via the Web read reviews written by fellow travelers. Of those who book hotels online, one-third have changed plans based on other travelers' comments.

Negative TGC discourages travel purchases- ?Travel products and services were identified as the sector most at risk from negative comments on social networks, with almost six out of ten (58%) respondents saying that negative comments would lead to them abandoning a purchase,? as referenced in the 2007 Social Media for Brands Report by Tamar.

Since more and more travel websites now offer TGC in the form of reviews, you should establish a plan to consistently monitor a variety of websites for TGC related to your properties. Once you have the information, you can analyze it on a regular basis and make informed decisions. Rich sources for TGC include:

- TripAdvisor
- Expedia
- MyTravelGuide
- Travelocity
- Yahoo! Travel
- Orbitz
- Fodor?s
- TravelPost
- Virtual Tourist

But don?t stop there. TGC also appears in thousands of personal and professional blogs found on the Internet. These influential voices attract extremely loyal and growing audiences. You should try to establish direct, personal relationships with relevant blog authors in an attempt to have your properties discussed in a favorable light (e.g. invite popular foodie bloggers to your restaurant?s grand opening). Although blog entries are technically included in the search engines? regular crawls, it may take weeks for a blog to become indexed, especially if the blog owner has not submitted the URL directly to the search engines. Therefore, Blog-specific search engines, such as Google Blog Search, IceRocket and Technorati, are good places to begin scouring the blogosphere for additional mentions of your hotel.

As a smart hotelier, you might also consider tracking TGC related to your comp set. This data will serve as a multi-dimensional snapshot of a competitors? offering ? far removed from the traditional STAR report. It can help you understand what improvements need to be made at your property as well as other changes that may help improve guest satisfaction. Most travel review sites allow reviewers the opportunity to individually rank key concepts, such as Value, Room Comfort, Service, Cleanliness, and many others. By analyzing your property?s score in these specific areas against a competitor?s, you?ll be better able to identify your property?s strengths and weaknesses in comparison to your comp sets.

What should you be looking for? By consistently analyzing TGC and comparing it to historical TGC data, you can uncover patterns and common themes concerning your hotels. These insights can be used to make important operational changes and uncover new marketing opportunities.

Improve Hotel Operations

From an operations standpoint, TGC can uncover everything from an unfriendly front desk staff to a leaky air conditioner that a guest never reported during their stay. These are actionable items that can be remedied beyond posting a management rebuttal on TripAdvisor ? things that can actually be fixed. By heeding the complaints and suggestions found in these reviews, and fixing the source of the problem at the property, you can improve your property?s ranking on these sites as well as its overall reputation online and offline. Additionally, by resolving a problem and directly responding to a review with a management response, when allowed, you have the opportunity to connect directly with a disgruntled guest and convince them to return to the property.

Marketing Opportunities

From a marketer?s perspective, TGC can be seen as a free, qualitative study or survey about one?s property -- extremely valuable information that is usually very difficult and costly to obtain. By analyzing this TGC data, questions may arise concerning your current marketing efforts. Do your marketing and advertising plans stress the strengths of your hotel that consumers really care about? Do you know what amenities your competitor lacks, and are you promoting your comparative strengths?

Hotel review analysis is not just about finding problems and addressing them; it is also about uncovering strengths and maximizing them. A competing property might be getting slammed with negative reviews concerning its lackluster continental breakfast, while your hot buffet wins repeated rave reviews. This amenity advantage should be exploited in marketing communications. In another scenario, a repeat customer might mention that their family visits your hotel every year for a family reunion. A savvy hotelier can take advantage of this remark by contacting the visitor directly with a personalized package to reward their loyalty.

While analyzing TGC for a hotel in San Diego, TIG Global?s HotelProtect program, a reputation management and TGC analysis program for hotels, uncovered blog postings regarding a haunted room at the hotel. The rich and interesting legend of a famous ghost, a former guest at the hotel, was uncovered, as well as a new niche target audience- ghost enthusiasts. Ghost hunters all over the world were referencing the hotel as being haunted by the famed ghost and TIG Global saw the legend as a profitable marketing opportunity. TIG Global, created a comprehensive online marketing plan to bid on paid search terms related to the name of the ghost and various ?haunted hotel? terms. Hotel management is currently deciding whether to create a Haunted Hotel package for October that would drive traffic to a custom landing page detailing the offering.

TGC is a force to be reckoned with. Travelers rely on TGC during their decision making process, hoteliers rely on it for feedback on their properties, and ultimately, it affects reservations. Since more and more travel review sites and blogs are being published everyday, hoteliers need a solid plan to keep abreast of this burgeoning medium. By leveraging the knowledge and opportunities TGC presents, you can ultimately gain market share and increase revenue. If the effort and time required to complete this task is daunting, consider employing an outside vendor with a detailed action plan for monitoring and analyzing TGC. A company that also provides next-step recommendations on how to respond to findings is the best choice.

Related Link: TIG Global?s Hotel Protect service