That’s according to a new report from Barclays, based on a survey which found that nearly a third (29 per cent) of hospitality businesses across the UK directly attribute up to 25 per cent of all their sales to social media.
But in spite of this, the majority (60 per cent) of respondents only see ‘some’ or ‘limited’ opportunities in using social media tools to engage with would-be customers.
“The industry is missing a trick,” said Barclays’ head of hospitality and leisure Mike Saul. “Social media has blurred the line between personal and corporate communities - something that has been encouraged by consumers who now expect to be able to interact in an immediate and very personal way, not just with friends, but with their favourite - and not so favoured - brands.
Negative to positive
“This can create a very powerful feedback loop – if operators can successfully tap into these networks, both good and bad reviews can be used to their advantage. If a flight or dinner reservation is delayed for example, it’s easy for consumers to vent their frustration to the online world – the trick is being able to respond helpfully, turning a negative experience into a positive one.
“Getting the strategy right is key.”
With estimates suggesting that over half of UK consumers now own a smartphone, and almost one in five have access to a tablet device, consumers have come to rely on networks like Facebook and Twitter and review websites such TripAdvisor to not only provide peer-to-peer recommendations but also as a convenient way to connect with businesses.
Supporting this view, more than two thirds (68 per cent) of those hospitality businesses currently using social media have reported that they have had a ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ experience, attracting new customers, and receiving positive recommendations.
But the research goes on to show that a significant number of operators who ‘use’ social media, are not maximising its full potential; 44 per cent of business owners do have a presence on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but admit they rarely use it.
Concerns over the amount of time social media takes to manage, the risks of negative publicity, and the technical skills required are putting operators off using these networks and platforms. Although more than half (58 per cent) of respondents believe the role of social media will increase in the sector over the next 12 months.
Saul added: “Social media is everywhere, and for many businesses it not only influences and directly generates sales, but provides a personal link with consumers, building loyalty and driving repeat footfall. This is vital when consumers are increasingly cost-conscious and discerning about where they choose to spend their hard earned cash.
“Just having a presence on social media is not enough – there needs to be a strategy driving it. Consideration needs to be given to how the information generated through social media is used, and we’re already seeing canny operators merging such initiatives into their wider marketing campaigns, targeting potential customers in a more focused manner.
“However, the industry has a long way to go - social media has a lot of potential and ignoring it would be a mistake.”
Barclays’ research interviewed a representative sample of 126 UK hospitality and leisure operators, across the hotel, travel and leisure space.