An interesting survey from the World Independent Hotels Promotion (WIHP) group recently highlighted the significant impact your interpersonal social network plays on the hotel search process. In the 2012 Q2 survey, nearly twenty-thousand guests were asked how they found the hotels they eventually booked. The results showed that the number one answer for a second consecutive year, was 'relied on friends and family referrals' (22.9%), followed by online travel agencies (OTAs) and TripAdvisor. As Tnooz.com speculated, the "other" section in this survey most likely refers to an amalgamated blend of search engines and meta-search travel sites (i.e. Kayak) that serve significant traffic to individual hotels.
While the survey findings certainly validate the importance of online review sites when carrying-out the hotel search process, it misleadingly discounts the implicit impact that social media plays during this course of action. I would argue that a significant portion of respondents that answered "friends and family" had, in some way, been influenced by someone in their own social network. As reported by Facebook Stories earlier this year, people around the world add more stories about travel to their timelines than any other life event. Moreover, the story suggests that, as travelers grow older, they are more likely to share their travel story with their social networks. In Canada, for example, the most popular age demographic sharing travel-related stories is the 55-64 age range, debunking the myth that those with travel purchasing power do not engage in social activity.
What does this mean for your hotel or restaurant? Continue to pay attention to all user-generated media that is available and shared about your property, including social media. Revinate users have access to the most comprehensive dashboard for monitoring online reviews and user-generated content that appears anywhere on the Web. Online reviews undoubtedly will continue to impact the path to purchase, as travelers increasingly look to online communities as a primary source for travel research. Nevertheless, do not underestimate the value of the traveler's interpersonal social network, as your "friends and family" attributed booking may come from this segment.