FOUR SEASONS takes bold step in including Tripadvisor in its new website


New Four Seasons website

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts unveiled yesterday its brand new website, reported to have cost a staggering US$ 18 million, with improved functions, navigation, as well as a more fashion, glam look. Given Four Seasons’ understated luxury image which is part of its DNA, I have found the new website slightly more flashy and ”luxurious”.

Four Seasons’ revamp is part of an effort to improve online revenue – though its website attracts 30 million visitors each year, online bookings only account for only 12% of total revenue, an increase of just 2% in five years.

With the launch of the new website Four Seasons has also taken a very bold decision to feature Tripadvisor reviews, individually, for each hotel on its page, integrating Twitter and Facebook too. I would even consider the move as risky, given that Tripadvisor may also feature the most negative or sometimes even un founded reviews.

In an interview to USA Today in March 2011, Four Seasons’ marketing chief Susan Helstab, said that sharing all reviews is a risk that luxury brands in particularly have been reluctant to take.”You take your chance with the good and the bad,” she says.But the company’s of the mindset that it’s less of a risk for its hotels, where on-site staff over the last year have been individually trained to monitor and follow-up with all reviews.

Personally, I beg to difer, as I have come accross many Four Seasons hotels who would simply choose not to reply, therefore ignoring the most harsh or negative reviews. There might be trained personel who oversee Tripadvisor reviews, yet at the end of the day, the GM is the who should personally take the time and respond to each comment (some reviews are even answered by an assistant). The less ”standardized” the response and the more direct, as in the GM offering to make it up to those who have genuinly raised, the more credible for readers and potential customers to believe that the hotel will actually make the suggested improvements.

I remember one such extremely negative review on Tripadvisor about the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Budapes, which to date, remains unanswered. I wonder how would such a review appear on the page of the hotel. Or would there be a selection or reviews? I have noticed that on the new website, for some of the hotels, the latest review featured is from September last year, while, the latest one is actually in January this year.

Also, what happens in the case of properties such as the Four Seasons New York which ranks 48th of all hotels in New York, way behind its main competitors? Currently, the latest review from Tripadvisor on Four Seasons New York which is featured on the new website, is from October last year. How would such a low ranking convince travellers?

“It really does require that incredible sense of confidence that says we deliver our promise,” Helstab says. Sharing all reviews – the good, bad and ugly – also requires confidence in customers, she says. If they see a negative review or Twitter message, they will likely first determine whether it has any relevance to them before letting it sway their booking decision. “If you find that not every experience is equally positive, you will understand the framework for that experience. Maybe it was from a traveler who wasn’t quite like you,” she says. “Maybe you want an active kids’ pool with lots of amenities (unlike the writer of a particular review that complains about the pool scene).

I do agree that sharing reviews can instill confidence and in a way a sense of connecting with consumers. However, personally, I would appreciate to find on the page of each hotel a fact sheet, which would state when the hotel was built and when it was last renovated or refurbished. This would be, indeed, the most bold illustration of transparency. By sharing this information, potential guests would be able to better ”navigate” and grasp the reviews on Tripadvisor. For a hotel chain of the calibre of Four Seasons, a high standard of service does not compensate for a very tired property!

In a Four Seasons survey, 33% of guests rate TripAdvisor “very to extremely influential” in their selection of a luxury hotel. In its research, the Toronto-based hotel operator also cites these stats from consulting firm E-Tailing Group: 92% of internet users read product reviews and 89% say that reviews influence their booking decision.

Playing up Facebook, TripAdvisor and Twitter also reflects the company’s belief that social networking has completely redefined how consumers engage with brand. “Now, it matters less what a brand says about itself; what matters is what people say about a brand,” Four Seasons’ research paper says. “There’s no room for smoke and mirrors in today’s socially networked world.”

In addition to social media usage, Four Seasons cites research showing its customers are tech-savvy. Stats from the Affluence Collaborative: 57% of wealthy consumers say they like to have the latest gadgets vs. only 18% of the general population.

Great improvements on the new site:

Recognition: Once you’ve established your profile and indicated your interests, the site will send recommendations that it thinks you’ll like.

Destination: The page of each hotel provides a great sense of destination, with photos of important landmarks and with Concierge tips

Search by interest: A new feature lets you search for your hotel by interest, such as “beaches,” “family travel” or “sailing, diving and water sports.”

Navigation: navigation is easier and there is less need to go back; the new website looks much more integrated

Optimised for mobile: provides access to a scaled-down site that includes videos, images, room rates and booking.

Customize: During the booking process, you can do extra things without going to a new window such as request a crib, book a spa treatment or – via a seamless link to – book a table at the hotel’s restaurant.

Room for improvements:

Old photos: Some properties still feature old photos, which are, in many cases, strikingly different than the new ones.

Page layout and photos: For some properties, such as the George V in Paris, the background photos hardly match against the large, white coloured font of the respective city.

Upcoming Events: this section is left blank for most of the hotels, which leaves the impression that there are no special events – updating every single section on a regular basis is extremely important

Fact sheet: the old version of the website used to feature a fact sheet about the hotel which would mention details about the property – architect, year of opening etc.

Navigation of maps: The location map of each hotel is not interactive on the edges, so you can’t move yourself around without the lower navigation

Mobile website: With the new launch the HTML5  functionality could have been implemented to mark a clear differentiation from the mobile versions of the website of other luxury hotel chains

Feedback: Since many browse Tripadvisor to get information which is not provided on the hotel’s website,  what about featuring official contact email address for each hotel? This way, guests might verify directly with the hotel if a particular claim in a review is true or not.

A short video introducing the new website can be found by following this link

Oliver Petcu