In The Hotel Industry, PR Starts At The Front Desk

At the Wyndham Gettysburg. Photo by Charoenkwan Blacharski.

At the Wyndham Gettysburg, we were greeted in the lobby by an antique cannon, something that 150 years ago would have been considered decidedly unfriendly. This year though, the display – along with Civil War era paintings and old-fashioned wingback chairs set the tone for a pleasant weekend adventure.

When we got to the front desk, the computers were down, and rather than telling us to come back later, the valiant hotel desk clerk checked us in manually, actually produced an old-fashioned manual credit card imprinting machine from under the desk, and delays were minimal. Having a backup routine enshrined in a procedures manual somewhere is good standard operating procedure in the hospitality industry, but having front desk staff that actually knows what that backup routine is, and how to execute it at a moment’s notice, is brilliant PR at the most grassroots level.

After getting our fill of Civil War history and a delightful dinner at the historic Dobbin House restaurant (built in 1776), we drove to Lancaster, in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country, and stayed at the Tru by Hilton, a hotel with a unique postmodern design and a subtle tribute to late sixties hippie modern (think Hilton meets Austin Powers). The design itself was fun and playful, and put us in a good mood right away.

Like the Wyndham in Gettysburg, the front staff were knowledgeable, but that alone is simply a ticket to the show in the hotel business. The two young ladies at the desk went beyond that – when we asked about the region’s covered bridges (which are notoriously hard to find) they took the time to search out a guide for us on the Internet and print out a copy. And then, when we asked about a good Amish-style restaurant, instead of simply producing a pre-printed menu and handing it to us, both girls engaged us in a lively conversation about their own personal favorites.

Simply good PR.

An increasing focus on “influencer” marketing has pervaded public relations agencies which in the past focused most of their efforts on influencing mainstream media. Today, a significant amount of energy is devoted to influencing the influencers – for example, social media mavens with large followings.

Hotel managers can generally tell when a reviewer from the New York Times walks into the lobby – but can they really tell whether or not you have 100,000 Twitter followers? Probably not. But those minor social media celebrities are making up an increasing focus for the hospitality industry’s public relations efforts. In just one of many examples, it was reported that the Rezidor Hotel Group, parent company of Radisson Blu, appointed Grifco PR to handle consumer PR for eight European hotels – and under the plan, Grifco will be working with both media and influencers.

Hoteliers, and the PR agencies that advise them, understand that anybody who walks through the front door could be an influencer. In such cases, that front desk experience could do much more than other traditional PR tools, marketing collateral, press kits and media tours could ever hope to accomplish.

“The hospitality industry has seen a dramatic shift in how they approach public relations,” said Chris Rivett, travel expert at hotel price comparison platform “Mainstream approaches – press releases, journalist outreach, and media events – are being supplemented in a big way with social media and influencer marketing. Naturally, every hotelier wants to be mentioned in mainstream news articles, but the value of being mentioned in a Twitter or Facebook post by an influencer with 100,000 followers can’t be underestimated. Hotels, and the PR agencies that represent them, are facing that reality and shifting gears in their PR strategies.”

Customers who come to these sites to read reviews don’t expect that 100 percent level in terms of good reviews – but they do expect to see responses from the hotel. In a study from user review community Trustpilot, a survey asked consumers what would make them most likely to make a purchase. Not surprisingly, 62 percent responded that a positive review would encourage them to make a purchase. However, 15 percent said that a negative review which has been positively resolved would also influence them positively.

In addition to connecting with social media influencers, hoteliers have also recognized the PR value of the individual customer review. A handful of bad reviews on a review platform can make or break a hotel. “Even the best five-star hotel will get an occasional bad review,” said Rivett. “The overall PR goal when it comes to reviews isn’t to have 100 percent good reviews, but to have mostly good reviews, and to engage directly with reviewers on the review platform. We’re seeing hoteliers, and more often, the digital arm of their agencies, interacting with customers on these platforms. We’ve found that even in the case of a poor review, when the hotelier responds to the review positively and engages the customer, then it’s possible to transform a negative review into a positive.”