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Inspiration Through Authenticity: Leveraging User-Generated Content in the Hospitality Industry

The rise of social media has transformed how we travel, and people are increasingly turning to user-generated content (UGC) across platforms for inspiration.  According to…

The rise of social media has transformed how we travel, and people are increasingly turning to user-generated content (UGC) across platforms for inspiration.  According to a recent study by the Expedia group, travelers view 141 pages of travel content on average in the 45 days prior to booking. During the inspiration stage of research, when travelers first start thinking about a trip, 77% of participants surveyed used social media as a resource. 

The reason for this is clear: modern travelers have become skeptical of polished, potentially inauthentic advertising. They are seeking social proof in user-generated content. According to industry research, consumers consider UGC more likely to contain up-to-date, informative, reliable, and detailed information that is more relevant to their needs. 

A quote from Fueled's interviews that speaks to a user's experience with hotel website pictures.

As part of our commitment to understanding the evolving landscape of guest experiences, Fueled conducted extensive research with MGM Resorts International. Our findings, which we'll explore later, demonstrate the critical role of UGC in shaping guest decisions.

As it stands, UGC is hosted on a range of external social media platforms. These platforms serve as a useful resource for travelers to gather information, but they pose a direct risk to hotels. External sources of information lead to third party bookings, incomplete sales funnels, and distractions for potential guests.

Most hotels prioritize direct booking as their north star metric. Aggregators and online travel agencies take a significant commission on bookings, usually upwards of 15%-30%. This has serious revenue implications, which is why maintaining control over the customer journey from inspiration through booking is crucial.

Given the growing influence of UGC on traveler decision-making, it's important for hotels to reassess their digital strategies. A proactive approach to using UGC can mitigate the risks associated with external platforms and enhance the guest experience. Ultimately, this means driving more direct bookings and revenue.

Two travelers sitting by a scenic lake with a phone screen overlaid showing images of nearby attractions.

The good news is UGC is readily available, and ripe for the hospitality industry to capitalize on. The key to unlocking its potential lies in digital transformation. By integrating UGC into your digital experience, you can provide users with the information they're looking for exactly when they need it. That means users spend more time within your digital ecosystem, which translates to more direct bookings.

Two Hotels, One Decision

To better understand the practical implications of this shift, consider a scenario where a guest, Sarah, evaluates two hotels. She narrows down her selection after comparing price, area, and amenities. Sarah, traveling with her kids, needs a family-friendly hotel and narrows it down to two with similar prices and locations.

She takes a closer look into the first hotel's website for more information. The visuals are appealing, and the property looks great. However, they trigger deja-vu of past experiences where the marketing fell short of reality. 

Determined to learn more about the first property, Sarah takes to Google, hoping to find unbiased insights. Instead, she finds herself overwhelmed by a barrage of reviews, TikTok videos, and paid ads from aggregators. The sheer volume of information, rather than clarifying, only adds to her confusion. 

Each click leads her further away from a decision, intensifying her frustration. It's in this moment of exasperation, as she sifts through yet another impersonal review, that a targeted ad for the second hotel’s app catches her eye. 

A hotel lobby with a phone screen showing in app features that allow the user to explore the property.

Intrigued and eager for a change, Sarah decides to give the app a chance and the difference is immediately clear.  She sorts through each section of the property and gets the whole picture: the entrance, the pool, the rooms, all readily available. Looking through the photos, she sees a nearby restaurant she wanted to visit and realizes how close it is. She can also clearly see the family friendly set-up in the lounge and pool area. 

Sarah’s made up her mind and this is where she’ll be staying. She’s already in the hotel’s app and she can book straight away. No distractions, no fees, just a direct and easy booking. 

Leveraging User-Generated Content for Inspiration

With UGC acting as a digital word-of-mouth, establishments that curate and showcase this content inspire bookings at a higher rate than their competition. The ability to moderate UGC is an important feature of digital transformation. First, it allows hotels to exercise quality control by filtering out low quality, irrelevant, or inappropriate content. 

A scenic lake with a phone screen overlaid displaying options to explore nearby attractions.

This level of quality control is instrumental in shaping guests' perceptions and expectations. By filtering out misleading content, hotels can avoid the pitfalls of misinformation and maintain a consistent, trustworthy digital presence.

Furthermore, it allows properties to tailor UGC to specific areas of guest interest. By aggregating and moderating this content, hotels can provide guests with the option to sort by rooms, event spaces, surrounding areas, or amenities. A personalized approach ensures that potential guests find exactly what they're looking for, significantly enhancing the likelihood of a booking. It transforms the property discovery process into an interactive, user-centered experience, making every search a step closer to finding their ideal stay. 

This focus on a seamless user experience is critical, as 88% of travelers with a smartphone would switch to a different site or app if the current one doesn't satisfy their needs, according to Google. Ensuring that your digital platforms are user-friendly and informative can be the deciding factor in a guest's booking decision.

Real Users, Real Experiences

As part of our work with MGM Resorts International, Fueled conducted interviews with a wide range of travel and hospitality guests to help inform our research on this topic. Our findings shed light on guest experiences that are often overlooked, and cause friction. Many hotel guests are faced with unique challenges and conditions that require specific accommodation, and finding info on their needs is not always easy. 

For instance, information on accessibility options is not always readily available. One wheelchair user that Fueled interviewed explained that he often uses UGC on Google Maps to ensure he’ll have easy access to hotels. Even though many hotels post accessibility statements, they often are faced with the same skepticism as curated marketing. 

A Fueled interview quote by a wheelchair user, explaining how he uses user-generated content to find information on accesibility.

This particular interviewee stated that even if hotels claim they are accessible, they don’t always provide enough information. For instance, the entrance may be wheelchair accessible, while the interior is full of staircases without ramps. Finding information like this is crucial in their booking process, and they often turn to UGC to find it.  

This serves as an important reminder that hotel guests come from a diverse range of backgrounds. Utilizing UGC correctly can greatly help those that feel overlooked get all the information they need. With such varied backgrounds, goals, and groups, utilizing UGC allows every guest to dig-in and find out exactly what they need to know. 

Audit your Experience

Leveraging user-generated content is essential for the hospitality industry to stay relevant. By embracing digital transformation and integrating UGC into their digital experiences, hotels can enhance the guest journey, and drive more direct bookings. As the industry continues to evolve, those who harness the power of authenticity through UGC will lead the way in creating memorable and personalized guest experiences.

Interested in how Fueled can transform your hotel's digital experience?




Expedia Group

Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management 24


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