Can social media help the Mauritian hospitality industry?

But to be precise…

Can social media save the reputation and shattered competitive advantage of the Mauritian hospitality industry?

first the facts

Mauritius’ tourism sector suffered some downturns in 2009 and early 2010, with severe international crises shaking the entire world economy. At first glance, the sequels weren’t as bad as one might think at the time. We were still benefiting from positive growth rates, with an industry average of +7.3% for the period January-March 2010 compared to the same time frame in 2009. And yet, something is still wrong with paradise, even if we received 249,971 visitors for the first three months of 2010. The luxury niche seems to have lost some of its luster. The major local hotel groups seem to be having a rough patch. Naiade Resorts, for example, declared losses in the order of MUR 50 million at the end of 2009, with a profit of MUR 11 million. Ditto for the Rogers Group, which encompasses high-end resorts like Heritage and Le Telfair Golf & Spa. His profits were reduced by 51%. Similar picture for NMH (New Mauritius Hotels), with a profit reduction of 25.3%. These figures could well explain the gloomy atmosphere at the top of the Mauritian hotel industry. This negative mood is understandable. While the deluxe room stock (4-star and up) had grown by 115% in 2009, occupancy rates fell to 40%. That was enough to curb investment momentum in the sector and in 2011 the recovery continues to be very slow.

Was there a rescue plan on the line, or were we waiting for the storm to calm down and things to go back to normal?

According to Minister Nando Bodha, in an interview given to Jean Da Luz in May 2010, Mauritius must resist his position and not give in to the siren songs about lowering our rates and downgrading our current Diamond Destination status. This means 2011 too. His immediate action plan spoke of strengthening the brand’s position in the face of growing competition from countries like Sri Lanka or the Maldives. And the operators just had to go along that same line, towards the top. They have to try to find out about that little detail that would give them leadership or at least stabilize it, without excessively funding-intensive solutions. But the main question remains. What can Mauritius 4 star hotels offer their target markets other than the same old promise of unrivaled hospitality and quality of service? What else, especially with the Harte tragedy at Legends, the 5-star flagship of the Naiade Group of luxury hotels?

What about the Harte tragedy?

The murder of the newly married daughter of the prominent Irish soccer magnate, in her hotel room at Legends, adds to the misery of Mauritius’ hotel sector. The havoc in communication, the attacks on the media and all the chaos caused by thousands of comments online have surely hampered the efforts of the second economic pillar of Mauritius to speed up the recovery of it. Within a week, Mauricio lost most of the brilliant goodwill he’d built up over years of relentless market improvement. The anguish of losing even a microscopic market share is relevant and legitimate. At least now we know how fast and how deep it goes when the negative buzz begins its world tour.

Enter Social Media, Community Management and e-reputation. Are they genuine solutions?

Can the social bubble help the real world nurture real leads and generate new ones? Can the social media trend fix broken images? The answer is definitely yes. Not as THE absolute keys, but as the bases for the development of new user-focused solutions towards the consolidation and updating of the acquired competitive advantage. The tourism industry itself generates behaviors that remind us of what is going on in cyberspace when it comes to social media and networking. At some point, when I went on vacation to Club Med, it felt really good to be part of a community, even if it was just for a week or so. Once at Club Med, one was considered and felt like a lifetime member (the GM, Nice Member), with the only desire to return year after year. To get an idea of ‚Äč‚Äčthis environment, the French feature films “Les Bronzs” are the right example, but definitely not a reference for times and settings like ours today. Social media and networking have become a lifestyle of their own for millions of online users. People without a Facebook account are increasingly considered “homeless”, atypical or asocial. With Social Network mode enabled, a person will take time to check out blogs, Facebook groups, or their LinkedIn connections. He’ll ask questions via tweets, compare everything online, and make his decision from a messy input. That’s the same pattern when choosing a hotel destination today. The client goes by the trend of bloggers. This is where Social Networks fit in, basically by offering a consolidated and relevant alternative to a user’s search process. Integrating Social Media into the hospitality sector is almost a natural procedure. The prominent place that relationship management occupies in the day-to-day business with tourists makes it easier for the tourism industry to analyze and understand the behaviors, needs and expectations of the target. Social media management will simply connect to translate all this data into useful information for the development of relevant interactive platforms. The most complex part of establishing such a strategy lies in the pre-operational routine that involves extensive research on the target segments. The investigation of social behaviors and expectations are the fundamentals that underlie the production of relevant toolkits. This part of the setup is time consuming and requires proactive human resources.

Dealing with electronic reputation.

The Harte tragedy has brought to light, at least for the Mauritian tourism sector, the extent of the damage that uncontrolled and untapped global rumors can do. In less than a week, it seemed that this first, isolated episode had wiped out the competitive advantage our Diamond destination had. It felt as if a foul-mouthed Tsunami had overwhelmed the country’s white shores and changed them forever. This is where and when the electronic reputation is lost. Not dealing with it is tantamount to letting the doors open to more havoc. When a hotel group, which has more than regional ambitions, sees its name embroiled in negative confusion, it needs to react in real time, at least to defend its brands in the thick of the battle. Although the Naiade Group has managed to preserve the global image of the group, at the same time it has allowed the degradation of the image of its 5-star flagship, consequently, due to the total absence on the scene of Social Networks. They just didn’t monitor what was being said on the net while exercising high-level damage control on the physical scene. Nowadays, both the physical and the cybernetic scenes must be treated in the same way, because both feed off each other. Bad online advertising ruins the brand image and is immediately reflected in the day-to-day business in the real world. And this can be just as silly as a benign accusation on a series z blog, like:

I loved it, but there weren’t enough shrimp in my seafood cocktail!

Prayed

I loved the mix of materials in their rooms, but why do they have to put those old copper faucets in the bathroom?

These may sound silly, but that’s enough to arouse similar resentment, trigger an endless blog thread, and end up as a long-running negative buzz, if nothing is done to provide minimal explanations or talk about taking relevant action through the social media. That’s obvious now! A successful brand, a group, a company and even an individual have an obligation to take care that their names are not mentioned loudly without any type of control or follow-up. The goodwill of a company is never as before at the mercy of its virtual reputation, its e-reputation. This e-reputation should be monitored 24/7 with a quick response to comments and unobtrusive responses.

Bottom line

When built right, social media tools allow for seamless and transparent integration with ongoing traditional marketing and communication philosophy. Ingenious management of social networks and their satellite activities can effectively help hotel groups to acquire, expand and nurture new target markets through the development of community-based content and events, through effective interactive platforms. This set, when framed within an appropriate strategic framework, will aim to give a more social and sociable global image to the hotel group and its brands.

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