Or to be precise…
Can Social Media salvage the Mauritian Hospitality Industry’s shattered competitive edge and reputation?
First the Facts
The Mauritian tourism sector suffered some casualties in 2009 and at the beginning of 2010, with the heavy international crises that rocked the entire world economy. At first sight, the sequels weren’t as bad as one could think then. We were still profiting from positive growth rates, with an industry average of +7.3% for the period extending from January to March 2010 compared to same frame in 2009. And yet, something is still wrong in paradise, even if we welcomed 249 971 visitors for the first three months of 2010. The luxury niche seems to have lost some of its glitter. Top local hotel groups look like going through rough tides. Naiade Resorts, for instance, declared losses of the order of MRU 50 million while they closed 2009, profiteering at MUR 11 million. Same for the Rogers Group, which encompasses high standard resorts like Heritage and Le Telfair Golf & Spa. Their profits shrank by 51%. Similar picture for NMH (New Mauritius Hotels), with a 25.3% profit downgrade. These figures might well explain the gloomy atmosphere at the top tip of the Mauritian Hotel Industry. This negative mood is understandable. While the luxury room park (4-star up) had grown up by 115% in 2009, the occupancy rates dropped to 40%. That was just enough to slow down the investment momentum of the sector and in 2011 the pickup is still very slow.
Was there a rescue plan on the line, or were we waiting for the storm to cool off and get back to normal?
According to the Minister Nando Bodha, in an interview given to Jean Da Luz in May 2010, Mauritius must withstand its position and not give in to mermaid songs about lowering our rates and downgrading from our actual Diamond Destination status. This stands for 2011 also. His immediate action plan talked about strengthening the Brand’s positioning as opposed to fast growing competition from countries like Sri Lanka or the Maldives. And the operators just had to go down that same line, towards the top. They have to try find out about this little something that would give them the lead or, at least, stabilize it, without excessive finance-intensive solutions. But the main question remains. What can Mauritian 4star-up hotels offer to their target markets apart from the same old promise of unrivaled hospitality and service quality? What more, especially with the Harte tragedy at the Legends, the 5-star flagship of the Naiade Group of luxurious hotels?
What about the Harte tragedy?
The murder of the newlywed daughter of prominent Irish Football Tycoon, in her hotel room at the Legends, adds to the Mauritian hospitality sector’s misery. Communication havoc, media bashing and all the mayhem caused by thousands of online comments have surely hindered the efforts of Mauritius’ second economic pillar into accelerating its recovery. Within one week, Mauritius lost most of all the glittering goodwill it built round years of relentless market upgrade. The anguish of losing even a microscopic market share is relevant and legit. At least now we know how fast and how deep it goes when negative buzzing starts its worldwide tour.
Enter Social Media, Community Management and e-reputation. Are they genuine solutions?
Can the social bubble help the real world into consolidating actual leads and generating new ones? Can the Social Media trend mend broken images? The answer is definitely yes. Not as THE absolute keys, but as the bases for the development of new user-centric solutions towards consolidation and upgrade of the acquired competitive edge. The tourism industry in itself generates behaviors that remind us of what is going on in cyberspace when it comes to social media and networking. At some point in time, when going on holiday to the Club Med, it felt really good to be part of a community, even if this would be only for a week or so. Once to Club Med, one was considered and felt like a lifetime member (the GM, Gentil Membre), with that only wish to be back year after year. To have a grasp of this ambiance, the French feature films “Les Bronzs” is the right example, but definitely not a reference for times and setups like ours today. Social Media and networking has become for millions of online users a lifestyle in its own. People without a Facebook account are more and more regarded as ‘homeless’, atypical or asocial. With the Social networking mode enabled, an individual will take his time to consult blogs, Facebook groups or his LinkedIn connections. He will be asking questions through tweets, comparing everything online and will make his decision out of a messy information intake. That’s the same pattern when choosing a hotel destination nowadays. The customer goes by the bloggers’ trend. This is where Social Networking fits, by basically offering a consolidated and relevant alternative to a user’s search process. Integrating Social Media to the hospitality sector is almost a natural procedure. The prominent place of relationship management in the day-to-day business with tourists, makes it easier for the tourism industry to analyze and understand the target’s behaviors, needs and expectations. Social Media management will just plug in to translate all these data into useful information for the development of relevant interactive platforms. The most complex part of the setting up of such a strategy, resides in the pre-operational routine which implies thorough research on the targeted segments. Investigating social behaviors and expectations are the fundamentals underlying the production of relevant toolsets. This part of the setup is time-consuming and requires proactive human resources.
Dealing with e-reputation.
The Harte tragedy has brought into the limelight, at least for the Mauritian tourism sector, the extent of damages that can be caused by uncontrolled and untapped worldwide buzz. In less than a week it looked like this first and isolated episode had bitten up the competitive edge our Diamond destination had. Felt like a bad mouthed Tsunami had overwhelmed the country’s white shores and modified them forever. This is where and when e-reputation goes astray. Not dealing with it, equals letting open doors to further havoc. When a Hotel Group, which has got more than regional ambitions has its name brought into a negative turmoil, it needs to react in real-time, at least to defend its brands at the very heart of the battle. If the Naiade Group has managed well to preserve the group’s global image, it has by the same time allowed the downgrade of its 5-star flagship’s image, consequently due to total absence on the Social Network scene. They simply did not monitor what was being said on the Net while exercising high level damage control on the physical scene. Nowadays both the physical and cyber scenes must be treated the same way, because they both feed each other. A bad online publicity ruins the brand image and reflects immediately on the day-to-day business in the real world. And this can be as silly as a benign allegation on a z-series blog, like:
I loved it there, but there were not enough shrimps in my seafood cocktail!
I loved the material mix of their rooms but why do they have to put those old-fashion copper taps in the bathroom?
These may well look silly but that’s enough to up-dig similar resentment, trigger an endless blog thread and end up as a long-going negative buzz, if nothing is done to give minimum explanations or to talk about taking relevant actions through Social Media. That’s obvious now! A successful brand, group, company and even an individual have the obligation of seeing to it that their names are not being mentioned noisily without any control or monitoring. A business’ goodwill is never like before at the mercy of its virtual reputation, its e-reputation. This e-reputation needs to be monitored on a 24/7 basis with a rapid turnaround at tactful commentaries and replies.
When built the proper way, Social Media toolsets allow smooth, seamless integration with the ongoing traditional communication and marketing philosophy. Resourceful Social Media management and its satellite activities can effectively help hotel groups into acquiring, widening, nurturing new target markets by developing community-based content and events, via effective interactive platforms. This ensemble, when geared within a proper strategic frame, will aim at giving a more social and sociable global image to the hotel group and to its brands.