In Namur (Belgium), online reputation management and the tools that come with it are an integral part of hotel education.
We interviewed Mr. Cédric VANDERVAEREN, the Managing Director of the Château de Namur, a four-star hotel with a gastronimic restaurant. The hotel also hosts the provincial hotel school of Namur, where students can earn their Bachelor’s Degree in Hotel Management.
The hotel calls on HotelSpeaker for their reputation management.
Dear Mr. VANDERVAEREN, we would like to thank you for answering our questions about the hotel’s online reputation management, and about your experiences with HotelSpeaker’s platform. Could you tell us a bit more about your professional background and the hotel you currently manage?
During the past 25 years, I’ve built a very diverse career which allowed me to gain experience both in international companies (WaltDisney World Florida, Disneyland Paris, Conrad Brussels) and in public services (Château de Collonges, Château de Namur). Even though the customer base and financial results are very different, I’ve noticed that the strictness, efficiency, organization, profitability, the customer (or user) satisfaction and the management tools are identical. For the past 5 years I’ve been the Managing Director of the Château de Namur, a four-star hotel with a gastronomic restaurant, a ball room and conference room, and even a team building attraction in our basement. I see the hotel as a traditional building with an educational purpose. It’s very much a “hands on” type of school, where the students of the provincial hotel school of Namur come to practice in a real-life environment (dining room, kitchen, reception), while the Bachelor students in Hotel Management use the Château de Namur for several of their courses (Marketing, Accounting, Hotel Management, Revenue Management, Communication, Human Resource Management, …).
What would you say is the importance of online reputation management in the hotel and restaurant business? Is this subject included in the students’ training cycle?
Online reputation (e-reputation) has proven to be a very effective tool for managing customer satisfaction, but when used correctly it’s also an excellent marketing tool. Our students analyze the reviews so they can take corrective action or develop new strategies with regard to the customer’s experience. They practice responding to customer reviews in French, but also in the context of their language courses (Dutch, English, Spanish, German). Their Marketing professor helps them to discover the positive elements in a review, but also shows them how they can use this medium to bring a company’s strengths into the spotlight. They don’t just respond to the author of the review (positive or negative), but they also keep all future readers in mind…
Which goals and conditions for online reputation do you teach your students, who will soon be managing our hotels and restaurants?
The goal is to make it absolutely clear to them that managing customer reviews is just as important as managing personnel or stock. Online reputation is to our business what hot water was at the beginning of the previous century: indispensable. There’s no need to be afraid of a very negative review. Everyone knows that reviews contain subjective content which is open to interpretation. The most important thing is to ensure that on average, the comments reach the goal that we set out in our Marketing Plan. The only exceptions to this are insults or exaggerated caricatures. If the reviewer clearly has bad intentions or excessively mocks us, we don’t respond. It’s our way of making it very clear that such extremes are unimportant to us.
Is it easy for a hotel the size of the Château de Namur to respond to public reviews?
No, small hotels such as ours are unable to afford a commercial manager or even a reputation manager. We’re limited in our number of active staff members, but also in our knowledge: we don’t spend our time learning ‘exotic’ languages like Chinese, Hebrew, Russian or Japanese… and even when we use languages we do know, such as Dutch or English, we’re not always sure if we’re using the correct terminology or grammar.
What motivated you to choose HotelSpeaker’s services? How did you implement this solution? And what do you think are the most important benefits of this service?
I don’t remember exactly how I discovered HotelSpeaker, but I do remember that for us, this solution was a no-brainer. Finally, we would be able to write coherent answers in all languages, with an excellent personal touch. We would be able to put our strong points into the spotlight quickly: usually within 24 hours after receiving the review. What’s more: after we approve the answer, HotelSpeaker doesn’t charge extra for placing their answer on the source website (Booking, TripAdvisor, …). Our work consists of · Reading the answer that was proposed by HotelSpeaker · If necessary, correcting it · Confirming it
After that, we don’t have to do anything. HotelSpeaker really went out of their way to get to know our hotel and our environment. We really feel like the Château de Namur has a new partner that manages the replies.
What influence does a swift reply in all languages have on the revenue and the popularity of a hotel?
All studies on reputation management show that it’s important to follow up on the comments of customers. Unfortunately, we don’t have a tool that allows us to measure the exact influence of good reputation management, but just like many other hotel and restaurant managers, we can now focus on what we do best: our craft. That sort of freedom is priceless. It’s true that this solution comes with an additional cost, but we’ve incorporated that into our annual advertising budget. We believe that good reputation management is just as important as traditional advertising, if not more.