By James Westlake, MD UK & Asia Pacific, Trustpilot
How we shop, book and engage with travel brands has changed dramatically over the past decade. But it hasn’t changed enough. Consumers today are accustomed to engaging with digital brands in terms of a holistic experience, one that is based on a relationship and ultimately trust.
As a traveller I want a provider that can make the process of putting the various elements of a holiday together a pleasure. However, all too often the travel industry isn’t selling such experiences, but rather asks me to assemble various products in pick and mix fashion – a flight here, a hotel there, some ancillary services.
It can seem a bit like putting jigsaw pieces together in order to get what you actually want. As we move towards an era based on digital transformation those travel brands that achieve an ‘experience’ led sell will be those that are truly trusted by the consumer.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 2017 represents the watershed where trust in institutions has reached crisis point. On average, only 40% of the UK’s general population now say they have trust in institutions (business, government, NGOs and the media).
This number has fallen 2% since last year and has been on a consistent downward trajectory for a decade. This matters for the travel industry because in the era of digital transparency there’s nowhere to hide.
The experience your brand delivers will be visible to others at scale, whether through a review platform such as ours or simply via social media – just ask British Airways how transparent the world is today.
And consumers are wise to the information at their disposal with 88% saying they regularly check online reviews in advance of making a purchase. So, how should the industry respond to this new era? In my opinion there is only one response and that’s to embrace a culture of transparency.
Being transparent means you allow, indeed you welcome, public feedback from customers. Pause for a moment and consider how Airbnb has grown revenues to $6 billion annually.
You might think it’s because they’ve unlocked the potential of people’s spare bedrooms and effectively a raft of new inventory. But that’s not the key reason Airbnb and other sharing economy platforms are winning.
As Oxford academic Rachel Botsman has eloquently described, it’s the trust inducing mechanism inherent to Airbnb that’s the secret sauce. Guests have the confidence to stay in a stranger’s home and vice versa because the reviews system engenders trust.
In Botsman’s view, this trend of ‘distributed trust’ between individuals will define the economy in the years ahead as trust greases the wheels of commerce. I agree with Botsman’s premise but i’d also assert the reason this trust mechanism works so well is its open nature.
That is, the review system isn’t moderated, it’s open. It captures guest and host experiences warts and all. It’s this principle of openness that’s essential to engendering trust.
As the travel industry moves from selling products to personalised experiences that lead to loyalty, the value of your brand embodying trust and transparency will rise still further. At Trustpilot we believe in transparency and that’s why our platform is designed to be open. Our business customers don’t pre-screen, delay or filter reviews.
That would defeat the purpose of collecting them and is the antithesis of transparency. In fact, many of our customers relish receiving negative feedback. It means they can show what they stand for, address the problems head on and recover the customer.
Our research shows that doing so openly actually has a significant positive impact on other consumers engaging with that review, more even than a straight five star review in many cases. So my message is clear: the consumer is in control, bite the bullet and embrace true transparency.