Harnessing Authenticity: The Game-Changing Role of User-Generated Content in Elevating Direct Bookings

July 24, 2023

In case you haven’t noticed – user-generated content (UGC) is the latest darling of the marketing world. When we think about the reasons why UGC is so effective across audiences, its quick rise to prominence should come as no surprise.

UGC is defined as “original content related to a product or service that is created by individuals and not by the brand itself.” Pretty straightforward, right? This brand of content can materialize on effectively any content channel, from social media platforms (TikTok, Instagram, etc.) to online reviews, vlogs, podcasts, and more. And guess what? We’ve all, in some form, likely participated in the creation of UGC ourselves (yes, even those of us who leave “influencer” off our resumes).

Let’s consider an example – you’re sitting at your kitchen counter, aimlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed as you relish your morning coffee when a post from your friend catches your eye. She recently moved into a new apartment, and the image shared was taken during the infamous golden hour. In the post, soft, warm light streams through the window of her new bedroom, casting a dreamy, golden hue across her bed, which has been artfully made up with linen bedding and tastefully arranged throw pillows. Her cat is pictured laying languidly across a textured throw blanket at the foot of the bed, and on her nightstand sits a small stack of books, a candle, and a sleek, modern lamp. The photo – surely by design – offers up the effect of a cozy bedroom nook, and you find yourself especially drawn to the rich, sage color of the bedding. As your eyes skim past the photo to her caption, you notice a hashtag at the end: #MyParachuteHome, and realize your friend’s new bedding must be from Parachute, a luxury bedding company known for comfortable essentials that “make you feel at home.”

Even if you never purchased bedding from Parachute yourself after seeing the post, you were impacted by their UGC – after all, it caught your attention and made you aware of the brand. And in an increasingly noisy world and competitive brand marketplace, consumer attention is a hot commodity. More importantly, UGC feels authentic – not contrived or strategically curated in the way a billboard advertisement or traditional marketing campaign often does. Rather, it puts a brand where its customers are – on the ground level – and acts as a visual form of word-of-mouth advertising while bringing customers into the fold as genuine brand advocates. And if you ask me, UGC can (and should) change the game for hotel and hospitality brands eager to elevate their direct bookings.

How Loews Hotels Welcomed Guests Like Family

Most of us know Loews Hotels as the luxury hotel brand comprised of 26 distinctive properties across the United States and Canada. But some travelers may know Loews Hotels as the hospitality brand that featured their vacation photos as part of a professional ad. In 2015, Loews Hotels began leveraging the #TravelForReal hashtag for UGC, and five years later, this transitioned into #WelcomingYouLikeFamily. UGC became a key part of the brand’s multi-channel marketing campaign, which aimed to affirm its position as one of the nation’s leading hotel companies with video, photography, digital experience platforms, and on-property touchpoints. The campaign’s goal was simple but impactful – bringing more authenticity to the hotel’s marketing content while learning (directly from guests) what it’s really like to stay at a Loews property.

The process was simple: Loews Hotels encouraged guests to utilize its hashtag taglines and, in turn, tapped into an influx of original content from guests. Not only did this content provide organic reach and influence, but Loews Hotels also collected it for official marketing materials, giving guests the thrill of seeing their vacation memories displayed in professional ads. Essentially, they made their guests the star of the show – and isn’t that what hospitality is all about?

UGC – The New Gold Standard of Third-Party Content?

As so eloquently described by Hootsuite, “UGC gives customers a unique opportunity to participate in a brand’s growth instead of being a spectator. This influences brand loyalty and affinity in a big way because people thrive off being part of something greater than themselves, and creating UGC allows them to be part of a brand’s community. UGC also opens up conversations between a brand and consumer, and this level of brand interaction helps build and grow an engaged community.” More importantly, social proof carries significant weight in today’s market – and the social proof hotels need extends beyond their TripAdvisor reviews. If you’re not yet convinced of the power of UGC, let’s take a look at the numbers:

92% of consumers turn to people they know for referrals above any other source
84% of consumers say they trust peer recommendations above all other sources of advertising

79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions
93% of marketers believe that user-generated content is trusted more than the content created by brands

Moreover, a reported 72% of users will agree when asked by a brand to use their content. At the same time, 64% of the customers agree that when brands repost their content, they are more likely to create and share similar content in the future. 

The value of UGC as an integral, organic marketing tool isn’t hard to rationalize when we think about the basic tenets of human psychology and influence. As Dale Carnegie, the author of the widely celebrated novel, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ wrote, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Similarly, hotels can inspire more trust, loyalty, and engagement with guests by demonstrating their interest in the guest, their experiences, and their content.

More importantly, by monitoring social channels for guest content, hotel brands will inherently capture guest feedback and sentiment. This is the power of social listening; it unlocks UGC opportunities and gives hospitality brands a more direct purview into what their guests love (and what they don’t). As any hotelier will tell you, this is a key component of good – or better yet, great – hospitality.

A Birds-Eye-View of Omni-Channel Marketing for Direct Bookings

Ultimately, only some marketing endeavors have to be a billboard, a paid online ad, or a perfectly planned and executed commercial; sometimes, the most impactful content is offered up by the travelers hotels are usually too busy trying to market to.

Of course, UGC doesn’t replace traditional forms of marketing; instead, it aligns with those pillars of business. Surely, any marketing professional will tell you that, more often than not, the best approach to customer connection is a dynamic one that spans across multiple channels.

When we look at the world of hospitality, we understand that one of the foremost goals of any hotel is to increase direct bookings (while maintaining brand standards and guest satisfaction, of course). This is a challenging endeavor for many hotels as they compete with online travel agencies (OTA’s) and competitor properties. As you might have guessed, there isn’t a singular solution to this challenge. The hotels that generate the most direct bookings come to the table with a great offering and reputation amongst travelers and employ several channels and strategies to effectively market their property. In many cases, this includes (but is not limited to) reputation management strategies, strong customer service initiatives, influencer campaigns, modern technology that leverages data, automation, and personalization (such as a dedicated booking recovery solution), and – you guessed it – a UGC strategy.

Now, more than ever, hotels should look to diversify their marketing efforts with the help of several tools and strategies which can work together to drive direct bookings. UGC – in an increasingly digitized world that is enamored with social sharing – should be a key part of that strategy, as it stands to help hotels win more direct bookings by showcasing their connection with their guests and championing a decidedly human marketing approach.