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Travel companies invite guests to shape their brands with visual UGC

Cozy little country inns tend to be just that, but for one guesthouse, relaxed country living has apparently been unsettled by negative customer reviews on Yelp.

According to the New York Post, The Union Street Guest House in upstate New York was charging couples who booked weddings at the venue $500 for every bad review posted online by their guests.

The hotel has since edited the online policy, and told CNBC that it “was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced.”

Clearly this strategy didn’t work for Union Street or its public image; the hotel’s Yelp rating is a meager 1 star, and many of the recent reviews were provoked by the negative media coverage.

But negative reviews are a fact of life for the travel industry, and instead of hiding them or threatening customers, leading travel brands are engaging customers early with social media and showcasing the positive visual content this generates.

For instance, JetBlue, Hard Rock Hotel and the Texas Board of Tourism have worked with Olapic to help earn positive customer photos for repurposing across marketing channels. And earlier this year USA Today wrote that many hotel and restaurant chains have incorporated the strategy into their corporate rewards programs.

Kimpton, for example, has launched Kimpton Karma Rewards, a loyalty program designed to reward guests for such acts as mentioning an individual hotel or restaurant on social media.

Marriott may be the most high profile of these travel chains to embrace the new strategy, having introduced PlusPoints in May, which gives members points for things like using branded hashtags in Twitter and Instagram posts and engagement with official Marriott Twitter handles.

Rich Toohey, VP of Marriott Rewards, told Travel + Leisure, “It’s a way to provide immediate gratification for our members.” Toohey also sees the program as a way to excite younger guests, saying that the brand’s “membership base is soon to switch from being led by baby boomers, and we want the Gen X and Gen Y audience to love us in the future as much as boomers love us now.”

New whitepaper! From Ripple to Wave: The Ascent of Authentic Visual Content