Abu Dhabi may soon become the first tourism authority to integrate social media ratings into its official hotel classification system, as the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) works to stress the importance of social media to the UAE capital’s hotels.

TCA Abu Dhabi, which has been working on a new set of hotel classification guidelines since the authority’s rebranding from the old Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) in February 2013, is considering monitoring hotel social media ratings and using them to hold operators accountable for bad reviews and negative feedback.

It has also revealed plans to introduce a new category for the emirate’s hotels, specifically for hotels and resorts which are deemed to be outside the normal five-star criteria.

When approached by Hotelier Middle East, a TCA Abu Dhabi spokesperson said: “TCA Abu Dhabi is currently revising its accommodation classification system and an upgraded version will be launched early in the New Year and social media use may form part of the criteria for some categories.

“As an authority we are fully behind the use of social media in promoting a destination and we are also in the process of compiling a guide to social media promotion for use by our stakeholders,” they added.

This potential move by TCA Abu Dhabi follows in the footsteps of the Organisation of German Hotels and Restaurants (DEHOGA) and Hotelleriesuisse, the Swiss hotel industry parent organisation, who have both used social media analysis to influence hotel star classification.

However, TCA Abu Dhabi would become the first tourism authority to adopt the same system and integrate social media reviews into an official classification system.

Social Strikes Back

The rising importance of social media and guests reviews in the Middle East hospitality industry has been mirrored by the increasing prominence of user generated reviews on social media sites Facebook and Google.

One recent change was the Facebook’s decision to move its user review and rating system for public places, businesses, and organizations so that it is visible just below each page title.

When approached by Hotelier for comment, a spokesperson from Facebook said: “Currently people can sort by star ratings when they are using the ‘nearby’ feature on a mobile. For example, if they are looking for restaurants close to their location they have the option to arrange by star rating.

“Currently page administrators can manage their pages and deal with spam comments by removing them and banning the posters. In the case of genuine negative reviews, we would advise companies to seek to address their customers’ complaints,” they added.

Ready for Reviews

Speaking to Hotelier Middle East about TCA Abu Dhabi’s plans, Abu Dhabi hoteliers were generally confident in their properties ability to cope with any new regulations.

Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Suites Abu Dhabi Yas Island area general manager Thierry Perrot explains that “third-party review sites such as TripAdvisor are utilised by the travelling public, so we do view any and all comments as part of our hotels’ online story.

Every comment, post, review we receive tells the story of a guest’s experience and hopefully provides a good 360-degree view of our hotel and available services.”

This is also a view shared by Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi general manager Shaun Parsons who is proud that his hotel is “actively engaged with our guests through various social media channels” but admits that “the need to stay closer to our customers has never been greater, and the way in which we adapt to this will have profound impact on our bottom line.”

However, some Middle East hoteliers are also wary of any potential change to regulations, with Craig Bruce, general manager of Yas Island’s Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson hotels admitting that the “social media and the online world changes so quickly that this will need to be heavily regulated so that the hotel rating reflects this, for example your position on TripAdvisor can rise or drop quickly over a couple of weeks.”

However, Park Rotana general manager Francisco Giles admits that, regardless of any proposed legislation “it is more and more common for people to choose a hotel based on reviews of other guests found on social media, being TripAdvisor or Facebook.

“TripAdvisor is at the moment the world’s number 1 social media channel for hotels/restaurants and we already take it as an official hotel rating,” he adds.

There is so far no confirmed date for when TCA Abu Dhabi’s new hotel classification system will be ready, with the authority expected to update the industry within the first months of 2014.

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