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Four Seasons’ new website bets on social media

The Four Seasons luxury chain today unveiled its overhauled its website, giving it a new look, new functions and more current content.

With the new site, Four Seasons also takes on the ambitious goal of trying to please today’s tech savvy, social-media-using luxury customer.

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Most striking is the prominence of voices from social media sites outside of Four Seasons’ control. For instance, if you’re browsing one of the chain’s 86 hotels such as the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, you’ll be able to see what people are saying about it on Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor.

The “Reviews at a Glance” box contains bright red letters that you can click on to go directly to TripAdvisor’s site for a particular hotel, the hotel’s Twitter account page or its Facebook account page.

Sharing all reviews: Risky move?

Four Seasons marketing chief Susan Helstab, who last March during an interview at the Four Seasons London at Park Lane told me about the vision for the site, says sharing all reviews is a risk that luxury brands in particularly have been reluctant to take.

“You take your chance with the good and the bad,” she says.

But the company’s of the mindset that it’s less of a risk for its hotels, where on-site staff over the last year have been individually trained to monitor and follow-up with all reviews.

“It really does require that incredible sense of confidence that says we deliver our promise,” Helstab says.

Sharing all reviews – the good, bad and ugly – also requires confidence in customers, she says. If they see a negative review or Twitter message, they will likely first determine whether it has any relevance to them before letting it sway their booking decision.

“If you find that not every experience is equally positive, you will understand the framework for that experience. Maybe it was from a traveler who wasn’t quite like you,” she says. “Maybe you want an active kids’ pool with lots of amenities (unlike the writer of a particular review that complains about the pool scene).

In a Four Seasons survey, 33% of guests rate TripAdvisor “very to extremely influential” in their selection of a luxury hotel. In its research, the Toronto-based hotel operator also cites these stats from consulting firm e-tailing group: 92% of internet users read product reviews and 89% say that reviews influence their booking decision.

Playing up Facebook, TripAdvisor and Twitter also reflects the company’s belief that social networking has completely redefined how consumers engage with brand.

“Now, it matters less what a brand says about itself; what matters is what people say about a brand,” Four Seasons’ research paper says. “There’s no room for smoke and mirrors in today’s socially networked world.”

In addition to social media usage, Four Seasons cites research showing its customers are tech-savvy. Stats from the Affluence Collaborative: 57% of wealthy consumers say they like to have the latest gadgets vs. only 18% of the general population.

Other changes you’ll see on the new site:

  • Recognition: Once you’ve established your profile and indicated your interests, the site will send recommendations that it thinks you’ll like.
  • New first impression: The old, generic site with traditional, slick hotel shots is gone. Today, individual hotel landing pages feature a shot of a destination, such as the Sydney Opera House. The goal is to sell the destination as much as the hotel.
  • Easier booking: No matter which page you click on, it’s easier to check on a reservation. There’s less of a need to go back, which could decrease odds that a customer will go forward – that is, book a room.
  • User photos: The site’s filled with user photos, some of which were obtained from photo sharing site Flickr. “We believe we have more user-generated photography than any other luxury hotel website out there,” Helstab says.
  • Search by interest: A new feature lets you search for your hotel by interest, such as “beaches,” “family travel” or “sailing, diving and water sports.”
  • Customize: During the booking process, you can do extra things without going to a new window such as request a crib, book a spa treatment or – via a seamless link to – book a table at the hotel’s restaurant.

Four Seasons hotels are typically among the most expensive hotels in a given destination. They compete with other luxury chains including Starwood’s St. Regis, Hilton’s Waldorf-Astoria and Marriott’s Ritz-Carlton, as well as foreign such as Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula.

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