Are Hotels Taking Social Media Too Far?

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Social media plays a big role in hotels and airlines theses days. Most companies have their own Facebook and Twitter pages where they run special promos, engage directly with guests and loyalty program members, and answer questions. According to this  Flyertalk thread, however, it seems that the staff of one Starwood property have taken social media to a whole new level by researching a guest who called to cancel a reservation.

If you read the thread, you’ll see the guests claims that when he called to cancel his reservation at the Westin in Edina, Minnesota, he noticed someone on the staff had looked up his professional profile on LinkedIn and left him voicemails ahead of his reservation to explain the details of his rate (sounds like he got a corporate rate and they were explaining that he needed to show all manner of ID to prove he was who he said he was and worked for whom he said he did). When he called the GM to express his concern about the stalkerish nature of what the employee had done, the GM said that the hotel checks guests’ LinkedIn and Facebook accounts to verify their corporate rate as well as to provide a more personalized experience based on Starwood’s “Global Personalization” customer service initiative. Even after the guest expressed his continued dismay–arguing that the hotel should just demand appropriate identification at check-in, he found that the GM had gone and checked his LinkedIn page too!

Another Flyertalker mentions how during his stay at the W Retreat & Spa Bali-Seminyak when he arrived to his room his welcome amenity included a framed picture of himself, which was his Facebook profile picture. This guest really enjoyed the work the W Insiders did and the research they put into making his stay memorable. Still, sounds a bit creepy to me.

Starwood's Privacy Policy stating they may collect information from social media sites.

I wanted to investigate this further, so I took a look at Starwood’s privacy policy. It stated that one of the ways information (of guests) may be collected is by “working with third party sources, including collecting publicly available information from social networking web sites.” This defends what the hotel was doing, as the information they were looking at was publicly available. They have a point. If you’re willing to put up information about yourself on Facebook and LinkedIn for anyone to see (there are privacy settings!), can you be outraged when someone actually looks at them?

Though this Starwood incident seemed a little nefarious, most airline and hotels are positively crowing about their social media outreach. For instance, Delta even made a YouTube video about receiving a tweet from a Diamond Medallion member and how the airline leveraged social media to plan a surprise celebration for him. (Hey Delta, I fly out of JFK as well, where’s my party?). In fact Delta’s @Deltaassist Twitter handle has been a huge help to me – getting problems solved even while I tweeted them in the air while on Gogo Wifi.

Ritz-Carlton actually has a complex guest recognition system set up and they take similar measures such as looking up guests on Facebook and Googling them in order to enhance their experience during their stay, and you can be sure other high-end chains keep detailed notes on frequent customers (anyone ever notice their welcome amenity is the same at all the hotels within a chain?).

So what do you think? Is this just good guest relations or creepy stalking?

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Share your comments below. What do you think? Is this social media abuse, or should people be more careful about what they put on the internet? Has anything like this happened to any of you?

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