Photo Credit: Meliá Hotels International

Photo Credit: Meliá Hotels International

HT Talks Tech: Santiago Garcia Solimei, Global Head of Social Media and Brands, Meliá Hotels

Learn how the pandemic turned this luxury hotel brand into a social media expert.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor, Hotels
escobar

For years, Meliá Hotels’ social media marketing strategy has been a top priority, but the pandemic was “a real game-changer” for the brand, explains Santiago Garcia Solimei, Global Head of Social Media and Brands. As flights were canceled and hotels shut their doors, guests began to reach out to the brand via X (formerly known as Twitter), Facebook and Instagram.

[Check out this column Solimei wrote for HT in 2019, right before the pandemic, that discusses the importance of social media specifically for the hotel industry.]

“Our volume of direct messages via social media channels grew approximately 500% at the beginning of the pandemic because social media was one of the few channels of communication that remained open between our guests and our team members,” he adds.

However, the brand didn’t have enough team members on hand at the time to handle the high volume of guest queries that were coming in. Meliá Hotels turned to its longtime partner, Hootsuite, to find a solution to this problem. That solution came in the form of Hootsuite’s Inbox feature which allows Meliá’s team to respond to private and public messages across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The team also uses the Inbox knowledge base to save and share responses to some of their most commonly asked questions. 

[In July 2020, the brand challenged university students to help co-create its Tik-Tok social media strategy.]

After the pandemic’s restrictions were lifted and travel returned to normal, Solimei’s team noticed that customers continue to use social media to interact with the brand. Why?

“It saves them time; it’s convenient,” he says. “Calling customer service or waiting in a queue for a front desk agent is time consuming and tiresome.”

In fact, this channel is growing exponentially. For example, in 2023 the brand fielded 366,000 conversations over social media. This was a significant increase from the 133,000 conversations it fielded over social media in 2022. Queries included everything from a resort’s pool hours to possible job opportunities to questions about their loyalty account. There are also guest complaints, booking questions/opportunities, and investors who want to get in touch with the brand’s development team.

“To help our team members handle all of these conversations, we began to identify and categorize similar questions. Then we created responses that could be automatically sent to the person asking the question. We continued working with Hootsuite and brought on partners from Google to help with the automation. This allowed us to drop our resolution time from 24 hours to 12 hours.”

While this was a major win for Meliá Hotels, the brand isn’t completely satisfied with that result. They know that their guests want answers that are virtually instantaneous. To help in this respect, the brand has begun testing GenAI. Meliá Hotels allows GenAI to interface with all of its content management systems and then send responses to guest queries that are fairly basic: How many restaurants does your hotel have? What is on the menu at a specific restaurant? Etc.

“Currently we’re testing and reviewing the responses GenAI provides to these common guest queries,” he notes. “But in the next few months, we’ll start allowing it to actually respond to guests (with supervision in place at first). At the end of the day, our company’s vision is to have 80 percent of these conversations handled via either automation or GenAI, and 20 percent would be handled by a team member.”

Additional benefits to the 80/20 split include: Meliá Hotels will be better prepared to handle even more conversations via social media than it already does, and its response/resolution time for most conversations will be virtually instantaneous “which is exactly what the user is looking for in this particular environment,” he explains.

A Few Pieces of Advice

For hoteliers who are looking to improve their interaction with guests via social media, Solimei has a few key pieces of advice. First, a brand has to really understand who makes up their “community” and if they can truly add value to that community via social media. Second, ensure you have the correct technological framework in place to support the needs of your community, and make sure it can be scaled up.

“We operate in 40 countries and open about one hotel a week,” he explains. “We need a solution that can grow with us, that can handle multilingual translation, etc. Know what your needs are and make sure your tech can handle them.”

Third, carefully choose your social media platform.

“Many companies operate in way too many social media platforms and then don’t have the resources they need to be effective,” Solimei says. “Start slowly with just one or two platforms so that you can leave a great impression on your fan base. That will turn them into advocates of your brand and loyalty members that stay with your brand over and over again.”

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