Received a comment to my post earlier today and decided to reply in a new post.
Here is the comment -" ....how does one expect to make a $$$$ using the sheraton approach ?"
I think there is a huge question mark over the big chain fight back strategy of the same price for every channel and robotic responses to negotiations for rates and availability with trustworthy partners - by that I mean partners that sell through the channels that they tell hotels they will sell through. The hotels have done this to reclaim customers lost to intermediaries thinking that price was the main reason.
I have long argued that the marketing money that the chains are spending to drive people to their websites for just a price based experience is a bad one as it is telling customers to think with their wallets and not with their hearts. Hotel room purchases are unambiguously a part rational part irrational purchase decision. A lot of emmotion goes into deciding where to sleep, who to trust with breakfast and your clothes and which bar of soap smells the sweetest. This is where brand comes in.
I believe that the chains fight back was too much weighted to price and not enough on brand and experience. The movement by Sheraton to a UGC influenced page is a positive step because it is encouraging people to interact with the brand, to share their emmotional experiences and trust in the Sheraton.
You can't look at this as a pure money play by Sheraton but a way for it to encourage its customers to share the brand experience with others and help with the emmotional battle for their money. In the hotel biz if you win the emmotional money battle it is very hard to lose the financial one, especially in the 4-5 star market.
There are a lot of things Sheraton will have to do right in implementing this. They will have to publish the good and the bad and reward both. They will need to give customers a reason to keep returning by keeping the content fresh and relevant. Basically - if you open up your brand to public scruitinity you have to listen to what you hear.
PS - am just looking at the theory, have not tested the Sheraton site that much to see if they have actually executed well. Let me know if you have.
UPDATE - interview here with Philip Charles-Pierre, Director, Interactive Marketing Starwood Preferred Guest, Starwood Hotels (good title) where he discusses the changes to the SPG.com. More PR spin that deep inside story but worth a glance.