NEW YORK: Luxury hotel brands could make more effective use of user-generated content (UGC) such as images and reviews, a study has suggested, but they need to be careful in how and where they feature pictures for example.

According to consulting firm L2, luxury hotels are increasing investments in UGC – the proportion using it has more than doubled in the past year – but more than half of the 50 brands in its index failed to incorporate it anywhere on their sites.

Sixty percent of brands on the index did not use UGC on their branded pages or sites, while 86% did not use it in their site landing pages, and 92% didn't host such content on a separate microsite.

Sam Lee, associate director of retail for L2, said there were several factors at work, including a lack of understanding of how effective UGC can be in generating guest engagement.

Cost is another: "Soliciting UGC, curating it, and integrating across channels requires a not insignificant amount of investment," he told Skift.

L2 observed that most consumers were content to share travel photos on their own social media accounts, but that it took an effort to get them to add a brand's specific hashtags or to upload their content onto a brand's site.

"It all comes down to engagement," according to Suzanne Cohen, brand director of North American marketing for W Hotels. 

"It's important to pay attention to your channels and your followers, constantly responding, reposting and speaking directly to them on their native platform."

She added that some of the brand's best advertisements came from guest photo galleries on individual hotel websites. "We see an incredible amount of click-through on these and know that potential guests are looking at these shots to book their next stay."

A word of warning, however, came from Stuart Foster, VP/Marketing for Hilton Worldwide's luxury brands, who reported a decline in conversion rates when UGC images were incorporated into homepages.

"My theory was that it [the UGC images] sidetracked people away from what they had gone to our website to do," he said. "It took them to Instagram and it became a rabbit hole."

He recommended using hashtags to build engagement with consumers on their preferred social media channels rather than placing UGC directly onto brand sites.

"It's helping us create like-minded communities out there in the social space," he explained. "It's making your brand part of someone's life."

Data sourced from L2, Skift; additional content by Warc staff