05 Jan Is TripAdvisor failing hoteliers?
2013 brings a hopefully prosperous new year for all hoteliers, but also inevitably means yet further growth of TripAdvisor; but is this behemoth of online reviews actually doing hoteliers any favours – does it even care about them?
As almost any hotelier who uses TripAdvisor will tell you, the navigation of the site for hoteliers is not fantastic when it comes to writing a response; a hotelier is basically a normal user account with additional functions to see statistics so it is easy to get lost in amongst the variety of links and account options you have. It is only due to writing this that I discovered some of the quick-links, which start out on the right hand side of the page, then switch to the left hand side, then disappear altogether depending on which pages you go to. Hardly user friendly at the best of times, but at leafs there is a quick link to the management response page.
Every listing has a range of statistics, which can be useful if you do not have any other scoring system in place internally; however here is where TA again shows true colours – money! Almost every opportunity that there is for TA to make money is thrust at you. Every page has some form of pup-up or advertising which clutter the screen; when you log in you get pop-under windows, when you write a review you get pop-ups – but for hoteliers you get adverts to upgrade the statistics, along with mischievously titled links to ‘Drive more bookings’ which actually just takes you to advertising for business listing upgrades.
But these are minor things when it actually comes to the true functionality and workings of TA for hoteliers; for the purpose of being honest I would like to confirm:
- I write management responses for a hotel
- I use TA as a business listing owner and consumer
- I have used TA for a few months now
- I am not affiliated with TA in any way
- I have had disputes on reviews and issues with review content that have been reported to TA
Okay – so lets start getting to the nitty-gritty here. I am sure that most hoteliers have noticed (in fact I have seen forum posts about it too):
TA takes ages to notify you about a new review – I have had at least 20 reviews notified to me, however all the notifications have been received a minimum of 36 hours after the review was actually published online. This is 36 hours of potentially defamatory material being online without TA telling you. I monitor TA regularly (around twice a day) to check for new reviews and get a response up there ASAP, but it would be nice to be informed when the review goes live, as opposed to 2 or 3 days later. Ideally we would have a copy of the review sent to us when TA receives it, then we can respond before it goes live?
TA takes ages to publish a management response – There is not only a delay in receiving notice of a review, there is a delay in getting the response up there – usually about another 36 hours again (if you are lucky). This means that a review can be up for 3 days, without having any response on there from management – and that can do a lot of damage!
TA doesn’t adhere to it’s own rules – this is where TA is extraordinarily annoying for me. I have had in the past, one of my reviews on another hotel, slated by another user in their review – essentially I was told I have no idea on what the hospitality industry is like in other countries or how tipping actually works! Essentially my character was attacked and their review basically just attacked mine – I did the decent thing and contacted the user directly to ask them to remove the references to me, to be greeted with a torrent of abuse in response. I reported the review and the user – the review stayed up and I never heard anything from TA about it. I even referred TA to their own policies about not using hearsay, other travellers experiences or similar in reviews and not slandering others. Nothing happened, review stayed up. To further my point here, try this google search – caution contains swearing:
These results prove that the content filters do little good, and that TA is not adhering to it’s own family friendly policy that states all reviews with profanity will be removed by their content filters – even the ‘clever attempts’ to circumvent these will be detected – obviously not! Replace the profane word in the search with any other profane word and you will get more results of the same – reviews littered with swearing and abuse;surely this is unfair?
TA fails to actually listen – okay, so we all have experienced a bad review, and most have experienced the abusive reviewer, but do TA actually do anything about it? Not in most cases. One example springs to mind – there were claims of sexual assault by staff, abuse by staff, injury at the hotel, defamatory comments against guests and theft by staff – all made in one review, and all false. All this because a guest was told they would be charged for the damage their event caused to the hotel (as is in their booking contract). The review was reported by the hotel; it was not removed. It was reported by guests; it was not removed. TA claimed it is the subjective opinion of the guest and they hold no responsibility – one of our staff was accused of sexually assaulting someone, and others of theft, others of drinking on duty and having their own friends at a private event – all false and backed up by statements, CCTV and management handovers. TA still refused to remove it – the review still exists to this day despite all the false allegations and slander that exist within the review; surely the fact that none of these claims had ever been made by a guest at the hotel in a review are a signal that something is wrong with the review?
TA doesn’t screen reviews – They have an automated process which is fairly obvious and I suppose would be deemed necessary with the amount of reviews they potentially have running through their system, but the system itself is no replacement for a human being. A machine cannot read emotion, or decide whether a comment is true, fair or legitimate – machines do not understand context, phrasing or framing of situations. they also do not know she someone is writing a review on the wrong hotel! Where I work, there is a hotel just down the road which is similarly named (same group, different brand), and sometimes people confuse us. A human being would notice the review is nothing like the previous or recent ones, and the facilities described do not match those at the hotel – ironically one reviewer did write a review on our hotel, on the other hotels review page, and stated at the end of the review for people to not ‘confuse this one with the other [Brand Name] hotel down the road’ – yet had done the exact same herself. A human being would have spotted this and corrected the guest before publishing the review.
Now this is probably seen as just a list of complaints about TA, and to be fair, it probably is just that – but the situation here is that TA is so concerned on monetizing (if you do not sell rooms through one of their partners, you will be lucky to have a listing?), that they have forgotten about the pure vile nature of some people.
Should it not be the case that a disputed review is just removed until actually being reviewed by a human being who decides based on the actual rules of TA policy? Should it not be that a hotelier is given the opportunity to respond to or dispute a review before it goes live?
Am I just dreaming or has TA created a monster that hides behind ‘social freedoms’ and ‘consumer rights’ to allow false allegations and claims – surely one day someone will have a claim made and end up pursuing criminal charges against someone – one incorrect claim could destroy a business, but TA fail to recognise this. The truth is that everywhere has unhappy guests at some stage, but TA is already used by guests against hoteliers like a stick to beat them with, or a loaded gun pointed at their heads to get a refund or free stuff (“give me XYZ or I will write a bad review on TripAdvisor”), and TA is not actually addressing this problem.
I am all for free speech and voicing an opinion, but unfortunately we live in a world where threats of bad reviews are thrown around to get freebies, and people will happily destroy you just for a ‘bit of fun’; yet there is little to no recourse for this type of activity and with TA actually not doing much to support hoteliers (when we had a dispute there were hundreds of emails, hours of phone calls and still the review remained!), how can we sustain ourselves.
Personally, I would happily just remove the hotel from TA (but I do not hold that decision), as almost every booking site has a reviews function – and in the case of some such as laterooms.com, they are from real guests who have stayed at the hotel! Unfortunately the management response option is only really available on TA.
As Robert Munro once said:
“I, with my partie, did lie on our poste, as betwixt the devill and the deep sea.”