Chocolate Pillow | TripAdvisor – The Hotelier and User’s Best Enemy?
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TripAdvisor – The Hotelier and User’s Best Enemy?

20 Aug TripAdvisor – The Hotelier and User’s Best Enemy?

Hello again all,

So I have covered Groupon before, but there is an even bigger monster that almost every hotelier or restaurateur in the world has had lurk over their shoulder at some point or another; the beast known as TripAdvisor.

I previously looked at how Groupon has changed the way consumers make choices, and TripAdvisor has probably had a much larger effect on not only how people select a hotel, but also how they complain about a poor experience too.

TripAdvisor did not explode on to the scene quite as suddenly as Groupon et al, instead they experience a fairly steady growth from their first inception, and this allowed the industry to adapt fairly well, but this has led to a strange phenomenon across the industry; fear induced service recovery. It started out in November 2000, when TripAdvisor.com hit the internet with more of a mild fizz than a huge bang, however it quickly grew and became profitable just 17 months later in march 2002; the site was not even 10 years old when in August 2010 it announced over 40 million users, making it the largest travel site in the world!

This may sound strange to many, but it is a weird by-product that TripAdvisor probably had no intention of creating. It is the weird phenomenon whereby a hotel or restaurant is induced in to service recovery, purely due to the fear of a bad TripAdvisor review from a guest. In a day of social media and networking, communities have become even less disparate and disjointed, and seasoned travellers are now connected like never before with an online community that can answer almost any question on any destination in the matter of a few clicks. Now where there is good, there is also bad… Just like karma, or ying and yang!

The bad portion here being the (relatively small percentage) of TripAdvisor manipulators. These are the consumers who use TripAdvisor to either hold a business owner to ransom, or to gain revenge at a hotelier for a bad experience, or even to write bad reviews in exchange for freebies from a competitor. Now I will say that these activities are morally incorrect and I do not agree with or condone them in any way, but the fact of life is that they occur (or so I have heard reported and had told to my by these guests themselves). I myself have come across these in my career, and have had people (attempting to) hold me to ransom using TripAdvisor for something far from the initial intended purpose of the site!

The effect that TripAdvisor has had on the actual hospitality industry itself is actually a lot bigger than many people will realise. When I started out in hotels back in 1993, the site was non-existent – it was a time where mobile phones were as large as a suitcase and the first text message had only just been sent, teletext had just been born, Buckingham palace opened to the public and I carried my first guest suitcase up the stairs of the Majestic Templestowe Hotel in Torquay (which still exists to this day I believe!). People spoke to each other and had small communities of friends – there were people who were penpals and went on holidays together and families spoke at the dinner table – hotels were dealing with complaints but people either told you there and then, sent you a letter or just told a few people back home. The birth of modern communication changed the face of business, and Tripadvisor along with them.

As of May 2012, TripAdvisor claim to have more than 75 million reviews and opinions (forum posts?); over 610,000 hotels listed, more than 56 million unique visitors a month with over 32 million members. Oddly enough despite the high figures, the number of users does not even represent half a percent of the entire world population over over 7 billion, or even 1 and a half percent of the total 2 and a half billion internet users in the world – however it strikes so much fear in to a hotelier generally.

When TripAdvisor appeared, large companies switched from being focused on service recovery and service provision, to becoming more focused on social media, online marketing and online reputation. A bad review on TripAdvisor suddenly became the worst ever thing to happen to the business. This occurred because of many misconceptions, aided by TripAdvisor itself! If TripAdvisor tell you that their site is visited by 56 million people a month, and your hotel is listed, it is natural to assume that a high amount of the 56 million people will look at your hotel; needless to say this is a massively incorrect assumption and only leads to unnecessary overbearing social media management where heads roll as soon as anything potentially bad is even hinted at on TripAdvisor.

Instead of hotels trying to get a five star rating (another post entirely); they have switched to getting a five rating on TripAdvisor. Now I will not be the first to say this, nor the last, but getting and retaining a five rating on TripAdvisor is impossible; you will always have at least one person who writes and knocks it down a peg or two – this may not happen at first, but it will happen, and it will hurt!

TripAdvisor has made hospitality more conscious of the consumer-point-of-view. this has led to improvement of standards across many hotels and groups that have actually taken TripAdvisor seriously and learnt from the comments and reviews posted about their business; then again there is also the bad side of people who either write reviews because they are being vindictive towards a business, or local businesses trying to sabotage a competitor.

TripAdvisor has also led to a new breed of shopper for hotels et al – people are reading and relying on TripAdvisor prior to purchase. The site has become a selling tool, and a powerful player in the decision making process for a consumer. In fact I have even heard in a few seminars that TripAdvisor could hold enough power that around 1 in 4 people check it before buying.

So TripAdvisor is a monster – people can access almost unlimited information about a destination; they even have destination experts who can effectively make or break a hotel if they wanted to as novice user see these people as essentially experts. People can break hotels, and hotels can get some really good feedback too. It is a source of unrivalled destination information, with hints and tips from people who live there. The service allows hotels to sell directly from their listing and give the hotelier a voice in reply.

BUT

With every up, there is a down!

TripAdvisor is TOO big. Consumers are being left waiting, hotels are not getting a fair deal, and TripAdvisor is generally downright ignorant! I say this from personal experience with the behemoth that is TripAdvisor LLC.

I wrote a review a while ago – my review was then berated (because I had dared to say that you should only tip when it is worth it, and that I found some staff rude) – I was personally attacked, told I did not understand what it was like to live in the country concerned and basically that I have no idea what I was talking about – the usual backlash you receive from people who disagree with what you say! So I contacted the reviewer, and what I got was torrent of abuse in response, so I reported the review – it was in blatant breach of TripAdvisor’s own guidelines that other reviewers should not be mentioned – this other person’s review basically reviewed my review, instead of really being about the hotel. The review came down, but then was back up in an hour? Surprisingly, less than 20 minutes later, one of my reviews was taken down because it merely inferred that I had been there during the same period as another reviewer!

Back to the review dispute I had with someone reviewing my review – I reported the review to TripAdvisor again…. nothing. So I emailed them 3 weeks ago. I just got the response today telling me the changes I requested will be made within the day and I can put a new review on tomorrow. I did not request changes, or to add a new review – my email had not been read, and what was within the email was not even acknowledged – I had a copy paste reply! Needless to say the response I sent was not very polite or complimentary – I have had a review left online despite my requests – a review that sullies my reputation, berates me and is personally offensive regarding my intelligence and cultural understanding… but then again, TripAdvisor don’t really seem to care because at the end of the day, I used their site and helped them with that little bit more advertising revenue no doubt!

The internet, and sites such as TripAdvisor have massive influence over consumers, and it is important to realise this. As a consumer, I use it to check properties and yes, I have made purchasing decisions based on reviews online so I am no doubt a proponent to the site’s success. Like many other sites, TripAdvisor has looked at making money, and making money quick – there used to be several competing sites, but TripAdvisor just buys them – look at Holiday Watchdog – independent for so long and such a great site, but then TripAdvisor bought them out – the site is now just an emulation of TripAdvisor in different colours. The problem with this ‘make-money-quick’ attitude is that revenue takes over (another post about hotels is yet to come on this!). Customers become nothing more than walking till-ringers.

I am old-school and believe that if you give good service, the money comes naturally – but the common trend with huge beasts such as TripAdvisor is that they have no customer care – they actually have very little concern for the people that use their site. At the moment this shows no signs of having an effect on their growth, but you never know!

The one thing that TripAdvisor does do is allow hoteliers to respond to reviews, but if you trawl through any hotel that always feeds back to reviews, the management responses are practically always the same – either ‘sorry, we take you comments on board’ or ‘glad you enjoyed your stay’ or some variation there-of. Hotels need to ensure the response is not a stock copy-paste response and is actually professional (we have all heard stories of hoteliers or restaurateurs ranting back at a bad review). Management responses are a great tool for business owners, and allow you to put your version of events across – as long as they meet TripAdvisors guidelines that can pretty much be interpreted in any way TripAdvisor chooses.

the other downside is that none of the reviewers or reviews on TripAdvisor are actually verified. It is taken at face value that people have stayed there – as a prime example of this, someone wrote a review mentioning my staff by name (3 staff members all with not-very-common-names), but on a different hotel just down the road (who have no staff by the names quoted). therefore my staff did not even know they had been praised highly, and the hotel nearby received an excellent rating when it was not due one. The system is just not able currently to verify whether someone has stayed somewhere so every review we read has to be taken with a pinch of salt – if it sounds like sales speak, it probably is a dodgy review, the same if it just berates the staff or similar with no real foundation to the information being provided.

TripAdvisor is probably here to stay, and will no doubt continue to grow. It is an overlord that many mis-conceive has the power to make or break a hotel or other business – if the real figures and hearsay are anything to go by, then only a quarter of the people who use your business will have looked on TripAdvisor beforehand.

Personally – I give TripAdvisor little regard most of the time; yes I check to see what is written about the hotel I work for, but that is because it falls within my job remit. One thing is certain; for a site all about reviewing service and how good it is, they certainly do a very good job of providing very poor service themselves!

[box style=”light-blue info rounded” ]As an additional reference, I found this great article that provides some really good advice on how to respond to a TripAdvisor reviews.

http://ehotelier.com/hospitality-news/item.php?id=23876_0_11_0_C

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Matt Shiells-Jones
matt@chocolatepillow.com

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious 'old cat lady'



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