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My Review of Tripadvisor

02 June 2014

Tripadvisor... good advice or a very bad thing? A few hoteliers that I talk to say that they think Tripadvisor (TA) is great. They may genuinely believe that or perhaps they think that to say anything else would be construed as sour grapes. Most say it is becoming the biggest irritant in their business. If all reviews were genuine, balanced and sensibly written then it would be a useful tool. In reality it is not and is bad on many levels; for the hotelier, for the customer and for the industry in the longer run. I used to think that it had a positive role to play in the travel and tourism sector but now I don’t and here are my reasons why.

Un-regulated and untraceable... TA will say that all reviews are checked before being published. Really? I have never heard of a hotelier being contacted by TA to see if the person actually stayed or if the facts of the review are correct before publishing, no matter how damaging the content. What happens is just about anything is published for millions to view until someone from that establishment raises a concern. That takes 2-3 days and normally gets a reply to say that you can make a management response to put the record straight. There are two major problems here a) 2-3 days have passed and numerous people have read the review and possibly been given an incorrect impression that may lead to loss of business and b) the headline and rating of the review remains in place which, let’s face it, is what most of us look at along with the first couple of lines. Once TA give their ‘judgement’ on a review you can’t even respond back to them to further argue your case as it is a non-reply email address that they work from and the channel for objecting to a review in their management area of the website can only be used once. As far as I know it is impossible to contact them by telephone so no course for appeal in this court!

Bad news makes better reading... We are all guilty of this one. If something is good we might tell a couple of people. If something is bad then the whole world needs to know. You can have a hundred happy customers at a hotel or restaurant and not one feels the need to go on TA to advertise their enjoyable experience. Someone unfortunately has a bad experience and they have a fury that must be vented. What this means is that in order to get plenty of positive reviews and offset this aspect of human nature, businesses encourage happy customers to give a TA review. For TA this is brilliant because the very people that suffer because of them are now promoting them! If a business does not take an active position of promoting TA to its happy customers then it is at risk of only the unhappy ones making a review thus giving an unbalanced and inaccurate picture of that establishment. The other sad thing that might be happening is that people may be suffering problems during a stay at a hotel and waiting until they get home to write a scathing review. Hang on... the best thing to do is to speak to a manager there and then and get the issue resolved. There are many occasions when an issue can be simply and quickly rectified by a good manager so that your stay does not have to be a write off.

A tool for extortion... Unfortunately, like in most walks of life, there are dishonest people out to get what they can with no regard for others. If there has been a genuine mistake and a short-coming in the guest’s experience then there could indeed be a case for some compensation in the form of a discount or even the offer of a free stay. The problem is, however, that I know from both our own experience and that of other hotels that some people set out for a discount by using the threat of bad reviews on TA when the justification is just not there. I have even heard recently about a guest threatening a hotel with multiple bad reviews as it is very easy for one individual to setup numerous TA identities and post with purely malicious intent. Anonymity is just asking for abuse of the system...

Why are reviews anonymous? If you have something to say about a hotel or restaurant that is accurate and justified then why does your name not appear next to your words rather than an untraceable and irrelevant username? Surely the easiest way to ensure that reviews are not made up either by unscrupulous operators looking to falsely boost their ratings or equally unscrupulous competitors looking to bring down their rivals is to have a clearly traceable review. It has been well documented in the press that TA is so badly regulated that it is not only simple to make up a persona to leave a review but it is equally simple to make up a business that does not even exist! TA will no doubt say that this problem has been addressed and checks are now conducted on new businesses which may well be the case but what about all of the years that they operated before this problem was identified for them? This approach of ‘shutting the stable door once the horse has bolted’ is unacceptable but as with most things internet related regulation is next to non-existent. There are even companies on the internet who charge for adding good reviews with prices dependent upon whether you want the review to appear from a ‘new reviewer’ or a ‘top contributor’. Have a search for “real tripadvisor reviews” and see what you find.

Not just a review site... TA have recently begun to show their hand. As with most websites, banner advertising is good revenue and rates are driven by the number of visitors to the site. Nothing new here and any website needs some income in order to operate. In recent years they have started something called a ‘Business Listing’. This basically adds your own website link to your entry on TA. A few years ago when they started to try and sell this product to hotels we were being offered it for circa £700 a year which is a significant advertising expenditure for an independent hotel. We did not see its value at that level and I doubt many other businesses did either. A few weeks ago we received the latest rate for the ‘Business Listing’.......£5,500! (that is five and a half thousand in case you think I have missed a decimal point.) I will not print my reaction. So where are they going with this? If I take a Business Listing I wonder if it gives me an improved channel of communication with TA. Does it oil wheels? Will the hotel paying nothing get the same treatment regarding an objection to an unfair review as a hotel paying thousands of pounds a year? It does'nt stop there either. Next up is 'Tripconnect' which really just confirms to me that TA is an online travel agent that has had a very complex, drawn out and clever strategy to establish its position within the industry.

You are in it whether you like it or not... With most things in life you have the choice of participation. If you don’t like it then don’t do it. Not the case with TA. It is not possible for a hotel or restaurant to opt out of the site and I just do not see the justification in denying this right of choice, especially now that they are selling a service in the form of Business Listings. If TA was a regulated and fair review site then it would probably only be places that continually received bad reviews and did not address customer feedback that would choose to opt out but they should have that choice. The trouble is that this is not the case. The whole concept is a serious threat to the true nature of independent business and the ability, if so desired, to do things your own way.

We are a family run business with two hotels – both have been awarded the TA certificate of excellence and have a 4.5 out of 5 overall rating. We get some great comments from our customers on the site which are warmly received by the team but we get even more great comments and valuable feedback from people at check-out, on their bedroom comment cards or in an email a few days later. Listening to feedback, both good and bad is an important part of running a successful hotel but if they are on a public forum it should be a fair and regulated one.

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