Online reviews are everywhere in today’s world; Facebook, Google, Bing, Expedia, for example, and ask any hotel executive about social media and the name Tripadviser will inevitably come up. Today, consumer review sites are rapidly evolving into totally interactive, social marketing platforms and hotel and travel companies are seeking to protect their brands and reputations as well as building a more intimate relationship with existing and new clientele. Many hoteliers actually admit to being ‘addicted’ to these customer review websites and most hotels have a reputation management plan in place, or a review specific strategy, but are hoteliers paying these websites too much attention?
Recently, Tripadvisor became the first travel website to achieve more than one million unique visitors in a month, and instead of the traditional glossy brochures and guidebook reviews, these travellers now have access to real accounts, from real people, as well as offering smaller hotels and B&Bs high exposure. Whilst this, for some hoteliers, has been an extremely positive experience, some have been less delighted by its endless rise and more recently, hundreds of restaurateurs threatened to bring legal action against the website because, despite the fact a good review can be the making of a hotel, bad reviews can break them.
A lack of policing on review websites means that it is far too easy for hotels to write their own reviews, or to pay others to write them; too easy for reviewers to post untruthful or damaging reviews, and for hoteliers to ‘sabotage’ their competitors. Tripadvisor even makes a tacit admission that you can’t trust all the reviews, advising travellers to ignore any anomalies that appear overly critical or complimentary. So paying too much attention to these sites is discouraged.
On the other hand, discouraging or ignoring the use of these sites won’t do a hotel or brand any favours. To be ranked high on any review site (and therefore receive more consumer attention than competitors) a hotel needs to have frequent and consistent reviews, so encouraging happy customers to leave a review is vital.
Also, despite the prevalence of travel review sites, it is important that other ratings are not dismissed or forgotten about. Review sites offer a high level of transparency, yet formal programs such as Forbes or AAA are important in validating the opinions from user-generated reviews, and vice-versa. Of course it is important for hoteliers to be aware of what is being said on review sites, but which review programs should hold more sway?
Formal ratings, from a marketing standpoint, put hotels at the top of the industry, and carry a significant amount of prestige, although review sites can also be a powerful tool; used to gauge the authenticity of formal ratings.
So, our advice… work towards your own hotel-specific goals and take the consumer reviews with a ‘pinch of salt’ (as the site owners themselves advise), as in paying too much attention to how third parties view properties from the outside, it is easy to lose sight of what matters on the inside.