I recently waded into a discussion on the fantastic Travel Rants website. Much to my surprise I then got a call from the producer of ‘Fasttrack’, BBC World’s travel programme, asking me if I would mind making the same point on a programme he was making.
I did and they did an interesting and thoughtful piece, which among other things, put my argument up against the CEO of Trip Advisor in the UK…. Which we found fairly amusing. Last heard it was still available on the BBC website.
I do feel there is a point to be made though. I won’t go into the ins and outs of Trip Advisor now in too much detail – it has been covered alot recently, not least on Travel Rants. Sufice to say that Trip Advisor is a wonderful tool which has revolutionised travel in many ways. I think mainstream hotels in general have massively improved their service as they just cannot afford poor reviews. Problems are identified early and dealt with. It has given consumers a fantastic tool in getting a better idea of the sort of place that would suit them. Indeed as tour operators, it has made our life easier as we constantly monitor trip advisor to make sure hotels and resorts we use are maintaining standards. It has even helped convince clients to go for more ‘leftfield’ options as long as there are people reviewing positively.
I spoke to a manager of new hotel recently (which is number 1 in their area amidst lots of competition) and I was interested to hear that they had based their staff training and bonus system entirely around teh importance of guest reviews and Trip Advisor in particular. The principle being that you cannot allow standards of service to slip, ever.
Clearly there are the obvious problems with fake reviews and so on and the odd insane or vindictive reviewer, but these points have been exhaustively covered elsewhere.
From speaking to our clients, I think that people are getting far more savy in their interpretation of reviews – acknowledging that different people value different things and that you do get the odd nutter etc…
Our main concern is for smaller places and in particular smaller places that are trying to be different. The point the CEO of Trip Advisor made in the programme was that problems can rectified and then the weight of positive reviews outweigh the negative.
A fair point in general but there are two problems here:
1: Small places might only get 5-10 reviews a year, say. The negative review with a genuinely problem may be taken on board and the issue sorted immediately. But up to 3 years later (Trip Advisor recently changed from holding reviews for 5 years to 3) that negative review will still be putting off customers.
2: Non mainstream places such as eco resorts can fall foul of the system – through no fault of their own. I have seen several eco places end up with complaints that they ‘don’t have AC’, have ‘insects in the room’ and things of that nature. If we as a tour operator had sold those places we would have made it clear what to expect and sold it to people who wouldn’t mind – or maybe see a lack of AC etc… as a benefit. But some people book direct randomly or go through agents who don’t really know what they are talking about. They end up in the wrong places, complain bitterly and put off loads of potential customers. Through no fault of the resort/hotel whatsoever who are totally upfront about what they offer. We have seen this happening to several places and it is extremely frustrating to us since we work so hard to ensure people get a holday that suits!
I do feel that we need to resist the trend towards worldwide homogenity that behomoths like Trip Advisor can inspire. Aside from the points made above, its very often the quirks of service than can give a place its character and I wouldn’t like to see every little hotel/guesthouse/resort/whatever in the world forced to confirm to the same international faceless hotel standards in order to ensure reviews are always positive!