Reviewing the reviews
According to its website, “TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel site, enabling travellers to plan and have the perfect trip.” But, when you look around the site, it seems that very few users have had “the perfect trip”.
It took us seconds to find 59,999 reviews which mention bed bugs, 21,288 reviews discussing cases of food poisoning, 26,898 reviews about cockroaches and 8,998 reviews about poor safety. Some of these reviews - and the pictures that go with them - are enough to put you off leaving your home ever again!
Rob Crossan, an established travel and lifestyle journalist said: “These kinds of user generated travel review websites are notoriously unreliable. Many people go on them only when they have an axe to grind, plus you have no idea as to what the users are comparing them against. Have they been to any similar hotels? Can they compare the resort they didn’t like or fell in love with scores of similar places?”
Many of the businesses who use the site monitor what their customers are saying about them and also keep an eye on their competitors however those businesses who don’t have anything to do with their businesses profile often have no idea of the way their customers feel.
There is quite often no way for businesses to opt out of these online review sites unless they can produce an official document proving that they have gone out of business meaning that the best thing for a company to do may be to embrace the site.
With more than 50 million visitors a month, 20 million members and 30 sites in 21 languages, TripAdvisor could become a great way to promote your business. A business account on the website allows you to upload photos to showcase and promote your business through free widgets and badges and track your performance.
One of the most beneficial arguments of how online review sites for businesses is that you can read customer feedback and, in most cases can respond to comments left by your customers.
Customer spending habits have changed dramatically since the economic downturn meaning online review sites could be more beneficial than ever in understanding how your customers perceive the way your business operates.
We conducted a survey in which we asked 20 people about their use of the TripAdvisor website - only four of them said that they use the site for every trip that they take. One respondent of the survey said that sites such as TripAdvisor are: “Pretty helpful if they are concise and specific. Some are pretty ‘nit-picky’ however but still useful” while another simply wrote: “View with caution.”
The same 20 people were asked if they had ever changed their travel plans based on a review they had read on a holiday reviewing website and, if so why?
One comment read: “Yes, on reading info about the area and hotel we had chosen to stay in which had a glowing report from travel agent, TripAdvisor gave us totally different info and overview. I chose to take info from someone who had already visited rather than travel agent who had not.”
Nine of the people asked said that they have never changed their holiday plans due to reviews they’ve read online but one person said: “There was a bad review on the food at a hotel so we didn’t go there because we were going half board.” Another said: “I like to see for myself, but good to be armed with that knowledge. I think if it was very bad then I would consider changing.”
It would seem that, like many of the reviews on the TripAdvisor website, the opinions of the general public are very mixed.
Looking at two reviews of the same hotel written a month apart, you would expect to see similar results. Not in the case of The Ibis Bastille Opera in Paris. One TripAdvisor user who stayed in the hotel in last October on a business trip wrote in his review: “Better than the typical Ibis hotel. Rooms are not huge but not tiny either…clean and bright…Decent price for pretty good service in a great location.”
He added one word which everyone who uses the site looks out for: “Recommended.” Using the TripAdvisor rating system, this reviewer ranked the Ibis Bastille Opera hotel as “very good.”
Just one month earlier another TripAdvisor user who was also staying in The Ibis Bastille Opera while on a business trip wrote “Too small room. Few space for clothes. Thin door - noise from corridor and elevator highly audible in the room.”
Apart from the poor use of the English Language, we can see just how different the opinions of these two travellers are. The second reviewer ranked the hotel as average using the websites rating system.
In order to get the most out of review websites, businesses should look closely to see who the reviews have been left by, the amount of reviews they have written on the website in the past and the types of comments they have left.
In our example, the first review of The Ibis Bastille Opera was written by a gentleman from Vienna. His profile tells users that he is originally from America but lives in Europe and that he travels often. He claims to have visited 86 cities around the world and he has written 23 reviews for the website since he joined in December 2007.
The second review however was posted by a traveller from Prague through the website Accorhotels.com. This user does not have a TripAdvisor profile so we do not know anything about them.
Businesses can use this type of information to learn more about who their customers are, where they are from and how much they use similar businesses and in what capacity, such as hotels for business trips.
TripAdvisorWatch, a blog set up by hoteliers: “to shine a light on TripAdvisor, Trivago and other review sites in the hope that they will take notice and improve their service to stakeholders,” states that one of the downfalls of online review sites is “the abuse of the “anonymous reviewer” system, both by other owners and by malicious reviewers.”
TripAdvisorWatch claims that there are fake reviews written by rival hotel owners and that they themselves have fallen victim of malicious reviews.
Laurel Greatrix, UK Media Relations Consultant for TripAdvisor said: “Attempts to manipulate the system are rare as the vast majority of hoteliers understand the tremendous risk to their reputation and their business if they attempt to post fraudulent information on review sites like TripAdvisor. We take serious steps to penalize businesses who are caught attempting to manipulate the system.”
TripAdvisor have three steps which they say ensures the “legitimacy of reviews.” One of which is asking “our large and passionate community of more than 50 million monthly visitors help report suspicious content.”
Earlier this week, Bdaily reported that London based marketing and sales firm Source Marketing Direct had found that using customer feedback can help businesses survive the tough economic downturn and online customer review sites offer businesses the opportunity to monitor what their customers are saying about them.
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Francesca Dent .