How to fight against TripAdvisor blackmail
04 SEPTEMBER 2014 6:18 AM
Compassion is the best approach to calm angry guests, sources said. But if they threaten bad reviews, it’s important to take immediate steps to minimize damage to a hotel’s reputation.
GLOBAL REPORT—While TripAdvisor and other travel review websites can be powerful marketing tools for hotels, they can also pose threats. Operators said some disgruntled or unscrupulous guests have threatened to post negative reviews of hotels unless they receive compensation—a room upgrade, a free room or even cash.
While there is little data to indicate how widespread the problem is, TripAdvisor and many hotel operators and companies are prepared to combat this kind of blackmail.
“Hotels need to accept that a small unscrupulous segment of travelers may use their social media clout to demand unreasonable concessions,” said Daniel Edward Craig, founder of online reputation management consulting firm Reknown. “Review threats can put staff in an extremely difficult position. They don’t want to cave in to unreasonable demands, but they also don’t want to be blamed for a bad review.”
Hoteliers at times might confuse a threat of a bad review with a basic service issue, said Adele Gutman, VP of sales, marketing and revenue for New York City-based Library Hotel Collection.
“What some hotels say is blackmail 99% of the time is simply a very weary, frustrated traveler,” she said. “We coach our staff to be compassionate and disarm (angry guests) by being kind and trying to put them at ease. Even if you ultimately can’t fix the problem, at least the guest can see there is someone who is truly trying to make things better for them.”
Gutman said associates are trained to find out what is really bothering the guest and then offer alternatives such as a change of rooms or moving the guest to another of the company’s properties in New York.
“If the answer is no and they just want a free room or a suite and there is nothing left to do for them, we offer to let them out of their reservation and help them find another hotel that better suits their needs,” she said. “That may be a financial burden for us, but we believe it is best for us if the traveler is happy, even if that means they stay someplace else.”
Documentation is key
While Gutman and other hoteliers believe there are ways to calm angry guests, they also have action plans to blunt vindictive TripAdvisor reviews.
“If there is that kind of activity going on—a review generated under suspicious circumstances—it doesn’t serve either TripAdvisor or the property to let it happen,” said Bill Carroll, a clinical professor in the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. “If you’re blackmailed once you could be blackmailed again. You’re saying to these people your system is susceptible to pressure.”
TripAdvisor has a protocol for hotel operators to report threats at its Management Center before a corresponding review is submitted to the site, said Kevin Carter, senior manager of public relations for TripAdvisor.
“Our fraud detection experts will then investigate and, where we find evidence of threatening behavior, take action to stop those reviews from ever reaching the site,” he said.
The key for hoteliers is documentation, Gutman said.
“It’s important to document everything, starting with a gracious note to the guest telling them you tried to do everything for them, and while all those things were declined let us know if there is anything else we can do to make them more comfortable,” she said. “It’s also important you report the incident immediately to TripAdvisor. It’s much better to get them the information before a review happens than after. You should report it within an hour of the conversation (with the guest) because the person could be sitting in the lobby writing the review.”
Education and training
Last year, executives at Best Western International heard from some members about problems with TripAdvisor blackmail. The membership group reached out to property owners with guidelines on how to handle these situations.
“We tried to be as proactive as possible,” said Michael Morton, VP of member services for Best Western. “We let our members know about this issue, and we added this topic to our member training. As a result, we’ve seen few of these problems bubble up recently.”
Morton also used the situation as a way to reinforce how TripAdvisor can be a tool to engage with guests.
“Our members are starting to understand that not being placed on page one of TripAdvisor reviews can have a significant negative impact on their bookings,” he said. “It’s what guests are doing, so let’s embrace it. Our members learned to get more reviews and get them more frequently and always respond, at least to the negative reviews.”
Hotels providing a management response to reviews—both bad and good—are 21% more likely to receive a booking inquiry via TripAdvisor than those that don't respond to any reviews, according to a new study from TripAdvisor. Properties that respond to more than 50% of reviews increase their likelihood of receiving a booking inquiry by 24% compared to properties that do not respond to reviews.