I had the opportunity to attend a TripAdvisor Master Class Tuesday at the Hotel Palomar in Dallas. Admittedly, not running a hotel myself, I wasn’t sure what I’d learn from the event. My goal instead was to talk to a number of hoteliers in attendance and gain some insight into how real hoteliers are handling online reviews and reputation management. There were about 50 hoteliers on hand, some from nearby Austin and San Antonio, others from as far as Florida. Some came representing a large brand, others from single independent boutiques.
My first take away from the event was that reputation management certainly is not a uniform practice yet. Some management companies are centralizing the process while others are leaving it up to employees at individual hotels. While most realize the importance of reading, responding and acting upon reviews, property-level hoteliers are having trouble convincing high-level executives that it’s worth designating budget funds toward third-party aggregation software or hiring a point person to oversee the activity.
Most importantly, I learned there is a common misconception of what TripAdvisor scores tell travelers about a hotel. Many people think if a hotel is No. 1 on TripAdvisor that it’s the nicest hotel in the area.
“People think that because it’s the No. 1 hotel on TripAdvisor that it’s going to be the Four Seasons,” said Brian Payea, head of industry relations at TripAdvisor.
Not the case. TripAdvisor scores are more reflective of experiences users have encountered at the property. In fact, travelers who stay at luxury properties are going in with pretty high expectations, Payea said, and therefore if the hotel doesn’t meet expectations it has a better chance of receiving a poor review. On the flipside, budget hotels have a better chance of delivering service beyond expectations and in turn receiving more positive reviews and a higher TripAdvisor score.
As an example, Jerry’s Motel in Los Angeles is currently No. 6 out of nearly 300 hotels in the Los Angeles market. Is Jerry’s the most luxurious hotel in Los Angeles? My guess is no. Similarly, the Red Roof Inn in Westlake, Ohio, is ranked No. 1 in a competitive set that contains a refreshed Holiday Inn and a Hampton Inn & Suites.
“I call it a mix of satisfaction and value,” said Daniel Edward Craig, reputation management consultant, referring to a hotel’s TripAdvisor score.
Payea wouldn’t reveal much about the mysterious algorithm that goes into determining a hotel’s TripAdvisor score, but he did assure attendees that old reviews aren’t weighted nearly as heavily as most recent reviews. Because reviews stay on a hotel’s TripAdvisor site for as long as the property is open—unless it changes hands or brands—there was a lot of concern from the audience about old reviews. Payea said he couldn’t emphasize enough the weight recent reviews carry in determining a hotel’s TripAdvisor score.
Attendees were clearly concerned about fake reviews on TripAdvisor, as evidenced by the question-and-answer portion of the event. Payea said TripAdvisor has a “zero-tolerance policy” on fake reviews and several programs aimed at detecting and combating fake reviews.
“We actually have been a pioneer in that space, and we have a big battery of automated resources,” he said. “We have a team of folks who track down those reviews. If you know a property that is doing that, we want to know about it; we are eagerly looking for that type of information.”
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