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There is no question that sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor have changed the scope of the hotel industry, allowing satisfied and annoyed customers alike to share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions about their recent experiences. Consumers flock to these forums regularly to seek advice on where to stay.
This week, a new type of review site called TripExpert will join in on the fun, only it will be conducting business a little differently. The reviews won't come from customers and general consumers, rather, it will aggregate expert advice about hotels from different media outlets. Think of it as the Rotten Tomatoes of hotel stays. TripExpert will pull advice and award scores based on the opinions of professional travel guides and magazines, including Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Travel + Leisure.
TripExpert says that TripAdvisor and other user review sites have "contributed to people making better informed decisions about how to spend their time and money. They have also increased incentives for everyone from restaurant owners to TV makers to improve the quality of their products and services. But aggregating user reviews does not always produce accurate results."
Yesterday, we had a good chuckle over the hotel manager who left jerky responses to guests on TripAdvisor. He ended up being sacked but it turns out he's not the only one, ahem, "keeping it real" on TripAdvisor. A fan on our Facebook page alerted us to a TripAdvisor response from the "Directeur Général" of Hotel Claude Bernard Saint-Germain in Paris:
What a terrible hotel. We stayed with our 10 year old daughter and had booked a triple room. On the hotel website, the pictures of the rooms were very nice, with one double bed and a real single bed. Pictures showed a new renovated room, which was also described in the text. Pictures are attached of the opposite. When we checked in we got the tiniest room, with 2 twin beds and a foldable extra bed was squashed between the beds. VERY disappointed. We immediately consulted the receptionist who couldn't assist. The next morning we tried again, with reference to management. But no management was present. Breakfast was very continental, but that was what we paid for. One thing is for sure, we'll never stay here again!
And here is what the Directeur Général wrote back:
Madam, I find your note and your comment very severe and your judgement partial.
Keep reading below to see more of his responses!
For some time now, we've been skeptical of the reviews on TripAdvisor, especially after a few scandals broke out about hotels manipulating reviews or worse, bribing guests to write good reviews. But at least one person was still keeping it real on TripAdvisor. Too bad it got him fired.
Tnooz picked up on this story about a hotel manager at the budget Georgian House Hotel in Glasgow who was mocking reviewers who complained about his hotel. Some choice retorts that he posted on TripAdvisor include:
· "What do you expect for so little cash?"
· "If you want a good breakfast go to the Hilton and pay £100.00 a night. You pay little you get little."
· "Thanks for your money, sucker. Long may the idiot line continue."
· “With only one person to look after the place what do you expect. Think about what you paid.”
Has any other site in the industry gained more attention over the past few years than TripAdvisor? Consumers use it for research, hotels live and die by it, and there's a whole lot of concern about whether anything on the platform can even be trusted.
Although it's been an active policy for two years, the way TripAdvisor deals with hotels who have undergone significant renovations is now just beginning to go under the microscope, further raising questions of trust when it comes to the reviews we see, and apparently don't see, on the site.
Currently, if a hotel can prove it has made structural changes, such as a property overhaul of some kind, it can submit building permits and other construction notices to TripAdvisor in order to get related bad reviews taken off the site.
And the renovations really have to be significant -- putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls won't cut it. For example, if Hotel ABC had a number of bad reviews relating to its out-of-date bathrooms, the hotel can get the reviews removed if it shows they have installed new ones in the rooms. Other major changes, such as buyout or brand overhaul, are also eligible criteria to qualify for a clean slate.
We’ve been talking a lot about TripAdvisor drama lately, but didn’t touch too much on their acquisition of flash-sale site Jetsetter back in April. That was mainly because we’d heard Jetsetter may fold, so we took a wait-and-see approach.
We’ve heard from tipsters there’s been a good amount of layoffs and employees jumping ship at Jetsetter since the takeover. However, the latest word is that TripAdvisor, who also owns hotel-discount site SniqueAway, is shutting it down as a separate entitity on June 28th and rolling it into Jetsetter.com.
Kathleen Hanefeld, sales director at SniqueAway, contacted the company's hotel partners via email about the change, saying, “
…after reviewing what would be the best experience for our travelers and our partners, we decided to combine our assets and have SniqueAway become Jetsetter.”
Meanwhile, we continue to receive SniqueAways sales blasts, so we assume vendors plan on going to very end. Even today’s offerings have the option to book deals well into July.
Hanefeld said “any sales scheduled to run on SniqueAway will be completely unaffected by the change.” We're crossing our fingers that buyers won’t have to deal with company reservation drama during the transition.
We'll keep you posted on the changeover as more news develops.
We let off some steam a few weeks ago, letting hotels know we think they should back off the throttle a little bit when it comes to their sometimes-annoying persistence in getting guests to give reviews on TripAdvisor.
Given the importance that is being placed upon online reviews these days, we can't really say we're surprised to hear the news that an Accor executive was recently exposed for posting more than 100 phony reviews of Accor-operated hotels on TripAdvisor under an alias. He/she also wrote fake reviews about competing hotels, and Accor has placed the unnamed employee on leave.
"The employee has taken a leave of absence whilst we investigate this situation further," Accor said in the statement. "We value the feedback online travel reviews and forums provide and will take whatever steps we can to ensure their credibility and transparency."
A few months ago, we wondered whether hotels were abusing TripAdvisor. We’ve done a couple articles about how hotels can be annoying in their attempts to get us to review them online. Managers have asked their employees to post phony positive reviews, and we've personally been offered a free upgrade/cash for a positive review post-stay. Shady business? You betcha. But you know what? It brings a smile to our face.
Correct us if you disagree, but the silver lining in all of this review warfare is the amount of power held by the consumer. According to Market Metrix, 93% of global travelers say their booking decisions are influenced by online reviews. Hotels are clearly desperate to get good feedback published online, and problems that were once able to be swept under the rug are no longer limited to shouting distance. "Word of mouth," good or bad, has never been such an understatement as online reviews reach the eyes of thousands. In this, we certainly take great pleasure. Today, every ordinary Joe possesses the power of the press.
That said, we want to go on the record and note that all the aforementioned desperation is really, truly, starting to annoy us. Why not just let it all happen organically? We (customers) know TripAdvisor exists, and it is our choice whether we want to post our thoughts publically or not. Hotels should focus on providing a pleasant experience, and the rest will take care of itself -- there's no need for the constant begging. Honestly, it comes off rather pathetic in our eyes. We'll write what we want, when we want, if we want -- thank you very much.
It's that time of year again: the 2012 HotelChatter Awards! Today and Monday, we'll be showcasing the best (and worst) of hotels over the past year. But we couldn't do it without you! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, or shoot us an email. And the Award goes to...
Last January, after reading a story about an Irish hotel staff being instructed to post fake reviews online, we posed the question: "Have You Ever Been Bullied Into Writing A Positive TripAdvisor Review?".
Unsurprisingly, you all had plenty to say about the issue. What surprised us, however, was how long the debate has endured.
Fast forward to this month, when a similar incident took place, this time in Dallas, TX, where some genius employee had the idea of offering customers cash rewards in exchange for nice reviews on TripAdvisor.
On the one hand, we can kind of sympathize with the hotels, who are really just desperate for positive feedback (that future guests will then hopefully read). But on the other, we're frustrated that the online reviews we once trusted are seeming less and less reliable.
One commenter (a hotelier) called it "regrettable but a necessity" for hotels to solicit positive feedback from guests, while another admitted to asking guests to post reviews online, but noted, "I don't use the word "positive" and I don't give rewards." If only they could all be so upright...
A recent guest spotted and photographed the above sign, which was mounted at the check-in desk of the Grand Dallas Hotel. In plain letters, the sign offers to compensate guests (in cash, instantly!) for writing positive reviews of the hotel on sites like TripAdvisor, Expedia, Hotels.com, Priceline and Travelocity.
The hotel, which, incidentally, only scores three stars on TripAdvisor (based on nine reviews), reacted promptly to an article posted on The Consumerist, who was tipped off about the sign by a reader who was actually staying at the hotel. Within hours, management had taken down the sign, explaining:
"This sign was posted by one of our front desk staff members while I was out of town for a few days. The team member was trying to go above and and beyond based on a staff meeting we had a couple of weeks ago where I asked the team to try and come up with some creative ways to encourage and get more user reviews for the hotel. "
Eye-catching? Yes. Creative? Not so much.
Just when we thought the whole question of TripAdvisor's reliability had mostly dissolved into oblivion, along comes this LA Times article asking, once again, whether we can really, really trust those online hotel reviews.
And while our first reaction is to roll our eyes, there's no denying that this is still a hot button issue in the hospitality world. For starters, it goes beyond just hotels: restaurants, bars, cafes and music venues all fall prey to unnecessarily malicious, or suspiciously enthusiastic reviews from customers with an agenda. But since we deal with hotels around here, we're focusing on that side of things.
The LA Times article refers to a study by a group called Market Metrix, which found a few interesting things. First off, online reviews are almost entirely written by young people (ie, over the age of 50). No surprise there, but still an alarming statistic when you consider that the people staying in hotels (and reading the reviews) span a wide range of ages.
And even if you can get past the fact that people half your age are writing these reviews, the question still stands: are the reviews trustworthy?
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A confession: The Great Gatsby was one of our favorite novels as a ninth grader. The fancy houses. The fast cars (well, minus the tragedy). The spectacular parties. We loved all of it. So we're guessing we would also have loved visiting a place called Oheka Castle Hotel & Estate in Huntington, NY, which supposedly inspired a portion of the F. Scott Fitzgerald masterpiece.
Unfortunately, the 443-acre property is now facing foreclosure, as the WSJ recently revealed. Sadness!
The castle, which was built in 1919 and contains 32 luxury hotel suites, is supposedly the second largest private estate in the entire country, and has been visited by everyone from the Citizen Kane film crew in 1941 to Anthony Weiner, who got married there in 2010. And yet, we have yet to be invited for dinner...
See below for a few excerpts from recent TripAdvisor reviews!
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Last summer, we watched some pretty big-time hotels open all around the world. London made a contribution to the ultra-luxe Dorchester Collection. New York got its first unofficial skateboard hotel. Trump invaded Panama. And now, twelve months into the game, we can't help but let our curiosity get the better of us. What are these hotels up to a year later?
Right off the bat, we had a pretty good feeling about 45 Park Lane when the announcement was made, pre-opening, that the hotel would be housed in London's old Playboy Club. But this hotel has managed to wow in all the right places: excellent service, Hyde Park views, fully pimped out bathrooms, and free WiFi.
And the rates ain't bad, either.