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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?
Hotel News / Historic Hotels / Long Island Hotels / Hotel Closings / Hotel Woes / Castle Hotels / TripAdvisor / → All Tags
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!
Checking In On / London Hotels / Dorchester Collection Hotels / Hotel Reviews / TripAdvisor / Hotel Openings / → All Tags
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.
Hotel News Briefs / Hotel Fees / Hotel WiFi / Hotel Sick / Chicago Hotels / TripAdvisor / → All Tags
There's even more hotel news flying around this week and we don't have time to give each and every story the love and attention it may deserve, so you will have to settle for some news briefs.
· Hotels to Rake in $2 Billion in Fees: The next time you find yourself shelling out money for WiFi or to use the fitness center access during your hotel stay, remember, it's ok to be really pissed off about it. That's because hotels are set to take in about $2 billion in fees this year. That's up 5.4 percent from last year, according to the Tisch Center at New York University. While the annual take-in from fees isn't expected to keep growing, that's still a crazy high number. All the more reason to raise a fuss if that WiFi connection shorts out. Grrr.
· Seriously Sick at The JW Marriott Chicago: The new-ish JW Marriott Chicago is under investigation as a total of seven people who stayed at the hotel this summer have contracted the sometimes deadly Legionnaires’ disease which is found in water. The Chicago Tribune reports that the hotel has drained its pool, hot tub and fountain and even closed part of its spa. We're guessing that chlorine-free pool might not have been such a good idea after all. While the city's health department said there is "no ongoing health risk at the hotel", the JW Marriott is still working to alert the 8,500 guests who stayed at the hotel between July 16 and Aug. 15. Ugh. UPDATE: Two people have died from the outbreak.
Looking for a cheap new place to stay in NYC? You might want to take a look at newcomer Tribeca Blu, which opened back in May and has slowly been building itself up as a basic, convenient option for folks needing lodging near Soho, Tribeca, Chinatown, or any other of Manhattan's trendy downtown nabes.
The hotel's amenities are what we'd call..."limited." No restaurant, no bar, no business center, no refrigerators, no fitness center. But the one perk TB does have going for it is low rates—and for many cash-strapped travelers, that's a big perk.
We logged onto the website this morning and found rates of just $169.15 (WiFi included). For that kind of money, who needs room service?
Just the other day, we were planning out an upcoming trip through Arizona, and we decided to browse some hotel reviews on TripAdvisor; specifically, places in Tucson. But just as we were about to scroll down through the list of results, we noticed a row of boxes at the top of the screen with labels like "business," "romantic" and "trendy," each of which corresponded to different categories of hotels.
Or, as TA calls them, "styles" of hotels.
We dubiously clicked on the seventh one, which yielded four results. And, while we can't say anything bad about them, by no stretch of our imagination would we hasten to call any of these places "trendy."
During a routine sunrise Twitter-browsing session this morning, we came across this story about employees from the Irish-based Carlton Hotel Group being instructed by their managers to post fake reviews on TripAdvisor. Needless to say, the reviews had to be positive, posted from non-hotel IP addresses, and include photos that were "not professional" but "good quality." Because you've got to be subtle with these things!
Which is impossible to do when said staff memo, which was originally sent by one of Carlton's sales and marketing directors, gets leaked all over the internet. The wily, conniving underbelly of hotel management: exposed!
But this made us think. How many times have you been co-erced (or simply asked) by a hotel to post positive TripAdvisor reviews after your stay? Would a free upgrade or restaurant voucher give you more incentive to say something nice? Or do you generally not make a habit of posting reviews in the first place? We want you to weigh in, fellow lodgers!
TripAdvisor is doing away with their infamous dirtiest hotels list and is instead focusing on their Traveler's Choice lists like the "Top 25 Hotels in The U.S." as decided by the most favorable reader reviews.
Topping the list is the luxury Chicago hotel, The Elysian, which is now a part of the Waldorf-Astoria Collection. Taking the #2 spot is The Grand Del Mar in San Diego who won us over with their less stuffy teatime. Coming in with the bronze is the perennial award-winner Four Seasons Maui.
Also making appearances on the list are the Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square (which we called a semi-secret, super luxe option in EssEff back in 2010), The Hotel Palomar Chicago (see our gorgeous photos of the hotel here) and the Sky Lodge in Utah where we fell in love with their freestanding waterfall bathtubs.
And while we are certainly familiar with most of the hotels on the list, we haven't actually stayed the night at many of them. But maybe you have? Please, fill us in.
Miami Hotel Mambo / New Year's Eve Hotels / Hotel Renovations / TripAdvisor / Menin Hotels / Hotel Cabanas / Hotel Design / → All Tags
Hotel makeovers: fun when they're finished but hell in the meantime? That may have been the case for the Shelborne South Beach, but the hotel has almost finished its massive overhaul, with 50 of its guest rooms now renovated to look like this.
As one commenter pointed out last time we got an update, the hotel's TripAdvisor reviews have not been kind during the construction phase. Not having stayed at the hotel, we can't speak for the service, but we can say that if the photos of the new rooms and the poolside cabanas are true to life, then the new Shelborne is nothing if not pretty. If you want to book a room that pleases the eye, though, make sure you ask for a Premiere Room (above). These are the renovated rooms.