Tripped up by the little things
09 February 2012
The headline on the front page of Tuesdayís Irish Times made for enthralling reading for anyone remotely connected with the hospitality industry. Conor Popeís story outlined how an Irish hotel group had urged staff to write positive web reviews for its properties and thereby improve their TripAdvisor ratings.
The group chose to respond to the newspaper through its legal representatives, arguably a regrettable decision, as it immediately gave the impression of "no smoke without fire". That impression was reinforced later in the week, when former employees came forward to challenge the assertion from the company that the directive to staff had only been a proposal and that the policy had never been implemented.
So what, you may say. The cynics among us may have been unperturbed by the Times story, which possibly served merely to confirm the publicís suspicions that the industry manipulates the online review system. Industry figures came forward to support the embattled hotel group, describing anonymous reviews as nonsensical, vindictive and nasty.
Later in the week, in an unrelated development, the British Advertising Standards Authority (BASA) ruled that TripAdvisor could no longer claim that that its usersí hotel write-ups are "reviews you can trust" from "real travellers", after complaints that the site does not verify its ratings. Two hotels and KwikChex, an online reputation management firm, made submissions to the Advertising Standards Authority due to what it said were exaggerated claims by the website on the bona fides of the more than 50 million reviews it carries.
TripAdvisor hit back by downplaying the risk of customers being misled, arguing that its fraud detection systems ensured the "practical impact" of fake reviews was "effectively negligible".
The reality is that while TripAdvisor is not by any means a perfect system, it does provide, by sheer volume of content, a more accurate picture of a hotel, than any single newspaper review or travel guide. For a well run property, the damage caused even by the most caustic review can often be mitigated, or even turned into a positive, by a well-crafted response from management.
In addition, in an increasingly global tourism market, sites such as TripAdvisor offer small countries like Ireland the opportunity to really punch above its weight Ė for example, just two weeks ago, the website ranked three small hotels in Kerry and Sligo in its top 25 hotels in the world for 2012. I donít recall hearing too many protests from industry about that at the time.
We should all be wary of the wisdom of crowds, but letís face it, TripAdvisor isnít going anywhere any time soon. Crowd sourcing is here to stay. Itís up to businesses to adapt and manage their online profiles as best they can Ė legitimately, of course.
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