Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hotel-Review Dilemma: Expedia's TripAdvisor Gives Notice, Expedia.com Mum, But...

The dilemma about the user-generated hotel-review model hits home at Hotel Renew, a 3.5- to 4-star property (depending on who's rating you use) in Honolulu.

Expedia Inc.'s TripAdvisor flags Hotel Renew for alleged manipulation of travelers' reviews, as I noted in previous posts.

TripAdvisor, which doesn't require proof that the reviewer actually stayed at the hotel, displays the hotel despite questioning the integrity of a portion of the 544 reviews, gives it a rating of 4.5 out of 5, and ranks the property #2 of 102 Honolulu hotels.

Meanwhile, Expedia.com, which requires, an Expedia-booked and completed stay at the property before authorizing a guest review, offers just 35 reviews of Hotel Renew, or just 6.4 percent of the 544 reviews that TripAdvisor offers.

Expedia.com displays no information about whether Hotel Renew allegedly played fast and loose with Expedia.com's review system and rates the property a 4.7 out of 5. Expedia.com has a contractual relationship with Hotel Renew. As an Expedia Special Rate property, Hotel Renew offers Expedia.com a net rate for Expedia.com's merchant-model business.

There could be many totally justifiable reasons that Expedia.com provides no notice about Hotel Renew allegedly gaming the review system, including the possibility that Expedia.com's tighter review requirements headed off any such hanky-panky.

And Expedia Inc.'s Hotels.com, which requires a completed stay prior to review-writing, rates Hotel Renew 4.0 out of 5 and offers just 38 reviews.

And, here's an industry-oriented review of Hotel Renew from Professional Travel Guide, a sister company of Travel Weekly, which I write for.

So, TripAdvisor, with its more loosey-goosey review requirements, gets a depth of content that Expedia.com and Hotels.com would die for.

And, that richer content translates into more advertising revenue for TripAdvisor, which is riding this model for global expansion, because 23 million consumers navigate to TripAdvisor for trip planning -- and often trip-booking through TripAdvisor's advertisers.

The dilemma for TripAdvisor is how to maintain the stickiness of its websites and all of that great content without undermining its integrity to consumers and worth to advertisers. TripAdvisor needs to avoid another controversy like the one that engulfed its subsidiary, Cruise Critic, regarding Royal Caribbean and the Royal Champions.

One option would be to ban the display of hotels that are caught incenting guests or enticing employees to write fraudulent reviews.

And, for consumers, here's a real issue: Would you put more stock in 544 reviews of a property, knowing that some of them are cooked, or would you give more weight to a couple of dozen reviews, knowing that at least the reviewers stayed at the hotel?

I don't think the answer is necessarily a slam dunk for the Expedia.com and Hotels.com model because hoteliers can manipulate this system, too, although not as readily.

It all points again to how complex travel planning and booking are these days: Does an online consumer need to spend all day getting professional advice or reading user-generated hotel reviews of various origins to figure out where to stay?

Are travel agents an answer?


Jeff Talajic said...

As I mentioned in a comment to another post, I think part of the answer to this problem is implementing a Wikipedia-like model where a user community is responsible for gatekeeping all user generated content. Does a review sound fishy? The community will flag it.

"One option would be to ban the display of hotels that are caught incenting guests or enticing employees to write fraudulent reviews." I'm not sure how this would be implemented without the introduction of an International Review Police that travelled the world monitoring hotel-employee-guest communications ;)

This would introduce another problem--some people (maybe from competing brands) would claim to TripAdvisor that they were incentivised to write positive reviews. Then that hotel would be de-listed for a period, to the benefit of every competing hotel. What's the value of getting your #1 competition REMOVED from TripAdvisor? Huge!

I definitely prefer to base my decisions on the opinions of 544 reviews rather than just 38. If 10 of those 544 reviews are fake, so be it, I don't really care. If 100 of those reviews are fake, then we have a problem. Is there any data to suggest either scenario?

Patrick Goff said...

Tripadvisor used to link to the Reviews on HotelDesigns which are written as design critiques.However in June last year they stopped linking to any external sites, removing any hope of moderating influence on their own site.

Or did they?

Christine Korda said...

It is a shame hotels try to manipulate the system resulting in misleading information and in a way false advertising.

I for one have never used TripAdvisor as a reference source and would not recommend it as such.

Non-quantified references, as provided by TripAdvisor, not only leads to misinformation such as good reviews provided by the hotel being reviewed, but bad reviews for the hotel's competition
....if you get my drift!

Bill said...

I'd rather have it there than not. People should read several reviews and form their own opinions.

Some people do very little when they go into a hotel. They check in, sleep, get up, check out. If their room was done by a maid who did a better job than the maid on another floor, they would have a different experience.

There is not an easy way to allow the public to comment without it being skewed somewhat.

I know of places I've stayed that has horrible internet, and read reviews where people have said "great internet". I've gone to places where it was just fine, and had people complain of unending problems. It happens, we have to be able to interpret these things.

Bilety lotnicze said...

As long as money is involved such information will always be up for maniplation. I myself prefer to check a number of sites to see the opinions about a hotel, but still take all the posts with a grain of salt. One persons view really depends on many factors from how was his flight, what time he arrived, who happened (or not) to be at the front desk, what room he /she got, etc etc. Id note that tour operators are much more popular in europe than in the usa (probably due to the distances) and a personal view from an agent who has been on the site and/or sent many clients to a hotel is priceless.

Hotels in Bhubaneswar said...

Hi all...

Nice information! Hotel reviews and ratings often show you the condition and value of customer service at various hotels. Higher rated hotels are often more expensive, but may offer several other features that other hotels do not. Thanks.