Saturday, September 5, 2009

Innkeeper CEO has an In at TripAdvisor

Any smart company should monitor the social-media airwaves and at least listen to its critics.

AT&T, for example, just recycled Seth the Blogger Guy in a YouTube video designed to quell criticism about its delayed MMS service and other iPhone service issues.

In a similar vein, you have to give TripAdvisor some credit at least for reaching out to its critics and making a few tweaks to its hotel-review policies, although the modifications so far haven't been earth-shattering.

Jay Karen, president and CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, has met periodically with TripAdvisor officialdom and presented the company with a list of pet peeves from his B&B constituency.

Karen won't take credit for any policy changes, but he undoubtedly has had an influence.

The changes have ranged from minor to significant.

For example, TripAdvisor initially permitted hotel reviews up to five years after the guest supposedly stayed at the property. Karen pushed for one year instead.

"They left it fairly liberal from the get-go, because at first they needed to populate their site with reviews," Karen says. "[TripAdvisor President and CEO] Steve Kaufer said this in a meeting with me, but he said now that their site has plenty of reviews, that they certainly could look at that policy. So, they changed it to three years. A step in the right direction, but I think a few more steps would be good."

Of course, the downside in this is that there is no verification of when -- or if -- someone actually stayed at the hotel or inn.

Other changes have been a bit more important.

Earlier this year, Karen suggested and TripAdvisor changed the way it displays Best Deals.

Previously, beneath the display of a property like the Jersey Cape Motel in Cape May, N.J., TripAdvisor might have displayed Best Deals: Jersey Cape Motel, but provided links to intermediaries and other properties that were competitors of the Jersey Cape Motel.

Today, at the suggestion of Karen (and perhaps others), TripAdvisor has changed the display to Best Deals: Cape May. Thus a bait and switch is eliminated and the properties' brands are not being misused.

"Another change that looks to be forthcoming, which I have lobbied for, as well, is for B&Bs to have links on their [TripAdvisor] pages that go back to their own websites," Karen says.

Today, since most smaller properties still are absent from global distribution systems or large online travel companies like Expedia, you'd be hard-pressed to find an advertising link to the Jersey Cape Motel or similar properties on their TripAdvisor pages. Thus, if you want to book that property under review, you'd have to find another way to do it outside of TripAdvisor.

"We’re hoping in early 2010 for there to be a reciprocal link program for B&Bs," Karen said. "This would be a big change for our industry."

Change at TripAdvisor has been a slow-go. That's because TripAdvisor has been unbelievably successful with its current formula despite all the "noise" out there from people like Karen, me and countless others.

Karen acknowledges that TripAdvisor officials have been good listeners, but he likens the pace of change over there to re-positioning an ocean-liner.

Almost everyone in the hospitality industry now acknowledges the importance of TripAdvisor and consumer hotel reviews, and the lodging industry is grappling with best practices.

Perhaps TripAdvisor should convene a blogger/hotel industry summit to move the conversation forward.

However, my best guess is that will not be happening any time soon.

If it weren't handled properly, with all the passion generated on the hotel review issue, the meeting could degenerate into something like one of those healthcare-reform town hall meetings.

Business and democracy -- whether we are talking about hotel reviews and the advertising/media business, or healthcare reform -- can be a noisy thing.


Update on PAII Conversations with TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor Launches Family Vacation Critic in its Own Image

Sherman Meter Blends New Hotel-Review Cocktail

TripAdvisor: The Beat (of Hawaii) Goes On


Anonymous said...

They should also remove all advertisements of competing hotels, including the "Check rates and availability" from a hotel's review page when you land on that page after following the tripadvisor widget on a hotel website. This is because as a hotelier, you already had the visitor on your website. You send them to tropadvisor (widget) as a service to read your reviews, and then you might loose them another booking system where you pay commission (or an other hotel) because of the load of advertisement on Tripadvisor.

Sarah, Adobe Nido B&B said...

If a complaint is about a phone call, and a guest admits they did not stay at the property, that guest should not be able to review the property and drive it's ranking down. TripAdvisor needs to address that too. I don't want to see complaints that a price was too high, they wouldn't lower their rate/give me a discount, or that they thought someone was rude to them on the phone when they called at 1:00am. I am sure that TA's intent never started out with property owners in mind, and that is fine - it is for the traveler, and TA profit. I am surprised they are listening at all.

Dennis Schaal said...

Anonymous: TripAdvisor is not about to remove the advertisements of competing hotels. That is, after all, the heart of TripAdvisor's business. However, Forrester Research's Henry Harteveldt has an interesting idea: Why not institute a system where guests can review your property on your own hotel website? Why cede the review space to TripAdvisor and others? It's an idea worth exploring and I'm sure some hotels somewhere already are doing this.

Dennis Schaal said...

Sarah: Jay put forth the idea on his blog that if the complaint is about a phone call or trouble booking the property than the individual's review should only be permitted to cover the reservations process. That sounds reasonable to me.

On your other point, TripAdvisor's reviews indeed are for the traveler, but its bread and butter comes from intermediaries and hotels so it is wise for TripAdvisor to listen to hotel owners about issues that pertain to commercial best practices and fairness.

Peter said...

Thanks, Dennis, for continuing to spread the word about the good work Jay has done with Trip Advisor. There's no substitue for being "part of the conversation," whether it be engaging a goliath like Trip Advisor or using social media with your guests. It's a new world, and everyone has to feel their way in it. The trick it to be willing to extend a hand to touch, not only others, but the very medium itself!