Embrace the Customer

November 2000: TripAdvisor launched

November 2005: TripAdvisor reaches its millionth review

April 2007: TripAdvisor holds seven million

reviews, receives 20 million unique visits per month

These milestones are evidence of a new way of approaching and processing and interpreting the travel experience. How long before TripAdvisor has 10 million or 20 million reviews? Managers at the Expedia.com division won't speculate, but it is fair to believe that date is fast approaching.

In TripAdvisor and its peers, like Igoyougo.com and HotelChatter.com, travelers have another source of opinions about virtually every lodging property across the globe. Not to mention opportunities to post their own opinions.

Its size makes TripAdvisor a phenomenon, but it is just one of an array of consumer-driven sites — feedback sites, blogs, social networking sites (MySpace.com, FaceBook.com, etc.) and photo/video sharing sites (Flickr.com, YouTube.com, etc.) often labeled collectively as consumer-generated content. These are key to Web 2.0, the term for the “new” Internet era (or in the case of travel-related sites, Travel 2.0). Together, they offer a very public forum for our guests to talk about us and a way for us to engage in an active and beneficial dialogue.

As they always have, people will talk about us and our properties. Sometimes the comments will be positive, sometimes negative. Today, however, the forum for expressing those comments has changed. While the remarks are more public, they also give us a chance to respond and serve the double purpose of satisfying an unhappy client as well as reassuring the larger group of our potential guests.

Without question, undertaking a dialog is not easy — especially when it is with scores (or more) of people on any given day. But it is no longer an option whether hotels will read reviews in key feedback sites. The larger traveler feedback sites make it increasingly difficult to post a bogus review and increasingly easy for a hotelier to post a response.

That said, how well do hotels step up to the opportunity of engaging in a dialogue, how well do they respond to criticism in the Travel 2.0 environment? The answer, according to operators of these alternative, “public” websites, is, generally, not very well. In many cases, hotels still struggle to decide if responsibility for monitoring is corporate or at property level, whether to assign a person to review and respond to such sites, and to translate the criticism into a follow-up/correction plan.

It is easy to distrust, even fear, travel-feedback sites, but it's unnecessary and inappropriate. Especially in leisure, people eagerly anticipate and generally enjoy travel, including our efforts to host them comfortably. Across all travel providers — including services sometimes held in lower regard than hotels — 60 percent of product reviews submitted to TripAdvisor award either four or five stars to the service provider. The average facility/service score is a none-too-shabby 3.74 (out of five).

Traveler feedback sites — indeed, all of Travel 2.0 — offer the hotel community an opportunity to participate and benefit on two levels. First, through continuing the positive public dialogue. Second, by heeding legitimate criticism and correcting the cause of those comments (and promptly reporting their resolution on the originating site).

The result: conversation, conversions of inquiries to bookings, and stronger, more profitable property operations.

Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals Hall of Famer John Burns is president of Hospitality Technology Consulting. Call him at 480-661-6797 or e-mail john@burns-htc.com.

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