If hotels and TripAdvisor were in a relationship their status on Facebook would read: It’s Complicated.

TripAdvisor has been feeling the heat lately.  The consumer-voiced travel review site has dealt with issues in the past, such as hotels claiming certain user reviews are fake, which ultimately harm the hotel’s reputation.  More recently TripAdvisor is facing claims from the Advertising Standards Authority that reviews from unverified authors cannot be published on other third party sites. Proving reviewer credibility is an on-going issue for TripAdvisor and, for that reason and many others, the relationship between TripAdvisor and hotels remains complicated.

Nevertheless, consumers continue to turn to the site for travel recommendations, making the site a constant concern for hotels and an online space hotels must maintain. So, the predicament remains for hotels stuck in a love-hate relationship with TripAdvisor.  Let’s dive into the issues at hand for hotels, why hotels need to play the game, and what you need to do as an online hotel marketer to make the best of this troubled relationship.

Pros:

Let’s start with the positive effects TripAdvisor has on hotels.  There are many components that make TripAdvisor a valuable tool for promoting a hotel and increasing bookings:

  • Popularity: TripAdvisor is easily one of the most popular travel review sites.  Often consumers check this site in the beginning of their search process to determine where they will stay.  Hotels want to be found in this space by the masses.  Go where your customers are and uncover additional reservations by maintaining your listing on TripAdvisor.
  • Found on Search Engines: Since it is such a popular site it's no surprise that it ranks well on search engines, often at the top of the page.  The first step for many consumers is to go straight to Google and search “Seattle hotels."  TripAdvisor ranks #2 behind Expedia and before any hotel website.  If the hotel is ranking well on TripAdvisor, it will be found quickly after a search on Google.  Hotels struggling with ranking well on search engine results pages will likely see this as an added bonus.
  • Dialogue: Not only can travelers post reviews about hotels, but hotels have the option to respond directly to consumers (and the general TripAdvisor audience).  TripAdvisor is an open forum for hotels and guests to discuss their visits, answer questions and resolve any issues.  By giving hotels the ability to respond hotels can useTripAdvisor as a customer service channel. Hotels have a voice on the review site and this can certainly help sway searchers to pick a hotel that is attentive and responsive to guests.
  • Ranking: Hotels in a given region are ranked on TripAdvisor by the number of positive reviews.  The more positive, recent and frequent reviews will increase a hotel’s rank on the site.  This is a great tool for hotels to assess and determine where they need to improve.
  • Competitive Research: Hotels can also see information about their direct competitors in the area.  What are their strengths?  Weaknesses?  Look for what other hotels are doing well and then go above and beyond for your own guests.
  • One Stop Shop: TripAdvisor is a recommendation site for travelers looking for where to stay, eat, fly and do in a given destination.  It is a comprehensive site where consumers can do all the necessary research and book from there.  The site offers booking options through the hotel brand site and other third party sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and others.  Additional sites encouraging a booking are a positive effect for the hotels.

Cons:

With the good comes the bad.  As recent claims against the leading travel review-site prove, hotels find faults with TripAdvisor. Here are some of the issues hotels must deal with in their relationship with TripAdvisor.

  • Lack of Credibility: Often cited as the number one issue with TripAdvisor are the unverified authors publishing reviews on the site.  Anyone can visit TripAdvisor and write their review, positive or negative, without ever actually having been to the destination.  So how can consumers trust what is written on the site about any hotel?  A hotel could abuse the system and have false positive reviews loaded to their listing and enhance their reputation and ranking on the site.  Or someone could just as easily write false negative reviews to hurt a hotel’s image on the site.  While TripAdvisor has a team of investigators to prevent these false reviews from being published, it is not a fool-proof system.  And at times can lead to worse situations, but I’ll discuss that later.
  • Forum to Rant: Who do you think is more likely to take action to review a hotel: someone who had a pleasant trip, or someone who was unsatisfied with stay?  Most likely, the person who is upset.  TripAdvisor is an open avenue for critics to post the injustices they felt they encountered at the hotel.  People who are picky and have high expectations will take to TripAdvisor to rant about the unpleasant stay.  This can create a disparity of reviews on the hotel.  People with complaints will be more easily heard than people who enjoyed their stay.  While positive reviews are usually the majority of reviews for hotels, there is the tendency for negative reviews to preside even when it isn’t the general opinion.  However, hotels should take note to address these dissatisfied customers and consider it consumer research to better their product.
  • Jump to Conclusions: As earlier discussed, TripAdvisor has investigators looking into false reviews of hotels.  While this may be the best protection in place for the integrity of the site, at times it can make erroneous judgments and punish an undeserving hotel.  TripAdvisor will automatically penalize a hotel if there are reviews posted about a hotel from on the property (which is against their terms of service).  A post loaded from hotel’s network is deemed suspicious activity.  TripAdvisor thinks it could be a biased employee of the hotel posting; rather than a current guest commenting while still at the hotel.  Instead of TripAdvisor contacting the hotel and determining the authenticity of the review, they’ll slap a red warning on the hotel’s listing, immediately making the hotel look untrustworthy and tarnish the image before a consumer can read anything else about the hotel.
  • Poor Customer Service: For anyone who has managed a TripAdvisor listing, you are probably already aware of the lack of customer service on the site.  Spot a review on the site that you know is false?  Good luck contacting TripAdvisor to have it removed.  Have a begrudged former employee leaving unpleasant comments?  Good luck having it removed in a timely manner by TripAdvisor.  Been falsely accused of posting false reviews and have a red label plastered on the page?  Good luck convincing TripAdvisor otherwise and having it removed.   It isn’t easy to directly contact a representative and have any issues resolved in quick fashion.  TripAdvisor has recognized this fault and is working to improve their customer support with a dedicated support manager.

How To Get Along:

As an online marketing manager for a hotel there are several actions you can take to make it a happily-ever-after relationship with TripAdvisor.  Follow these basic guidelines to improve the hotel’s TripAdvisor listing and foster a positive affiliation with the review site.

  • Claim Listing and Optimize: Own your hotel listing by claiming the page.  Find the hotel’s listing, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “Manage your listing” to register as owner of the page.  Once you verify ownership of page, optimize the hotel listing by ensuring hotel name and address is correct.  Add hotel amenities, submit a hotel description to provide even more information to searchers and review professional and traveler-posted photos on TripAdvisor.  Enhanced name, address, copy and photos create the big picture of the hotel, making the decision process that much easier for searchers.
  • Set-Up Review Alerts: An added bonus to claiming the hotel page is the alert feature.  Sign up for alerts of new reviews left on TripAdvisor to be emailed to you.  Keep on top of the comments left on the site and always be aware of what is being said.
  • Respond & Listen: Remember one of the pros in the relationship with TripAdvisor is the dialogue.  Respond to reviews that are in need of answers.  Don’t let a negative comment sit on the site like a sore thumb without a response.  Respond to show the hotel cares and has taken action to correct the issue.  Also go beyond just responding to reviews; listen to all comments.  Hear what the hotel is already doing well and further improve upon it.  Find what the hotel is lacking and set out to provide what guests are asking for.  Overtime, reviews will improve and the hotel’s rank on TripAdvisor will increase.
  • Play by the Rules: Prevent TripAdvisor’s warning label and follow their guidelines.  Don’t set TripAdvisor as the homepage on the hotel’s business center computers.  Don’t encourage guests to review the hotel on TripAdvisor while on property.  Don’t test the system with false reviews.

Play by the rules and follow the above recommendations and the hotel can have a long-lasting and loving relationship with TripAdvisor.

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