Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Will TripAdvisor Offer Verified Reviews?

Those in accommodation industry that have long bemoaned the rise of TripAdvisor have been quick to claim a moral victory when the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK earlier this year ruled that the bylines on TripAdvisor's website such as “reviews you can trust…from real travellers…and trusted advice from real travellers”, were misleading.

It was determined that TripAdvisor's open platform that allows "unverified" reviews to be posted by anonymous users did not 100 percent safeguard against fake reviews.

While TripAdvisor has made subtle changes to its advertising to satisfy the ASA decision, the site remains an open forum that can be accessed by anyone and continues to be used by more people researching accommodation decisions than any other website.

As the gnashing of teeth amongst accommodation providers continue, the public continue to visit the site, use the collective reviews to determine accommodation decisions....and seem to value what they find as they keep coming back for more.

In a significant new move, it is interesting to see that TripAdvisor are now packaging their review platform to Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) that wish to outsource guest review services. is the first cab off the rank and have replaced their own in-house guest review system by outsourcing this function to TripAdvisor.

After a guest has stayed at accommodation booked via the website, a co-branded follow-up email is sent directing customers to complete a review of the property in the usual way. The verified guest reviews will be featured on the accommodation provider's listing on and mirrored on TripAdvisor.

Does this mean that potentially, TripAdvisor could highlight on their website, reviews sourced from a growing list of OTA clients as "verified"?

While some may see TripAdvisor's new service as a reaction to the flak they have received about questionable reviews, this may only be a small part of the rationale.

OTAs that have launched guest review systems in order to assist quality control and boost accommodation buying decisions have found that maintaining these platforms take a lot of ongoing resource. While OTAs are experts at showcasing and selling room inventory, they are less proficient at entering conversations with the public and suppliers about customer feedback issues. Outsourcing this function seems to make a lot of sense.

From TripAdvisor's point of view, by offering a new service they can continue building their vast empire by canabilising potentially competing review systems and have the opportunity to clip the ticket along the way...    

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hypocricy Part 2

Oh dear...Greenpeace celebrity mouthpiece, Lucy Lawless appears to have been more than happy to follow the money by making a song and dance about the noble virtues of Shell in this 1990's TV commercial...


What does an aging actress that has spent a lifetime jetting about the world perusing a film career get up to between scripts?

The Malicious Web Review

Last week's front page story of a disgruntled motel guest leaving what was described as a "malicious" web review on TripAdvisor still seems to be the focus of discussion amongst moteliers.

As reported the New Zealand Herald, the story goes like this:

A party of four arrive at a motel just before midnight, 
after raising motelier they are quoted $195.00 and agree to stay, 
upon check-out the guest disputes that they should pay the tariff as previously agreed and claim that they should be paying $160.00 that the motel allegedly advertises on AA Travel's website, 
a heated altercation ensues, 
the guest walks after refusing to sign credit card receipt and threatens to post a bad review on TripAdvsor. 

Soon after the following review on TripAdvisor appears:
“Do not stay,continue on elsewhere”
1 of 5 stars Reviewed February 7, 2012
Stayed for Waitangi weekend to attend a wedding. Owner is not friendly or helpful and was dishonest with pricing. Charged credit card with disputed amount and without permission and does not give you any paperwork. Rooms are very basic and for same price can get much better 15 minutes down in the road in tauranga. Take a miss - you have been warned!
Room Tip: No good room, go for another motel
Stayed February 2012, traveled with friends
Accommodation providers can empathise with the motelier in this unfortunate situation. Receiving a review like this can be heartbreaking and have real consequences on further business prospects.

After this story broke the usual knee-jerk howling from accommodation providers soon commenced. The loudest cries were quick to place the blame with TripAdvisor as the bad guy in this story and solely responsible for sullying a hapless motel's reputation.

Instead of attacking TripAdvisor's open feedback platform, maybe the focus should have been directed towards the factors that contributed to the altercation between the motelier and the guest.

The guest claimed that the motel was advertising on the AA Travel website for $160.00 and convinced himself that this was the price that the motelier should have quoted for his party of 4. What he didn't immediately appreciate was that the tariff of $160.00 was for 2-persons with additional persons charged accordingly - this is a common industry standard.
The graphic above captures what a prospective guest would see on the AA Travel website. After a cursory glance, can we assume that the One Bedroom Unit above would be $160 for 4-persons?

If the prospective guest hovers over or clicks the tick box on the arrival date to make a reservation, the breakdown of the tariff is revealed - Do the AA need to review how they display tariff in their client listings?

Ignoring the possible confusion that the AA Travel website may present to some, tariff doesn't necessarily have to be the same over all sales channels. In fact, tariff and the terms and conditions of a reservation can vary across dozens of sales channels that a motel lists inventory. Ironically in this case,  the motel's tariff listed on the AA Travel website would have been $200.00. So in fact, the guest that was originally offered and accepted a tariff of $195.00 got a deal that was slighter better than advertised. 

In this case the guest may have thought that they had a valid query by questioning the tariff. OK, I realise that when there had been an offer and acceptance, the customer would be expected to seal the deal with consideration (ie payment) and this should be the end of the matter, regardless what advertised offers may be on other channels. However the public are permitted to raise objections (silly or otherwise) and if these aren't satisfied then like it or not they will use the internet to vent. More than ever it is up to the business owner to respond quickly and appropriately at the time when a customer raises concerns.

Unfortunately we will never know how the conversation went in the motel reception at check-out. On the face of it, the guest's objection should have been easily dispatched.

Was the motelier somewhat taken-back by being second-guessed by a disorganised guest that arrived late and wasn't able to catch up on enough sleep the night before? Did the motelier get annoyed by a guest trying to negotiate a better tariff, after acceptance of tariff before his stay? Did this well-travelled guest feel that by arriving late, the few hours spent in the motel room simply wasn't good value? Or did this guest that usually travels on a company expense account feel hard done by with the impost of paying for accommodation from his own funds? 

We will never know what really went down, however there is an onus on the motelier to provide guest satisfaction - even if a guest is an arrogant dickhead that checks-in at midnight, agrees to pay a quoted tariff and then upon check-out assumes an entitlement to pay a lower tariff that they misinterpret from an an online listing discovered during their stay.

While the guest is holding his ground by refusing to pay the motel and delete the revenge TripAdvisor review, on a positive note, some of the motel's previous guests have been prompted to post reviews on TripAdvisor of their own experiences after reading the front page New Zealand article. And like most others, the latest reviews reconfirm that the motel and its operators provide a comfortable and positive experience for wary travellers.

Friday, February 24, 2012

We'll Be Back!

So how's everyone been?

The small but perfectly formed team at Motella are slowly reforming after a wee break. There is a renewed sense of urgency within the darkened walls of the Motella secret lair as we remove the remnants of the the Xmas decorations, crank up the computers and line up new targets for this year's volley of blog posts.

The year has started without us and there is lot's to talk about. We'll be back real soon...

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