Sunday, 1 September 2013

Owls Eyes Everywhere - Trip Advisor Tyranny

What's Trip Advisor for? Is Trip Advisor simply a benign review site? Is it too big for it's boots now? 

The conversation went something like this.
"We're thinking of booking, but I've read about the insects. Will there be insects?"
Biting my tongue I resisted, "It's Italy, it's August, 36 degrees as we speak, we live on forested hills. You don't need a crystal ball..." opting instead for, "insects, good or bad in your book?"
"Can't stand creepy crawlies. On Trip Advisor it says there are lots of insects."
And do you know what? It does in fact say this on Trip Advisor - but in one of the most glowing reviews we've received from a wildlife enthusiast who loved to photograph butterflies, moths and beetles. One gleans what one gleans from any review I suppose.

Tenuta Savorgnano: Mattia Marzotto
Trip Advisor has been on my mind a lot lately for one reason or another. Guests all mention it. It's review season and sometimes it feels as if a Trip Advisor email lands in the inbox hourly. Our reviews are universally good so there's nothing to complain about there. It's the other emails urging me to become a star reviewer by writing just one more review. Or asking me to apply for window stickers to announce to the hordes that happen to be passing our mountain hideaway that we have a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence. Mmm. Or sending me code to put a Trip Advisor logo on the website, blog or embedded in emails. The owls eyes are everywhere. Almost every restaurant, shop, B&B and hotel I pass! What next? A Trip Advisor logo tattooed on my forehead? And now it's linked to Facebook, so I'm informed whenever one of my contacts updates their Trip Advisor travel map or writes a review!

Some emails 'update' me on places I've merely perused on Trip Advisor. Their algorithms are set so that if I click on other reviews by guests who've reviewed us, they update me on that place everytime it gets a new review! Confession time. I occasionally check out the competion or places run by folks I know. My curiosity unearthed an intersting fact. Unfair negative reviews are common. How do I know they are unfair? Because they breach the Trip Advisor guidelines for reviewers. Reviews that actually state the reviewer never stayed. Reviews that compare one establishment unfavourably with another in it's locality and poor assessments based on factors proprietors have no control over such as the weather.

For example, one review of a Yorkshire B&B was based on a enquiry phonecall by someone who called again to actually book but had been pipped at the post by subsequent caller. (How often we get enquiries from people who say they want to book but don't follow through. How long should one hold dates for people who simply don't respond?) It accused the proprietor of lying in order to accept a more lucrative booking! Another review of a place on the Italian Island of Ischia rated it two out of five because it rained during the stay! These are clearly unfair and yet Trip Advisor allows them to stand.

I spoke to the Yorkshire owner who told me she'd given up trying to get Trip Advisor to acknowledge that this deliberate attempt to damage business and cast aspersions on the owners integrity, was unfair within it's own guidelines, and remove it. For big businesses with large guest numbers the odd unfair review is easily masked by more favourable ones. The result for smaller establishments can be devastating. Little places like us are only as good as the last review.

The average punter doesn't know this. Once the first reviewer has dobbed you in, so to speak, Trip Advisor then asks you to claim your listing and pay for the privilege of being able to respond to reviews – more than £400 a year! What choice does an owner have? You either pay or lose the ability to manage your own reputation on the forum that's rapidly becoming the only game in town.

So what do we get for our money apart from the right to reply? Well not much really apart from a million ways to create more publicity for Trip Advisor... badges, posters, certificates, stickers – not sure if there's a T-Shirt yet! There are mugs. In more ways than one! We do get to put extra information about our place on our listing but it's obscure and not obvious where to find it. What you do get when you alight on our listing - a bit of a cheek when they're charging us – is assailed by adverts for other inns around us with price comparisons! Often these are linked to other booking engines like or Expedia. These natuarally favour the big guys since they're commission based and won't even touch you unless your volume of trade is enough to make them a bob or two.

Jonnie Falafel contemplates Trip Advisor
Trip Advisor owns other sites too. Check for the ubiquitous owls eyes at the bottom of web pages. These are often booking engines where places like us also pay for listings. No conflict of interest there then! I can see the day coming when Trip Advisor has all ends of the travel and leisure industry sewn up good and proper. And we provide the free content egged on by status rewards like Pavlov's dogs.

Our reviewers have all been so kind. I appreciate the efforts people have gone to and reviews have helped establish us. But it can so easily work the other way. Like lots of people I used to think of Trip Advisor only as review site a source of information. But you have to raise a sceptical voice when it's becoming so dominant. What's Trip Advisor for? It's to profit Trip Advisor of course. 

For more information on the views expressed here see Trip Advisor Watch You can post reviews on other sites. For us sites like Happy Cow or Veggie Places are relevant.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting what you say. I have heard it from a friend who owns a York B & B about the tyranny of unfair reviews. What I would say then a lot of the 'Terrible' reviews are often implausible and unreasonable when put against the majority and any venue that has a lot of reviews statistically must attract some negativity. The unreasonable and unpredictable nature might just reflect the type of customers who bowl up?