Wednesday, 27 April 2011

User reviews – A missed opportunity for hotels?

How to manage user reviews continues to be an issue that puzzles many hoteliers across the world. Should you reply to each review to show you are listening? Should you leave conversations about your hotel to continue uninterrupted?   Should you encourage guests to post user reviews following their stay?

Although the answers to these questions may seem obvious to some, in my opinion hotels are still not getting it right.

I’ve recently been on holiday to Italy and stayed in a wide variety of places ranging from small B&Bs in the middle of the countryside to bustling beach resorts. I enjoyed each and every place I stayed and whilst some have since asked me to leave my comments online, most properties have not asked.   

I feel that this is a missed opportunity.  If asked, I would not only share my enjoyable experience of their property but would also provide constructive feedback. I'm a busy person and to be honest unless I’m prompted it’s far too easy to forget to go online and write anything.

Given that Google now integrates reviews into search results, surely an email from the owner of the small B&B in the countryside prompting me to post an online review will in turn help visitors find the place online and thus be worth their while? (The fear of a bad review still prevails but if a bad review is given then the owner can always respond with their view and use the feedback to make improvements).

I recently had a conversation with someone from the travel industry who felt that user reviews are decreasing in importance due to the sheer volume of reviews littering the internet.  He felt they had become meaningless. 

I subsequently posted a discussion on the Linkedin Social Media in Travel group asking their views and the overwhelming response was to the contrary.  Keith Salwoski summarized the responses well by stating "You can't stop this train. Expect the tools to become more focused, feeding more relevant reviews to consumers from "people who are like me."

A good example of how to make user reviews more relevant to the consumer comes from, a site owned by Priceline and a leading provider of online hotel reservations.  Visitors to the site can filter the reviews according to the profile of the person leaving the review (for example, family, mature couple, solo traveller etc). I think this is a great feature as I really only want to see reviews from like-minded people. Also, always prompt users to leave a review post their stay which adds the assurance that the person has actually stayed there.

TripAdvisor also offers the profiling feature plus the ability to focus on reviews regarding keywords about the hotel such as ‘pool’, ‘internet’ ‘breakfast’. TripAdvisor is also focusing on reviews from your social network in order to add relevance (personally its unlikely/I don’t want to visit the same places as my friends as I like to try new experiences/trips but I get why this feature could be useful).

I would also like to see a feature that separates reviews by nationality.  I hate to generalise but different cultures have different expectations when they travel. marks the nationality of the reviewer but does not have the option to filter by nationality. Has anyone seen a site that does?

Lastly, Milestone Internet Marketing has some great tips for hotels on how hotels can manage and monitor user reviews. They also share some useful examples. Check out the full article here