A newspaper article in today’s Daily Mail (July 11th 2011) ‘Hotels ‘bribe guests for online reviews’ compels me to add a comment.  And to give some advice to those seeking to use tripadvisor in order to find a good hotel or bed and breakfast/guest house.

Firstly, I consider tripadvisor to be a useful tool for enabling guests to give objective and honest feedback and for it to be shared with fellow travellers. At Polraen, we have encouraged feedback via tripadvisor for a couple of years now, by displaying a tripadvisor stand close to our visitors book and in a simple email to our guests, thank them for their stay and provide a link to the review page, assuring them “What you write is totally up to you.”  We offer no incentives. Which is why there is some cause for concern that the system is being abused by some hoteliers, and sadly by a Cornwall hotel. I’m glad that tripadvisor reviews of Polraen Country House Hotel are overwhelmingly positive BUT…….. stories like today’s will regretfully undermine the perceived impartiality of the tripadvisor site. So for those seeking to use tripadvisor as a source of information to help make the right decision on where to book, here are some points to bear in mind.

Tripadvisor Reviews – Six Top Tips

  1. Be sceptical of any establishment which has 5 star reviews – exclusively!  The saying ‘You can’t please all of the people all of the time is true’. So if there is nothing negative at all under a rave review listing, consider that only ‘safe’ guests (or friends) are being invited to submit reviews.
  2. Don’t be put off by the odd negative review about a place you like the look of. Read several reviews to understand the trend over time.  And for a poor review, always read the management response if there is one, giving the ‘other side of the story’. If however, no management responses are shown against poor reviews, consider that this reflects a complacent attitude by the hotel management – ie not taking the time to respond to a guest complaint. 
  3. Remember, some guests can be ‘bad guests’ with malicious intent who set about finding fault.  If a guest makes the initial mistake in booking a hotel not suited to their needs, a complaint will frequently result  but…..Is this the fault of the hotel or the guest? If a guest expects to use a gift voucher on a Sat night in peak season for a one night stay, and can’t, so submits a negative review out of frustration, tripadvisor still accept this as a customer service experience, yet the rating might only reflect the misunderstanding of terms and conditions/frustration/disappointment and not necessarily the hotel’s customer service performance during the phone enquiry.
  4. Note that sometimes, tripadvisor gets it wrong and unfairly upholds a bad review (disputed by the hotel owner) because the tripadvisor ‘dispute’ email is limited to 200 characters which occasionally does not permit a proper understanding of the issue. (We had an experience of this ourselves when a guest posted a picture almost 2 years after their stay, posting it as NEW! when it was in fact 20 months old since when our bathrooms had been refurbished! It took nearly 6 weeks to get the misleading and defamatory photo taken down.) 
  5. Don’t let the rather offputting privacy policy dissuade you from submitting a review.  One of our guests recently drafted an excellent review * but declined to submit it, as they were concerned for their privacy when confronted by a lengthy opt-in policy regarding Facebook sign in.   I raised the issue via the tripadvisor forum, and received this explanation.  ’There is no requirement to sign on through FaceBook. It is an option. And there is no requirement to share your reviews. You can say No.  TripAdvisor has options to: (a) disconnect completely from FaceBook if you had at some point connected; (b) disable instant personalization.’  Other advice also highlighted that it is incumbent upon Facebookers to review their own privacy settings on Facebook to control the level of access which others have to their Facebook posts etc. (My own view?  When tripadvisor is seeking to have access to your profle information and to access your friends information,  I certainly have sympathy with my guest who was concerned “about potentially being bombarded with their adverts, or subjecting  my family to the same.” From a marketing perspective, if something appears off putting and intrusive and therefore acts as an obstacle to travellers undertaking the desired outcome (ie submitting a review) then I would argue that the onus is on the marketing gurus at tripadvisor to consider this. I have found that it has only been the relatively recent development of the Facebook sign in option that has escalated the issue – as the level of text dedicated to the opt in approval prior to submitting a review has become overcomplicated and lengthy – a potential turn off to our guests.  I will be monitoring how comfortable our guests feel about this going forward.)
  6. Remember, regardless of how attractive the incentive is, don’t accept a bribe! However well dressed up it is! And consider reporting any establishment which, in your opinion, is coercing you to submit a biased review. 

Businesses like Polraen over the last couple of years have contributed hugely to building tripadvisors community of travellers by encouraging the practice of posting reviews.  Regretfully, it does seem that the independent review site appears a little ‘less independent’ now tripadvisor is charging for business listings to feature contact details and special offers, earning revenue from selling third party ad space to online booking agencies and sadly being manipulated by some accommodation owners in this way.

*And here is the review about Polraen that never got posted: ”

“This is a great little Hotel with very friendly owners who go out of their way to make their guests welcome. Our room was small but very comfortable and spotlessly clean. The free Wi-fi was useful. The food is locally sourced and beautifully cooked by Martin. The menu is varied, the food well presented and everything was delicious. Gill is queen of the raspberry pavlovas!

The setting is very peaceful, with a lovely garden and ample parking. We found it convenient for exploring with and without the car. There are many exciting places of interest within a reasonable distance. We visited Eden, Tintagel, Heligan and more. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Polraen and we would love to go again.”