Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Trip Advisor? A blessing or a curse?

It is of course no secret that the review-based Trip Advisor has become a hugely important resource to travelers but how useful is it to the travel businesses like ourselves that get reviewed? And what impact has it had on the professionals, the guidebooks that were once the only source of exposure we had, that is to say honest to good merit-based reviews that we had been so happy to profit from before the internet put the consumer front and center.

Do companies like Trip Advisor hurt business by exposing it to fraud or does it give small businesses such as ours much needed exposure. Well, of course that all depends on the nature of the review or reviewer. A good review is worth it's weight in gold and a bad review can outweigh three good reviews. For instance it took us many reviews (almost a year) to climb from the 10th best ranked bed and breakfast in NYC to the 5th. One recent bad review pulled us immediately back to the 10th spot. Meanwhile, in spite of my protestations that some higher ranked properties have less to offer as far as quality and amount of space, Trip Advisor assures me that ranking is not necessarily an indicator that Trip Advisor is working on a scale of greatness. The number 1 ranked place could just as easily be a Motel 6 as it could be a Four Seasons. It's all review based which puts the onus on the consumer to figure out the differences from one property to another. That aside, there isn't a business out there who wouldn't be preferred to be ranked as number 1. 

Speaking from the perspective of both business owner and consumer, I would argue that one is more likely to post a review if they had a bad experience than a good experience. Anger is perhaps human nature's greatest motivator. No one likes to be hard done to, particularly when one has coughed up their hard-earned money. It should be noted here that it takes a certain amount of effort on the part of the individual to set up an account with Trip Advisor and just as much effort to post a review. With this in mind it is more likely that a victim of a bad experience will invest the time. However, on the bright side bad experiences occur less than good ones which is likely why most businesses have more good reviews than bad ones. I am thankful for that of course but the problem here is that the bad experiences are the ones that tend to stick out, particularly of course for the party on the receiving end. 

Ultimately we have been lucky enough to garner a very high percentage of positive reviews on Trip Advisor but there have been occasions when we have received a bad review, such as the review I alluded to above. Happily, I was able to appeal to the customers better judgment to pull the review, rather than my having to go through Trip Advisor, a decidedly more arduous task.

I do of course understand that no business is without fault and I'm perfectly willing to accept criticism when its due. The problem I have is with the process. What is to stop an individual from posting anything they want about you and how can we as both consumer and business owners alike quantify whether a review is legitimate or not? Indeed it should be noted that Trip Advisor has improved the process some over the years by adding such features as owner/manager response as well as the ability to respond to a reviewer personally, but as indicated here it can still be an extraordinarily difficult task to get a review pulled, no matter how worthy the cause. It is then up to the consumer to figure out who to listen to -- the customer or the business itself? I would argue that most consumers are likely to side with themselves and that is the essential flaw in Trip Advisor's system, by putting the consumer front and center it has whether intentionally or not created a built-in bias towards the consumer.

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