The TripAdvisor Effect: Five Simple Steps to Make it Work for You
By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners
Love it or hate it, TripAdvisor is still the 900pound gorilla of the travel industry. With more than 225 million reviews and 340 million unique monthly visitors, there is no more powerful force in hotel marketing, especially since research shows that travelers read an average of six to twelve reviews before booking. You just can't hide from it. You need to master it.
This is mission critical work. Hotels live and die on the basis of TripAdvisor. And TripAdvisor just may make you a better hotelier, a fact underlined in a recent J.D. Power report that said increased transparency in hotel product offerings is leading to higher guest satisfaction.
So what do you need to do to ride atop TripAdvisor? Here's a proven 5step program that should be on the todo list of every GM.
- Read the reviews. All managers, including senior management, should read the posts daily. Consider these vocal guests your secret shoppers who are freely offering feedback about their experience. This needs buyin from the top.
- Look for patterns. One review, whether glowing or negative, doesn't carry much weight, but if something is mentioned repeatedly, take note. Use the negatives as a punch list of what needs fixing, and fix them. If it's slow service in the restaurant, drill down to discover why. What systems aren't working? How can they be improved? Conversely, note the positives and how those areas can be enhanced. Perhaps your bellmen are frequently singled out for attentive service. How can you replicate that behavior in other departments?
- Engage immediately, frequently and politely: the world is watching. Know that many guests use TripAdvisor as their customer service channel, voicing complaints online instead of contacting the front desk. They, and the rest of the TripAdvisor community, need to feel senior management takes customer service seriously. Every unhappy guest presents an opportunity to be converted to a raving fan. Designate a staff watchdog who closely monitors TripAdvisor and who notifies the appropriate management immediately when there is a complaint. If the guest is still inhouse and the issue can be solveddo it, and post a polite and thoughtful response saying so. If they've left, post a comment from the GM with a direct phone number to call, so that further discussion is taken offline. And whatever you do, do not cut and paste the same response over and over again. That's a snooze; you'll put readers to sleep. And yet many hotels make that basic error. Stop it. What if you believe a review is bogus and unfounded. This needs careful handling to explain the hotel's side of the issue and also to appear courteous, fair and rational in your response which will be judged by the rest of the community. Note: just because a review hurts your feelings does not mean it is bogus.
- Encourage guests to post. TripAdvisor's algorithm is based on quality, quantity and recency. What can you do to get more reviews? Do not bribe guests that's a big TripAdvisor nono. What you can do is: Make sure the guest has an extraordinary experience. Fix the punch list of negatives so there will be less for guests to complain about. Ask guests to post a review. This can be done in direct correspondence pre or poststay or just in a casual remark at checkout.
- Don't cheat. There is abundant hearsay evidence that some hotels try to goose their TripAdvisor ranking by posting fake reviews of competitors or glowing reviews of their own property. Aside from the fact that cheating is wrong, it's plain stupid to do this because if TripAdvisor catches you and eventually they will the penalties are horrific. TripAdvisor will unilaterally deflate the offender's rating, it may exclude it from Travelers Choice awards, and for the most blatant cheats there's the nuclear strike: "A large red penalty notice, explaining that the property's reviews are suspicious, may appear on the listing page," warned TripAdvisor. You cannot afford for that to happen.
Absolutely nothing on this 5step checklist is hard to do, none of it is expensive. But do the work and much improved TripAdvisor reviews and rankings are a nearly certain upshot. # # #