It's a touchy question in luxury hotel circles: Is it right to ask guests to post reviews to TripAdvisor?

The answer - emphatically - is yes. But it's the how to ask that matters.

As for why posting is crucial, there is no doubt - none - that today the two things that drive hotel bookings at the high end are word of mouth via friends and acquaintances (either real word of mouth or Facebook posts) and TripAdvisor reviews.

I cringe when I read "world's best" on a hotel website, yet their TripAdvisor rankings are mediocre - as though we would not know. We are long past the point where a viable strategy is to seek to ignore TripAdvisor and hope it goes away. It won't, at least not soon.

It also is pointless to hope another review site displaces it. TripAdvisor is way ahead in what geeks call "the network effect," where the more people who post to TripAdvisor, the more valuable its reviews are. When I look at alternative sites, usually I find a small smattering of reviews and that is where I stop. In bulk there is truth. That is, no single TripAdvisor review is (likely to be) totally true - but in aggregate, when the numbers are high enough, there is truth. Read 50 reviews of a restaurant and find 10 complaints about too salty food, a dozen about long waits to be seated for reservations, another dozen about absent service and you know that restaurant has enormous troubles. And if you are smart you will take your hunger elsewhere.

TripAdvisor matters and there is every evidence that it matters across price points. I often hear hoteliers snigger that TripAdvisor might matter in limited service categories, but not at the 4 or 5 star level. Nonsense.

Affluents read TripAdvisor every bit as voraciously as do others and when it is their vacation at issue, they definitely care what's posted on TripAdvisor. They can shrug off a so-so stay at a hotel on a business trip - probably they booked in compliance with company policy and they certainly paid with company money - but on a holiday where they are spending their own money, they want a resort they can count on. And they now are looking at TripAdvisor to find it.

Which brings us back to the question: how to ask guests for reviews?

Hotel consultant Daniel Edward Craig gathered up comments from many hoteliers here

These are comments from Craig's site that nail it, in my opinion:

"Absolutely, we ask our guests to write reviews. We staple a business card from TripAdvisor to all folios asking them to review the hotel, and the evaluation form we send to all guests includes a request to review us and a link to TripAdvisor. As a result, our review volume has almost tripled." – Stephen Peters, Resort Director, Pacific Sands Resort, Tofino, BC

"We always send a post stay email thanking the guest for the visit, asking how the stay was and letting people know how much we appreciate their support via a review. Occasionally we mention it if we feel it is appropriate to the conversation, but mainly the request is via email … and that is enough for us." – Adele Gutman, VP Sales, Marketing and Revenue, Library Hotel Collection, New York, NY

What you cannot do: bribe guests. IIn a recent Adweek write up, Julie Cassetina, a TripAdvisor spokesperson, said this: "Hotels cannot go on and boost their own ratings by writing reviews of their own properties. We have a whole team dedicated to making sure there's no fraud on the site. To be clear, hotels can encourage guests to leave a good review, but they cannot bribe guests."

Note: the focus of that Adweek story is: is it worth a hotel's effort to make it onto TripAdvisor's top 10 lists? The loud answer: absolutely.

"We do actively ask that guests utilize TripAdvisor to express their honest opinion of our hotels," Nick Cohen, who directs the Langham Hospitality Group's e-business division, told Adweek. "Even within the luxury segment, it's important to embrace the power of TripAdvisor since customers utilize the site to research the full spectrum of hotel accommodations."

The Langham Chicago was the top US hotel in last year's list.

Understand too: Cohen told Adweek that the top rating "does impact the business' bottom line."

There is every indication that the more reviews a hotel has, the higher its TripAdvisor rating is likely to be. TripAdvisor, too, has trust in the network effect.

Make this a top 2016 priority: encourage guests to post to TripAdvisor...and watch your rating climb.

Babs Harrison
Babs Harrison + Partners
Babs Harrison + Partners