A tectonic shift happened in the travel industry when Tripadvisor came to the fore. For the first time, travellers could share their both horror and happy stories of their hotel stays - mostly posting reviews anonymously as Tripadvisor merely requires a simple e-mail address for registering at its site and posting a review.
As a consequence, for a long time, the hotels had no clue as to how to respond to this new beast in the market.
Many hotels chose to live in denial mode and even today still many continue to embrace the path of denial. They just don't read the reviews, don't post management responses and are not interested in encouraging their satisfied customers to visit TripAdvisor and write a positive review of their experience at the hotel property.
However, there were many hotels who decided to engage with the travelling community via Tripadvisor. Hence, we see an increased percentage of management responses on TripAdvisor. We also now witness many hotels, especially smaller hotels aggressively chasing and encouraging their customers to post a review of their stay. Some hotels are even more smarter - by offering better services and amenities, they are converting their critics into their grudging admirers and possibly into repeat customers. Must say this is the right way forward!
However as the hotel industry reeled under the reviews assault, and still continues to do so, they ferociously threw venom at TripAdvisor. Hotels complained vehemently that TripAdvisor is not sensitive to their cause and actually TripAdvisor, in the eyes of the hotels, was nothing more than a parasite feeding on the misery and the agony of the hotels. Some even accused TripAdvisor of deliberately publishing fake negative reviews as travellers in search of any information or rather, the negative information made a beeline to TripAdvisor thus generating both - huge clout and huge revenues.
Internet is full of many stories of how many mom-and-pop establishments have closed down because custom stopped coming their way due to negative feedback on TripAdvisor. One particularly engaging story that this writer recalls is of a female traveller from the UK, writing that how much she misses the quirky small cottage that she used to patronise, but is now out of business due to the destructive negative reviews on TripAdvisor. Apparently guests from the North American continent could not appreciate the quirky isolated location of the cottage and groused how primitive and basic the cottage was, deeming it unfit for the human world.
In fairness, since the past one year, Tripadvisor on its part has walked a few steps forward to engage with the hotels and their concerns, which initially for many years had been mostly ignored by TripAdvisor. In fact, now TripAdvisor desires to be seen as a responsible party. One step in that direction is that now TripAdvisor conducts master classes for hotel owners and their employees.
But the pet grouse of hotels is of anonymous fake reviews and this even today still continues to be a touchy issue. Many newspapers in the West have carried stories of how they jacked up the rank of a property languishing at lower ranks of TripAdvisor by hitting its Tripadvisor listing with many positive and glowing reviews.
Few hotels have pooled their resources and have hired a reputation management firm with a team of lawyers, to explore and initiate the possibility of court case against Tripadvisor.
Interesting to note is that the backlash from hotel industry made Tripadvisor remove its slogan “reviews you can trust”.
However what's the travellers view on this? How was and is today's traveller using Tripadvisor's reviews? Do they really trust them? To get an insight on this subject, we started asking our customers about their views, thinking and methodology.
Our little survey showed an overwhelmingly ”yes” to the question whether they trusted TripAdvisor reviews. Most travellers interviewed by us revealed that they believe that many of the reviews are based on actual user experience even as they acknowledged that they themselves had successfully spotted a few fake reviews.
But much more was communicated to us in our little interaction. Travellers, while allowing for the possibility that most reviews are based on an actual user experience, still had their filter antennas out when they were reading/scanning the reviews.
However, each traveller used different methodology and this is where it gets even more interesting. Some travellers simply refuse to look at positive reviews or give them any value, they just rush to the negative reviews, scanning them immediately for ascertaining whether they can or cannot handle the worst case scenario that's been outlined in the negative reviews and then, take a call on whether to approach the hotel for booking or not.
For example, a young female traveller from North America will ignore the rant of an elderly man from India who has viciously complained about lack of lifts in a three storeyed hotel. She's young and she believes that she can easily handle a three floor walk upstairs if there is nothing else to worry about. For she is interested in the property, likes the look of it and that's the reason she is scanning the reviews. What will put her off is, if she finds a review describing the horrors of sharing your bed with roaches! In case you are from Mars, the feminine gender of the human race has a loathing reluctance to share their bed with cockroaches and other creepy bugs.
Similarly a travel researcher from UK will ignore the rant of the North American traveller complaining about lack of latest modern Internet connectivity issues. And so on, and so on.
Then there are others who just look at the first three positive reviews, check the ranking and blindly book the hotel. Much pain has happened to many due to this. There are many, who believe that a higher ranked hotel on TripAdvisor listings is a sure bet that it offers all possible up to date creature comforts. Often a five-star luxury hotel is ranked below a humble bed and breakfast or a three star hotel.
So what is the point I'm trying to drive at? Simple - travellers require endorsements from people that they know, people that they can trust.
This is where Facebook and airBnB step in. Both do not permit anonymity, both are driven by dedicated user base, a user base which vigourously shares their experience with each other and everyone.
For those who do not know about airBnB, it is a booking site for offbeat properties, homestays, bed-and-breakfast, yachts, ranches - all kinds of accommodation except hotels.
At airBnB only a guest who has actually stayed at the property is allowed to share her experience vide a rating and a review. The beauty of airBnB is that likewise, it allows for a counter rating and review of the guest from the host as well. This allows for the hosts to pre-check the guests when they receive new booking enquiry, to ascertain whether or not there is a match between their property and the guest's expectations. This is not available on TripAdvisor though I personally know of a few hotels who have requested TripAdvisor for this kind of feature. TripAdvisor is yet to oblige.
For Facebook, really not much is required to be said. It is perhaps the strongest social networking, sharing and bonding site. There is a high level of trust amongst its members. As more and more travellers, especially women, share their photos, their experiences, their choice and of course their sorrows on Facebook, Facebook users tend to regard this feedback on Facebook with the highest trust quotient possible.
While TripAdvisor continues to be the biggest gorilla in the travel industry, our view is that these are the peak days of TripAdvisor. Eventually Facebook and airBnB will glean away much of TripAdvisor's traffic and user base. But I don't think TripAdvisor will ever lose its relevance. However, there are other review sites which are chasing the same eyeballs that TripAdvisor currently enjoys, entertains and educates. A primary reason for continued TripAdvisor supremacy shall be its active travel forums filled with people seeking travel advice and receiving advice.
Now for our forecast - dependency on reviews posted at TripAdvisor will progressively diminish due to trusting aspect of Facebook and airBnB, while the travel forums of TripAdvisor will continue to make new highs, attract new travellers who may or may not check out the reviews - for they already have hotel recommendations from their friends either on Facebook or from past guests at airBnB!