Online Reviews of Hotels: True or False?

Posted on: November 22 2010 | Posted in: Latest News
More travelers use online sites for reviews more than ever. Are reviewers making truthful comments or just venting?

Thursday, November 11, 2010
BY: Jennifer Larino, Staff Writer

From rants on running toilets to sly remarks about the bagel offerings at the continental breakfast, Dawn Ledet, director of sales and marketing at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel, makes it a point to address the varied complaints posted on TripAdvisor.com, a travel website that has become increasingly popular among satisfied and disgruntled guests.

But it wasn’t until this year that Ledet ran up against a questionable review on the site. Last year, the Dauphine Orleans took over management of the nearby Audubon Cottages and replaced its bedding before opening in December.

Despite the complete overhaul, Ledet said a TripAdvisor review appeared in March detailing the discovery of a stained mattress. Ledet said the new mattresses in the rooms are barely worn and earmarked the comment as a carry-over from the previous management. But that didn’t stop regular calls from potential guests about cleanliness stemming from the review.

“We just address the concerns as they come in,” Ledet said.

As websites such as TripAdvisor.com and Orbitz.com become a growing influence in the way travelers book rooms, hoteliers such as Ledet are calling on the sites to take a more active roles in monitoring comments and addressing manager’s concerns.

She said she would like to see the comment removed from the website, but TripAdvisor only removes comments when hotel ownership has changed. While she continues to use TripAdvisor to communicate with guests, the mattress comment has left her more skeptical of the legitimacy of some claims.

“You kind of wish there was some sort of verification process, for lack of a better term, to say, ‘Yes, (the guests) were here and they definitely experienced that,’” Ledet said.

In October, KwikChex, a British reputation management company, announced it was organizing a lawsuit against TripAdvisor over what it sees as libelous comments. More than 800 hotels have inquired about the case.

In the U.S., travel websites are generally not liable for third-party posts, and most sites allow hotel management to respond to user reviews. But New Orleans hotels operators say they want these sites to remove comments that are outdated or dishonest.

Mavis Early, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association, said the problem is less about bad reviews and more about their legitimacy. TripAdvisor in particular has come under fire since it does not book hotel rooms through its site and cannot verify if a reviewer booked a room at a hotel.

“The concern is that if someone writes to TripAdvisor and what they say is not true, it damages the reputation of the hotel,” Early said. “It’s almost impossible to turn that around.”

Maurine Liuzza, director of marketing for the Hotel New Orleans Convention Center, said she welcomes and addresses criticism online but she would like to see dated reviews removed, like a comment about her hotel when it was a Holiday Inn franchise more than five years ago.

As in Ledet’s case, TripAdvisor will not remove the reviews because hotel ownership remains the same.

“You would think that after some time that the system on the reportee’s end would ex it out,” Liuzza said.

But social media consultants are quick to point out that questionable negative reviews aren’t singular to the hotel industry.

“Every industry now has somewhere where you can go and write a review. I could go on crateandbarrell.com and review a piece of furniture I didn’t buy,” said Michelle Wohl, president of marketing at social media management firm Revinate in San Francisco.

Revinate works exclusively with clients in the hospitality industry, offering a software service that pools online mentions of a brand name for a hotel. Wohl said that hotels complaining about TripAdvisor are more likely to be the ones not using it. While bad reviews can go viral online, she said a response from a hotel manager can go farther.

“Consumers actually read management responses more closely,” Wohl said.

She added that TripAdvisor reviews give hotels that once spent thousands surveying guests a more cost-effective market research option.

“All of a sudden there’s this great free channel for them to tap into,” Wohl said.

Kent Wasmuth, director of sales and marketing for the Omni Royal Orleans and Omni Royal Crescent, said the executive office reviews TripAdvisor daily and responds to negative comments as soon as they appear. He agrees hotel responses hold more weight in satisfying guests.

“Quite honestly, the ones that might be negative are surprised that there is someone responding so quickly,” Wasmuth said.

He added that removing negative comments wouldn’t change the instantaneous impact the reviews have.

“These are real time comments,” Wasmuth said. “I don’t think removing them is the key.”