Using TripAdvisor to make a travel decision

By now, I expect you have a member of your staff dedicated to reviewing and responding to comments posted to your TripAdvisor listing or other online review site (I use TripAdvisor, as it is the most prominent within this class). These responses are designed to do a number of things, from complimenting a reviewer to acknowledging a fault and addressing the underlying issues. The practice of making these responses is pretty much ingrained in every property’s social media program.

But what about these responses? How do they help your TripAdvisor rating, and importantly, how do they help convert website visitors into property bookers?

Take my current travel plans, for instance. I was planning a trip to a European city that I have never visited previously. With no leads or referrals (a rarity), I attempted to select a hotel solely from the commentary and manager’s responses available on TripAdvisor. This is an exercise you should try yourself. Here are my findings:

1. It may seem obvious, but TripAdvisor listings are sorted by location on the basis of each property’s respective star ranking. The better rankings top the list. In cities where there are hundreds of properties listed, eye fatigue makes it very difficult for anyone to sort through more than 20 to 30 hotels at a time. Clearly, the higher up you are, the better.

2. Hotels are also sorted by categories: best value, family, luxury, business and romance. Check to see where you rank in each of these criteria. Again, the same ranking issue applies; the prospective purchaser will tire after the first couple dozen entries. Note that you do not assign these categories; they are based upon reader response. This means that while you might think of your property as a business destination, it might not be ranked as such by the TripAdvisor crowd.

3. When it gets into the meat of your TripAdvisor ratings, rest assured they will be read thoroughly. This includes your responses, so read and write carefully. Do you use the same language or boilerplate answer for every single one? Do your responses show you really listened? Many I found shrilled through the ear with such a sanitized tone they reeked of lawyer’s counsel instead of appreciative resident manager. When you respond, make it genuine.

4. Photos are an important part of the TripAdvisor experience. The photos taken by guests are characteristically awful. Those provided by the property can thus be much more practical. Make sure you have a selection that covers the guestroom and the bathrooms. Less important are scenic vistas, exteriors and common spaces. Whatever you do, set priorities for your selections.

5. TripAdvisor business listings are mandatory. This program gives you at least some added control over your presence on this website. The price of this utility is based on a number of factors with plenty of potential to heighten your exposure.

6. TripAdvisor is not enough. Sadly, I left TripAdvisor more confused about my hotel selection then when I began my search. I was less than impressed by some of the reviews; the text often addressed issues that were “micro” rather than “macro.” Do you follow a recommendation just because the front desk receptionist smiled at the guest or because there was a fruit basket upon arrival? I’d rather hear about what’s truly impactful, such as the unique features of the property and guestroom comfort, both of which appear to be diluted by the minutia of picky critics. If I am to be considered as a potential consumer, then perhaps the manager’s response feature is a good place to subtly reiterate any general information that would interest people like me.

I believe TripAdvisor has at least some degree of usefulness — for checking up on a hotel that is on promotional special or included in a package. But as a primary search vehicle, frankly, there is too much variability to base a final decision solely on this site. Other sources such as professional reviews, real (traditional!) travel agents and travel publications seem to offer the additional depth and knowledge that give the traveler like myself the detail necessary to make monetary decisions. And, of course, never discount word of mouth.

If you are to judge TripAdvisor from my experience, then there are a few key teachings to write home about. For me, even with its prowess, it isn’t the end-all of hotel reviews, but one avenue for discourse with a propensity for minor grievances rather than sweeping issues. Hence, it’s a good place to learn about where you are lacking and what needs polishing. Also, my own desires for hotel reviews might serve to reinforce any upcoming plans to incorporate guest reviews and live-feed testimonials into your property’s home page — a valiant mission, if you ask me!

Consider TripAdvisor as just one platform amongst all your other social media feeding you both future customers as well as suggestions from past visitors. As always, the key is in how you respond and what corrective actions you take.