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Having posted on the extraordinary inclusion of 3 Irish hotels on the Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Top 25 Hotels in the World I was obviously intrigued by Conor Pope’s story which appeared on the front page of Monday’s Irish Times (30 January). Apparently Pope had sight of internal correspondence authored by Jean O’Connell, Director of Sales and Marketing at Carlton Hotel Group, setting out a strategy to achieve what she hilariously calls “a more pro-active management of the reviews on Trip Advisor”.

According to O’Connell’s plan, managers at the 10 hotels in the Carlton chain would co-ordinate the posting of positive reviews of the various properties by recruiting at least 5 bogus reviewers each. However, mindful that the provenance of the reviews be discovered by Trip Advisor, the reviewers were instructed not to use hotel computers and not to upload professionally taken photographs.

Knowing that the story was about to break, the hotel group was quick to dissociate itself from the plan, stating, through its solicitors, that the plan was only ever a proposal, was never implemented and that it was a “mistake”.

Hotel owners and managers claim they are often targeted on Trip Advisor by unethical competitors who post negative reviews of their properties. O’Connell defended her plan with reference to such attacks claiming she had evidence of fake reviews.

So where does this leave us in relation to the points made in my previous post? Does the detection of such practices discredit Trip Advisor as an on-line platform offering valid and reliable user generated content? The site claims to have “ways and means” of identifying fake reviews and TA’s communications director Emma Shaw states that a “full and detailed investigation” is under way regarding the Carlton case with the company taking “a zero tolerance approach” to such activity – whatever that might mean. Presumably, as a result, they’ll build in further security and surveillance and tweak the algorithms a bit. But we’ll still revert to Trip Advisor for accommodation suggestions just like we consult Wikipedia for all type of information and knowledge but then we pass that information through our own filters.

Thus on-line presence remains crucial for anyone in the hospitality industry, irrespective of the occasional stories that may seem to call that into question. The real issue here is not the relative reliability of Trip Advisor or, indeed, the dodgy practices of a individual DOS but the nature, purpose and DNA of the hospitality industry itself. This story reminds us that the hospitality experience must be the sine qua non of all hotels whatever size they are. In our relentless pursuit of better occupancies, RevPar and market share perhaps we have forgotten what’s at the heart of hospitality. We’ve become experts at yield management, upselling and on-line marketing and now suffer from a sort of collective amnesia around why we do it at all.

Let’s not forget that it’s all about the guest, the service that is rendered to him, the way that she is made to feel.

If we get that bit right then the rest, including the good reviews on Trip Advisor, will follow!

PS – I also enjoyed Phil Butler’s posting on the same story – have a read of it here


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