|ITB 2012: Hotel ratings - fake or true?|
Monday, 12th March 2012
Source : Roland Wildberg ~ Exclusive from ITB Berlin 2012
In recent years hoteliers' main cause for headaches became review platforms; estimates about how many of those comments by guests were just woolgathering range between a few and up to 30 per cent.
Prof. Roland Conrady, Scientific Director of ITB Conventions and professor at the Worms University Department of Applied Sciences presented his findings in a keynote address at ITB-Berlin.
Customer/user generated review sites are a growing online phenomena. Such reviews have become direct influencers to people’s booking decision making processes. However, research conducted by students of Prof. Roland Conrady, of the Worms University School of Applied Sciences indicates that 18-35% of all reviews are faked and/or misleading. These findings are supported by research organizations such as Kwickchech, Bitcom, eTailing and other relevant groups.
Prof Dr Roland Conrady (University of Applied Sciences Worms)
According to Professor Conrady, hotels need to take these statistics seriously and find ways to deal with the resulting implications by taking an initial position as to the importance of such reviews, studying the results thereof and seeking solutions.
48% of all travellers leave a review, according to a Bitcom study. eTailing Group, in their 2012 social shopping (behaviour) study said that 95% of all internet surfers consider such reviews as "credible and reliable".
Because review sites often rank higher in Google searches than hotel sites, hotels need to take them very seriously, if they expect to find new guests – particularly since many of these portals have been certified as "trusted sites".
80% of all evaluations are positive. In different countries, evaluations have resulted in legal suits. According to Prof. Conrady, hotels cannot expect review site operators to analyse the posted online evaluations in advance. Furthermore, in countries such as Germany, "freedom of speech" also guarantees fakers their day.
Despite its "trusted site" status, even Trip Advisor was sued by hotels who felt they were wronged in evaluations concerning them. In many ways, it is a "no win situation… and it is by far not possible to eliminate fake reviews all together, as there is still no foolproof control over these sites," Conrady said.
Professor Conrady did recommend to hoteliers that they do take action to ensure their presumed good reputations,
if they felt they were wronged. "The problem here is that far too many hoteliers have not yet recognized the power of review sites. For those who have recognized this, far too many of them have not done follow-up work researching and evaluating information posted about them. Most have neither taken the appropriate steps to thanking people for their positive evaluations nor to find ways to correcting reviews deemed as being unfair."
Professor Conrady’s study was aimed at German hotels. However, he believes that the results will not differ significantly for other economically viable markets. In their research, Conrady’s Worms University students contacted and researched the results from 1,200 hotels, between January and February 2012. 330 of these hotels were interviewed live, accounting for 43% of the hotels contacted.
97% of the hoteliers who participated knew that they had been evaluated on some online review-site. About half of these hotels had been reviewed in one of the top 6 review platforms – from Booking.com to Trip Advisor. Also, 50% of the hoteliers claim that they had been the focus of one or more fake reviews.
In his research, Conrady established that hoteliers were not taking enough time to evaluate the reviews that had been written about them. 63% of the hotels took less than 2 hours per week to study these review sites – 55 minutes thereof were spent evaluating the competition.
2/3 of these hotels conducted their research manually and 1/3 used special IT tools to identify and examine relevant evaluations.
Conrady finds these figures alarmingly low. He was, however, pleasantly surprised that four out of five hotels understood the power of online review sites in winning over new customers and that their top management took responsibility in evaluating such sites at least 50% of the time.
"There is a difference between knowing the power of these sites and taking action and reacting to them," Conrady said. 46% of hotels thanked reviewers for their positive evaluations. Alarmingly low were the amount of hotels that did not react in any form – i.e. 43%. "Such hotels have lost sight of the importance of customer loyalty retention."
As far as negative evaluations go, 57% of all hotels actively left statements on the websites in question, 52% ignored the criticisms all together and 23% offered compensation for just yet negative evaluations.
"Hotels need to take the collecting of client feedback more seriously," according to Conrady. He recommended that hotels would be best served by learning of a client’s praise or criticism during their hotel stay. If that was not possible, then contacting them directly following their stay would still not be considered too late. Important: catching the client before he or she fills out independent on-line evaluations. Once a negative evaluation has been left, there is little that one can do about it without investing a large amount of time and/or costs. Only 15% of all hotels participating in the study sent out a generic evaluation form after a customer checked out of the hotel. 28% of the hotels being studied said that they regularly selected specific guests to contact after the guests' departures.
54% of the hoteliers said that they had no experience with fake reviews. 44% believed otherwise. Conrady's research assumes that 26% of the fake evaluations are placed online by the competition and 18% from real guests.
Conradi said that most hoteliers claimed to have been extorted with the threat of a bad review if they did not, for example, receive a room upgrade. 70% of these hoteliers said they did not give in to such demands. 41% scanned the web for the bad reviews and worked on getting those evaluations deleted. 25% said that they looked at each threat on a case by case basis. 4% claim to have taken legal action against such customers.
Professor Conrady recommends that hotels take the research and monitoring of online review sites more seriously – not only to see how they have fared but also to see how their competitive sets have been faring as well. Unfair evaluations should not be ignored and every effort should be taken to correct them as well - since such evaluations are used more and more by travellers in their booking decision making processes.
Scanning the web can be eased through appropriate use of IT software which is available and worth the investment. Furthermore, customer feedback needs to be promoted and used for quality management as well as for market research purposes. If need be, bonus schemes should be introduced to those customers who have left positive reviews. Conrad concluded by recommending that hotels "never shy away from contacting those people who have left bad reviews."