Michelin vs Zagat - AAA vs TripAdvisor.
By Vijay Dandapani
Saturday, 13th October 2007
New Yorkers may be forgiven for barely noticing news items (subscription required) that effective yesterday those looking for reviews of restaurants could "choose Michelin or Zagat.

Or both".

Zagat, which is almost entirely dependent upon feedback from diners, has a near stranglehold on the New York, if not the US, restaurant market.

Michelin, an automobile conglomerate that started the guidebook as a service to motorists, on the other hand relies on "professional inspectors" who presumably are venue neutral in their ratings.

That, as the New York Times notes in its article has resulted in some venerated New York eateries like Four Seasons and La Grenouille coming away with no stars.

The Michelin process may, in fact, be more fair to restaurants that are a notch or two below celebrity hang-out status as there could be considerable variation in the customer base that goes to such places.

The foregoing analogy can also be applied to "professional" reviews and ratings for hotels as in AAA versus Trip Advisor and other user generated content. Trip Advisor's current home page has the Pineta Park Hotel in Marmaris, Turkey in the "rants and raves" section with the unfortunate hostelry labeled as a "1" - the lowest possible rating - by the reviewer.

However, a visit to the hotel's site on TA shows a wide standard deviation for the reviews with several "5s" (the maximum) with a median rating of 3. While no AAA or independent "inspector-based" rating can be found for the hotel, a careful reading of the reader reviews will probably result in a 2 had there been one - still better than the 1 featured in TA's home page.

So, as user generated reviews gain gravitas, what can hotel operators and owners do to counter the widely divergent opinions of reviewers, most of which are heartfelt?

For starters, customer and employee relations, even if it seems like a tired old cliche, needs to be revisited - repeatedly. Hotels that have high standard deviations in their customer scores are typically those that do not adequately focus on continually honing their methods for capturing the voice of the customer.

A critical aspect of that is employee training and empowerment programs that enable optimal revenue capture as capturing customer feedback and converting this into knowledge to support one's employees in the management of their customer relationships is essential in a fast changing operating environment.

Vijay is Chief Operating Officer and part-founder of Apple Core Hotels- a chain of 5 midtown Manhattan hotels offering value and comfort in the heart of the city.Member of the board of Directors - Hotel Association of New York.

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