The Review Dilemma: To Add or Not to Add?
By Melanie Nayer ~ Weekly Exclusive, Views On The Latest Trends
Wednesday, 26th September 2012
What do you do when the latest review of your hotel reads 'Very poor quality, will never stay here again'? You make some changes and fast...

This was a recent review from a guest who stayed at the Best Western in Eagle Rock, but the review wasn't on a community board or third-party site. It was found from a link on the hotel's website.

Best Western International, one of the world's largest hotel chains, recently redesigned its website, and like many other hotels taking heed to the social media sites, it too added links to customer reviews from TripAdvisor.com.

Travelers heading to BestWestern.com will also see more specific hotel details and more photos, as well as the embedded TripAdvisor reviews for each hotel.

"Travelers on average conduct more than 20 web searches when planning travel, according to research from Google, and we recognize that a growing number of guests turn to social communities and online reviews for research before they book a hotel stay. Our commitment is to provide the most information possible to bestwestern.com visitors to ensure they're booking their travel plans with complete confidence," said Best Western Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Dorothy Dowling in a press release.  "Now our guests can read TripAdvisor traveler reviews without leaving our site, which not only saves time but also helps each guest choose the right Best Western hotel for their needs."

While this new trend of including customer reviews on hotel websites is sweeping through the industry, the jury is still out on whether it's a value-add, or detriment to attracting new clientele.

Earlier this year, TripAdvisor launched a free online tool that hotels can use to integrate guest reviews directly onto their website. The purpose is to allow guests to complete the entire review process without leaving the hotel's website, and also allow the hotel to see the reviews first-hand. The reviews are published on TripAdvisor, but this tool allows hotels to see the candid feedback immediately.

Many hotels have taken the guest reviews to their websites. Four Seasons integrated TripAdvisor reviews this when it launched their new website at the beginning of the year, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and the Wyndham Hotel Group followed suit, encouraging guests to post reviews on the hotels and hotel services.

But how accurate are the reviews? The TripAdvisor team told news organizations that their advanced algorithms are able to flag and delete fake reviews, and based on the Best Western example, they are right.

In some cases, though, the most recent reviews aren't the ones you'll find on the hotel's site.

I randomly searched for hotels on the Four Seasons and Starwood sites to see what I could find. On the Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai website, the customer reviews at the time this story was written read "No complaints, only kudos. Excellent service…" and "The Four Seasons Hotel in Shanghai is an excellent place to stay. I found the hotel staff to be polite and very attentive."

However, when you click the link to the TripAdvisor page for the hotel, the most recent reviews show a slightly different take:

"A bit tired & stuffy…" and "I learned during my stay that the chain is about to open a new hotel Shanghai which will deliver excellency… but this one is somewhat out dated in terms of decor, room standards and service…" were the most recent reviews posted from guests.

On Starwood's Westin hotels site, I looked up The West New York at Times Square hotel and found there were 257 guest reviews. In this case, Starwood allows guests to write the review directly onto the hotel's website. The reviews were mainly positive, leading with "most amazing experience," "This hotel has amazing staff," and "Very comfy!" from the most recent guest experiences. Most of the reviews are read and commented on by a hotel staff member, which is also posted
directly to the site.

I did a quick poll on Facebook and Twitter to see what guests think about the customer reviews on hotel websites. The answers didn't surprise me. Most hotel guests aren't surprised at all to see only positive reviews on hotel websites, but caution potential guests to always take their research a step further.

"I don't think the practice is unusual…And I understand the double edged sword of TripAdvisor," said one traveler. "I generally discount any reviews written by obviously cranky malcontents or honeymooners because they just aren't applicable unless you're a honeymooner or a malcontent."

"I'd rather see properties with a good balance of reviews - not all properties are "just perfect" for every type of guest… A steady feed of positive reviews wrapped into a web site should be a red flag" said one hotelier.

"I always take TripAdvisor reviews with a large grain of salt," said another traveler. "If I was a hotel, I wouldn't use them on my site at all. Of course, they wouldn't use the negative ones on their websites, but do they think their potential guest don't know to go to TripAdvisor and read the bad ones? I'm not sure that everyone knows how to read between the lines on TA."

These "bad" reviews aren't necessarily a bad thing, though.

Sure, hotels risk losing a customer to a bad review, if it's posted. On the other hand, these harsh words are an opportunity for the hotel to redeem itself in a public forum.

Transparency is key, and if the hotel continues to provide great service to the guest - online or in-person - there's the possibility of winning over a few new guests.

Melanie Nayer is a hotel reviewer and expert on luxury travel around the world. She has covered all aspects of hotels including corporate restructures, re-branding initiatives, historical aspects and the best of the best in luxury hotels around the world.

Melanie writes a weekly exclusive column for 4Hoteliers.com
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