In researching ReviewPro's Climbing TripAdvisor's Popularity Index webinar last month, I asked a range of hoteliers how they achieved—and maintain—top-10 rankings.
Their testimonials underscore that despite the disruptive force social media has had on the hotel industry, traditional hospitality has never been more important.
During the webinar, Brian Payea, TripAdvisor's Head of Industry Relations, explained that while many factors go into the Popularity Index algorithm, the key areas to focus on are review quality, recency and volume, calling them "hugely important."
As for the benefits of a top ranking, Adele Gutman, VP, Sales, Marketing & Revenue at the Library Hotel Collection, whose four Manhattan boutique hotels are legendary for dominating the charts on TripAdvisor, says the No.1-ranked Casablanca Hotel "typically receives over 100,000 profile views in a month. The Library, just a few places below, will have half that many viewers, while the Hotel Giraffe and the Elysee will get half of that."
She adds, "And [not just] casual drifters, but travelers actively seeking out a hotel in New York City … What would you have to pay for that kind of exposure?"
Good question. Of course, few destinations receive as many visitors as New York, but for any destination, a higher ranking means more visitors to your TripAdvisor page, more traffic to booking channels, and greater demand for rooms and services. As for revenue, that will depend on how well you convert.
So what are the secrets to climbing the ranks? Here are eight key strategies that managers at top-ranking hotels shared with me: 1. Provide truly remarkable service
Often it's not the lavish gestures that travelers mention in reviews but the little details, unexpected surprises and special attention from staff. One consistent theme is an unrelenting commitment to service excellence—service so "remarkable" it compels guests to remark about it in a review.
Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles has only 43 rooms, is categorized as a three-star, and doesn't solicit reviews from guests. Yet it ranks No. 1 out of 304 LA hotels, outranking the five-star Hotel Bel-Air and the Four Seasons and generating far more reviews than much larger hotels.
How? "We generate reviews organically, by providing guests with ridiculously good service, so good they feel compelled to write about the hotel and tell others," says Darren Ross, Magic Castle Hotel's general manager. As a result, he estimates that the hotel receives 50,000 visitors to its TripAdvisor listing per month. 2. Be true to brand
There's always at least one property in the top 10 that makes hoteliers scratch their head and say, "Huh?" But it's not about being the most luxurious, it's about being truest to brand. "We're not fancy, but we know who we are," says Ross.
That requires strong leadership and a clear vision. "Imagine the stories you want your guests sharing after they leave … and get your staff to see their role in making them happen," advises Bill Baker of BB&CO Strategic Storytelling. 3. Be "refreshingly honest"
For Gutman it's also about managing expectations. "You need to be painfully authentic when describing the hotel on your website," she tells me. "Overstating benefits or omitting realities can bring you travelers who will be disappointed when they arrive and unlikely to give you the great reviews you are seeking."
As if the name weren't enough, the Casablanca Hotel takes great pains on its website to describe Cozy Classic Petite rooms as "small" and offering "no view" and "no bathtub"; the site also says these rooms are "not recommended for couples on long stays." And yet some guests are still surprised to find these rooms small. "We can certainly say we make every effort to be authentic," says Gutman. "Refreshingly honest is one of our favorite compliments." 4. Mobilize the whole team
For Ben Hechter, general manager of Super 8 Kelowna, the only economy property in Kelowna in the top 10, "The most important thing is getting the whole team involved. Not just front of house, but back too. Posting reviews, letting them know when they are mentioned by name, and showing them where we have come from and where we are now gives everyone a stake in the property." 5. Offer great value
What do travelers gripe about most in reviews—aside from service? Wi-Fi charges, surprise fees and gouging. Top-ranking hotels stay clear of such practices. Many are generous with extras too, like free Wi-Fi, breakfast, upgrades, beverages and snacks. When making these decisions hotels must now factor in the costs and benefits to reputation.6. Do it with passion every day
Madrid's Hotel Artrip is categorized as a two-star, opened only a year ago, and has just 17 rooms, yet is ranked #1 of 456 hotels in Madrid. Their secret? "Do what you like and do it with passion every day," says manager Miguel Ángel Porras. "Find employees with 100% positive attitude and the skills to work with the public, work as owner or manager directly with guests, and treat guests as though they are your family in your home."
Not exactly earth-shattering news for seasoned hoteliers, but it's not always easy to connect the dots, especially for larger hotels. What impresses me most about Porras is that before opening the hotel he hadn't worked in hotel management a day in his life. And yet already we have much to learn from him. 7. Focus on traditional hospitality
The Waikiki Edition opened in 2010 with great fanfare, only to flounder in the 50s on TripAdvisor after an acrimonious parting of ways between ownership and Marriott.
Since rebranded as The Modern Honolulu, last December the hotel launched a formal reputation management program. Setting guest experience as a top priority, the hotel engages every department in the program, asks guests for reviews at three touch points, and uses ReviewPro to analyze guest sentiment.
As a result, the hotel has climbed to #4 of 83 hotels in Honolulu. Says Nicholas Barger, director of rooms, "You can't fake your way to the top. You must focus on traditional hospitality." 8. Prevent escalation
Lastly, another key strategy is to prevent negative reviews by training and empowering staff to identify and resolve on-property issues before they escalate to online complaints. For The Modern Honolulu that means giving staff the authority to do what it takes to ensure guests don't leave dissatisfied, says Barger.
There's no secret
One thing is clear: TripAdvisor rankings are a moving target, and top-ranking hotels can never rest on their laurels. And while we are enormously grateful to these hotels for sharing their strategies, we need only read their reviews to discover their secrets, where they're broadcast loud and clear by satisfied guests.
As TripAdvisor's Payea says, "There's no secret. It's about pure hospitality." Click here
to view the Climbing TripAdvisor's Popularity Index webinar. For more tips, news and alerts about upcoming webinars, subscribe to the ReviewPro blog.Daniel Edward Craig is a former hotel general manager and the founder of Reknown, a consultancy specializing in social media strategy and online reputation management for hotels and the travel industry. He collaborates with ReviewPro as Industry Advisor. Visit www.reknown.com. Copyright: © 2013 Daniel Edward Craig. Published with permission.