Call me cynical, but I'm not a big believer in online reviews -- or at least the gushing kind. So many smack of self-serving and gratuitous marketing blather that I find the whole genre suspect.
Say I'm looking at hotels for a weekend getaway. I read, "Pristine room, impeccable service -- fabulous stay!" and my eyes start to roll as I think, "As if a real guest wrote that!" No way I'm clicking to see what else that reviewer has to say. Of greater (but still limited) appeal to me are reviews that aren't so effusive, like "nice hotel, but kind of noisy," or "great location, so-so service." Sentiments like these don't seem so much like bull to me.
This reticence to read obviously glowing online reviews might be a shortcoming of mine, and I might miss out on some real gems as a result. Maybe this is something I should work on in the new year.
As the Los Angeles Times reported this week, positive customer reviews do mean money in the till for hoteliers. Every 1 percent boost in a hotel's online reputation score results in a 0.54 percent increase in occupancy. This, in turn, leads to a 1.42 percent rise in revenue per available room, according to the paper, which cited analysis from Cornell University's Center for Hospitality Research. There's more:
The study, by Cornell professor Chris Anderson, looked at data from more than 3,000 hotels in 20 cities, including several international locations. He spent about six months crunching occupancy numbers, daily rates and online reviews.
Anderson also looked separately at data from Travelocity, one of the world's largest travel websites, and found that if a hotel gets a 1-point jump on the site's five-point rating scale, the hotel can increase its price by 11.2% and keep the same occupancy rates.
I think, with data such as this in hand, what reasonable marketing maven wouldn't be tempted to sprinkle some rah-rah reviews on Travelocity and its ilk, whether sanctioned by the company or not? You might say I'm being unfair -- Grinch-like. Even if this were the case, a couple of planted reviews (even dozens or hundreds) among the multitude doesn't really matter, does it?
I pulled up some notes from the IE Big Data Innovation Summit I attended in September to see what Michael Berry, vice president of business intelligence at TripAdvisor, might have said about this issue during a presentation on mining big-data to keep its customers, the hoteliers, happy. After all, as he pointed out, the company "is in the business of letting people rate things."
And rate things they do. On TripAdvisor, you'll find more than 75 million reviews and opinions expressed by more than 56 million unique monthly visitors. "There are hundreds of millions of rows added to web log data every day," Berry said.
And, perhaps secretly addressing me, the doubtful one in the room, Berry was sure to point out: "We don't pay people to supply reviews." And even though TripAdvisor can do a lot to keep its subscribers happy, it can't prevent their guests (or pretenders) from posting bad stuff, like "nasty but legendary" or "Do not stay here unless you like drug-addicted prostitutes on your doorstep."
Nor can it manipulate page ranks, which a TripAdvisor analytics engine spits out based on user ratings, or control conversion rates; as the Cornell researcher noted, conversion rates are largely attributable to "what's written on the hotel's review page."
Berry talked about how TripAdvisor analyzes its big-data to keep its subscribers happy and signing up for its services. But the long and short of it, for my purposes today, is that hoteliers are in less control of their destinies than I've imagined in the deep, dark recesses of my mind. And the superlative review I mentioned, written for a luxury hotel, might not even matter much at all, after all is said and done.
Cornell's Anderson told the LA Times that luxury brands don't feel the impact of higher reviews as much as economy or midscale hotels do when reviews are good. I'm not all that surprised, though Anderson said he was. After all, if you can pay $1,025 for a mid-December "winter retreat" at Chicago's Waldorf Astoria, do you really bother reading web reviews of the property? Oh, am I sounding cynical again? Did I mention it's 50 degrees here today?
What about you? Do you like sharing reviews of your hotel stays -- or products or services -- on the web? Do you like reading them? How much value do you find in them?