How Was Your Stay? Post It

by January 14, 2014 3:09 pm In The News

Note: This article was originally published in New York Times and is written by Jane L. Levere. The original article can be found here.

Matthew Kolodny, a consultant based in Chicago, used TripAdvisor to help choose a hotel for a recent yearlong assignment in Abu Dhabi.

He opted for a new hotel, the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort and Spa. According to TripAdvisor reviewers, he said, it had “impeccable service” and “was worth staying at, although its location may have been a little bit out of the way.”

Mr. Kolodny said these reviews and others he consulted for other trips provided “the good and bad points of hotels I don’t know about.” His only caveat when using TripAdvisor is that he must spend time studying the reviews, to make sure that those writing them understand business travelers’ needs.

Mr. Kolodny is one of an increasing number of business travelers who are relying on hotel reviews by guests to make booking decisions. And hotel companies are responding. Marriott, IHG, Starwood, Wyndham and Accor have started to post guest reviews on their websites, even if it means allowing less-than-glowing opinions.

While some of the reviews are obtained from sites like TripAdvisor, some hotels directly solicit reviews from guests.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel, the travel management company, now has a service, called Hotel Intel, that lets its clients’ employees rate hotels after stays.

It’s all part of a rapidly shifting landscape in business travel. Thanks to technology and the spread of social media, decision-making power is being put more in the hands of business travelers themselves rather than corporate travel managers, though managers still require compliance with corporate travel policies for expense reimbursement.

Hotels are finding that they cannot afford to be left out of the conversation, even if it means allowing negative reviews on their websites. Most hotel companies generally do not block or edit guest reviews, except for profanity or other inappropriate comments.

Clay Cowan, Starwood’s vice president for global digital, said reviews were “uniquely important in travel, compared to other things that are sold online.”

“There are no trials, no exchanges, no previews,” he said, “You rely on others who have been there to tell you about it.”

The Wyndham Hotel Group and Accor email guests and request reviews — which are submitted to TripAdvisor — after their stays. Wyndham displays on each hotel’s website the average TripAdvisor rating, which factors in all reviews published on TripAdvisor; Wyndham also displays all reviews it solicits from guests.

Accor displays the total number of reviews and the average rating for its hotels, calculated by averaging all reviews published on TripAdvisor, as well as the five latest TripAdvisor reviews in the language of the user.

Egencia, the corporate travel division of Expedia, is taking it a step further, with a new service for clients that creates a customized ranking of hotels based on TripAdvisor reviews, the client’s priorities, and the neighborhood where the traveler will stay, like Midtown Manhattan. For example, if the client considered a hotel’s price more important than amenities like a gym, free breakfast or Wi-Fi, this would affect how the hotel was ranked when its travelers went online to book a stay.

One problem with guest reviews, however, can be their reliability. According to research done last year by Hudson Crossing, a travel consulting company, 57 percent of hotel guests in the United States doubt the accuracy of online ratings from sites like TripAdvisor. Another issue is that leisure travelers’ needs often differ from those of business travelers.

To deal with the concerns, hotel companies often put restrictions on their review-posting process. Marriott International posts reviews for its loyalty program members only on the online forum, which is publicly accessible, and lets program members write reviews only of hotels where they have stayed. IHG and Starwood post reviews on websites of individual hotels from guests who have stayed at those hotels; both companies solicit these reviews by email after the guest’s stay. An IHG guest can also post a review anytime after a stay.

Yet another twist in hotel reviews comes from TrustYou, a technology company that analyzes guest review information for hotel companies. It introduced a scoring system hotels can post, with guest reviews, on their websites; the system tabulates a hotel’s “TrustScore” by compiling reviews from more than 250 websites worldwide, including TripAdvisor, and social media.

Beyond providing information to prospective guests, reviews can offer additional benefits to hotel companies, travelers and their employers.

Making reviews available encourages travelers to remain on hotel companies’ websites to research and book stays, rather than book through an online travel agency. This helps hotel companies avoid paying agency commissions, said Henry Harteveldt, an analyst with Hudson Crossing.

Douglas Quinby, vice president for research at PhoCusWright, a travel research company, said guest reviews should inspire hotels to improve service for business travelers. A corporate traveler is on an expense account and is likely to spend more, he said. “To capture and satisfy this market and keep it loyal should be priority No. 1 for any hotel company.”

Chris Vukelich, vice president for supplier relations at Egencia, predicted his company’s new hotel ranking methodology could “help reinvent the traditional approach to hotel procurement.”

“It gives a system that matches the company’s culture and objectives,” he said.

Beyond new travel management tools, some companies have started social media programs for their employees to post hotel reviews and share travel experiences with colleagues, said Greeley Koch, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

One of the first to do this was Sapient, a Boston-based digital marketing company, which five years ago created an internal online travel discussion group. Today one-fifth of Sapient’s 10,000 employees — whose average age is 35 — participate in it.

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