It was billed as a masterclass: a chance for the hospitality trade to learn how to get the most out of the global travel review site TripAdvisor over lunch at a luxury hotel in London.
In the end, TripAdvisor staff ended up facing a barrage of tricky questions from hoteliers, bed and breakfast owners and restaurateurs who expressed anger and frustration at the way the website operates.
One B&B owner, John Holder, left the master-class at the Park Plaza Hotel at Westminster Bridge comparing the US-based organisation – unfavourably – to the Catholic Church. “It extends itself globally looking for money to send to Rome – or rather America,” he said. “It treats owners as if it is far above them, in another world. I can’t help feeling its headquarters is just one massive computer.”
TripAdvisor describes itself as the world’s biggest travel review site and claims 5m people across the globe look at its 40m reviews and opinions every day.
But there is concern among many British hoteliers that the site does not do enough to monitor and remove what they see as unfair reports. A company specialising in protecting online reputations, KwikChex, has been inviting disenchanted hoteliers to join a class action against TripAdvisor – and has had hundreds of people say they want to take part.
The event at the Park Plaza was the opening salvo in a campaign by TripAdvisor to make itself appear less distant.
Not Too Sure About That
Karen Plumb, commercial director of business listings for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, accepted that not everyone was “wholly delighted” with TripAdvisor. She said some people felt “powerless” that they were not in control of their online reputation. Plumb said owners would now be able to contact the organisation via telephone – a common complaint is that they have to fill in a standard form on the site and receive generic responses – and she highlighted the “owner centre” that allows those dissatisfied with reviews to respond.
Among the first to ask questions was Jamie Butler, who helps run a yurt village and fly fishery in Hampshire. He expressed concern over the case of a customer who demanded money in exchange for not posting a bad review on TripAdvisor. Butler said he could not find a way of contacting TripAdvisor to tell them what had happened.
Alan Gillam, the owner of the Western Hotel in St Ives in Cornwall, said he felt it was unfair that one damning review could devastate small businesses like his. Other sites allow owners to get a certain number of reviews removed – but TripAdvisor’s stance is that would-be customers can see past the odd poor review if most are good. “It may have been just that it rained all week and a reviewer feels badly done by because the weather was bad,” said Gillam.