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BW Businessworld

'Travellers Expect Hotels To Actively Respond To Their Reviews'

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Travel, search and social networking are among the fastest growing spaces online. India’s online reach in the travel segment has crossed the worldwide average, according to measurement company comScore.
 
With the Indian traveler now increasingly going online to make travel plans, sites like TripAdvisor which offer information to the travelling community say they are seeing a big jump in traffic. While predominantly a B2C site, TripAdvisor also has a B2B element to it offering business listings. Brian Payea, Head of Industry Relations, TripAdvisor for Business was recently in Delhi and explains to BW Online’s Tanuja  Chatterjee on how the model works.
 
How many businesses are now using TripAdvisor for Business in India? What has been the offtake?
As of January 2013, there are a total of 22,406 Indian accommodations listed on TripAdvisor out of which 58 per cent have at least one registered owner with the TripAdvisor Management Centre which they need to do in order to write responses to their reviews. However, our data shows that only 4.7 per cent of hotels in India listed on TripAdvisor have responded to user reviews on TripAdvisor in the last 30 days.
 
Amongst the Indian properties reviewed on TripAdvisor, 70.7 per cent were rated 3.5 or higher out of 5. To thrive, Indian hoteliers must encourage new reviews to help build their TripAdvisor overall review score.
 
Reviews play an important role in travellers’ decisions when booking a hotel. We encourage Indian accommodations to register with the TripAdvisor Management Centre so that they can take immediate control of their online reputation by engaging with past guests as well as the wider traveller community
 
According to a study conducted by PhoCusWright on behalf of TripAdvisor*, more than half (53 per cent) of respondents state that they will not book a hotel that does not have any reviews on the site”.
 
What is the revenue model of TripAdvisor for Business? 
TripAdvisor for Business offers Business Listings, a paid-for subscription option available for accommodation property owners who wish to increase direct bookings from their TripAdvisor page. Business Listings allows accommodations to add their direct contact details, including their URL, email address and phone number, to their TripAdvisor listing and post customised special offers on high visibility pages on the site.
 
You have already started advertising through 'TripAdvisor for Business'. Don’t you think this will give a biased image of the company that is advertising?
Actually this was a request from the properties themselves. They wanted to have this opportunity to advertise. This is especially important in a market like India which can be compared to some of the markets in the west. In the West, there tend to be more independent small properties and bread and breakfast setups. These properties wanted the ability to participate in commerce and asked us for some way to do that. So we built this as a business of service model. Without having to talk to somebody in TripAdvisor, the members can purchase a small 2-3 room property in a small location on their own and basically compete head to head with a big property. 
 
In the Indian market, you see a mix of big brands of properties right next to very small boutiques. When you see other commerce businesses at TripAdvisor, you see that five years ago a minimum purchase was enormous just because of the difficulty in servicing. There were those types of commercial plans but now with this model, side by side you have a very small varied entry.
 
With user generated content, there is always a fear that some of the content might be with a mal-intent. What are the checks and balances you have in place to keep content reliable?
TripAdvisor was originally founded in 2000 as a search engine, but not as a review site. It was an afterthought that we allowed users to comment on what they read there. In 2001, the company was essentially running out of money and somebody recognised that the search engine wasn’t doing much. But travelers were putting a lot of content on that themselves, and so the whole company changed direction. So right from the beginning, there was recognition that because it is an open system and an opinion site not linked to transaction, where they don’t require a receipt to put up a review, there was a potential for people to misuse it. So right from that first review back in 2001, we have had a very strong policy, procedure and processes to safeguard the integrity of TripAdvisor.
 
Kindly elaborate a bit about these policies and procedures...
We are always on top of our immediate resources to detect any effort to misguide the user. There are companies that make systemic efforts to do so, like, telling a hotel how to move on TripAdvisor etc. We can always detect it. Any company that tries to do so is penalised. We have many automated resources that are constantly filtering and reviewing the content, the moment they are uploaded.
 
When these automated sources turn something up and even a hotelier or a traveler report something amiss, our team of investigators swing into action. The investigators have criminal justice backgrounds .
 
Next is our string of public communicators. There are huge number of people who rely on internet surveys to grab information about a destination. If you look at the research and survey that we completed in September last year, you will notice that 98 per cent of the people who completed the survey said that what they found at the property was absolutely consistent to their expectations. 
 
We also are the only travel company which has a new integration with Facebook and are working towards the development of our social circle as well.
 
Sites such as TripAdvisor and MouthShut may have ended up ruining many businesses? Conversely, how many businesses has TripAdvisor helped?
The majority of reviews on TripAdvisor are in fact positive – 70.7 per cent of Indian accommodations listed on TripAdvisor have a rating of 3.5 or higher. 
 
An independent study, conducted by PhoCusWright on behalf of TripAdvisor*, reveals that travellers are a savvy and discerning bunch, as they take reviewers' track records into account when picking a hotel and generally ignore extreme comments. According to the PhoCusWright study, 71 per cent of users state that they like to see basic information (i.e., number of reviews written) about contributors as they browse through reviews. 59 per cent of users indicate that when reading reviews, they ignore extreme comments.
 
The survey also finds that travellers expect hotel management to be actively responding to their reviews, and those who do stand to generate more business. Responding to reviews — both positive and negative — shows travellers that you are paying attention and taking customer feedback seriously. According to the study, 78 per cent of users agree that seeing a hotel management response to reviews “makes me believe that it cares more about its guests.”
 
TripAdvisor for Business was launched to listen to, communicate with and better serve the hospitality sector and travel industry. We encourage all business owners to register for free on TripAdvisor so that they can manage their property’s listing on the site and leverage our free tools and resources to make the most out of their presence on TripAdvisor. They are offered a number of widgets and badges, which they can add to their own websites or Facebook pages, to display their TripAdvisor content, including recent reviews, ratings and any TripAdvisor awards they have won.
 
Perhaps the most important tool in the Management Centre is the Management Response feature, ensuring business owners are able to contribute their side of the story and thank reviewers for feedback. 
 
We also offer Master Classes and webinars, which are free seminar sessions for hospitality business owners to provide them with more information about TripAdvisor and offer tips and strategies for making the most of their presence on the site.  Last year, over 650 Indian hoteliers attended four such Master Classes we held in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
 
How is the traffic volume and quality of businesses on TripAdvisor?
An increasing number of Indian travellers are visiting TripAdvisor as part of their hotel selection process. TripAdvisor’s data shows that from December 2011 to December 2012, monthly page views for accommodations in India on site have increased by 68.7 per cent.
 
A recently published report by the Cornell University’s Centre for Hospitality Research** further shows that a little more than one-fourth (26.5 per cent) of TripAdvisor visits occur in the last five days prior to reservation booking – a pattern indicating that user reviews are one of the final criteria in the hotel booking process.
 
The Cornell study shows that as a property’s social reputation improves, its overall performance also improves. A stronger online reputation allows a hotel to increase its prices while maintaining the same occupancy levels. The rating increase therefore leads to higher revenue and improved performance.
 
The Cornell Study therefore offers a compelling case for Indian hoteliers to take immediate action to manage their online reputation by engaging with past guests as well as the wider traveller community through management responses and show them that they’re paying attention and taking customer feedback seriously.