Reviews and more reviews: a question of confidence
Efforts are being made to ensure that travellers are getting accurate information that is relevant to them. Even online travel agencies (OTAs) are now diligently integrating reviews on their sites, e-newsletters, promotional campaigns and other outlets.
EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta talks to Jon Wild, marketing director at global accommodation website HotelClub, a wholly owned subsidiary of Orbitz Worldwide, about integrating reviews in the OTA business and the impact on operations.
Firstly OTAs are improving descriptions of hotels across the board so that customers can more directly compare rooms and facilities at different hotels. This includes more photos and videos for travellers to browse through. Secondly, the overall contribution from various stakeholders including employees, fellow travellers, hoteliers and so on is on the rise on their sites. And there are more and more user-friendly tools plus improved website design for enhancing the experience of customers. All these initiatives are being taken to ensure that consumers are getting closer to making confident decisions. Only a few months ago Travelocity, referring to its data, mentioned that three out of every four travellers have unanswered questions on the hotels they are interested in after doing initial online research.
Reviews today are integral to running a business. They have a direct impact on your revenue and profitability. Plus, they also help control costs – if your service is alluring enough it results in positive buzz, further helping your brand. Major search engines are giving increasing importance to reviews for placement of your hotel on search results so you can optimise your digital marketing spend; monitor the positive keywords so that you can use that in your marketing messages. Likewise, also find out the negative keywords that people use so that you can focus on those issues in your operations. So marketers have their task cut out.
EFT: From HotelClub’s perspective what role do reviews play today in travel planning and booking?
JW: For HotelClub, reviews provide additional content for consumers to make their decisions. They help consumers make decisions about specific components within the hotel, like the best location of their room to avoid noise or get the best view. Word of mouth, through reviews, has always been a strong factor in the decision-making process. One of the advantages of this is that customers can find reviews that are tailored for their specific needs. For example, business travellers might appreciate facilities that are catered for but are not highlighted in the hotel description.
EFT: OTAs are acknowledging that conversations about their services will happen, so it is better to be part of them and to learn from them. How is your company integrating reviews?
JW: At HotelClub, we factor in customer reviews when we decide which hotels to promote and include in our marketing campaigns – particularly our weekly flash sales and ‘hotel awards’ programme. We also feature the guest reviews as part of the hotel descriptions in our emails and on our homepage.
EFT: Has people’s trust in travel reviews really declined?
JW: We haven’t seen any decline in trust in our hotel reviews. In fact, we generally see more bookings with hotels that have positive customer reviews.
EFT: How do you go about using reviews?
JW: I personally use reviews when booking travel. My first step is to check the hotel descriptions and photos. I then narrow it down to a shortlist and read user reviews to make my final decision. I try to balance the quality and quantity of the reviews. So typically I filter out the best and worst reviews and look for practical advice from other travellers – in other words an indication of the hotel’s location or which restaurant to eat in.
I remember one trip I took to Las Vegas where a reviewer recommended staying in a certain part of the hotel that was close to the monorail. He saved me walking miles from the other side of the huge hotel!
EFT: How HotelClub is going about ensuring that all reviews are authentic and accurate?
JW: The majority of our reviews come from customers who are invited to write a hotel review after a confirmed stay. Only recently have customers been allowed to post reviews independent from the booking process. Those reviews are clearly identified by a green check mark and the reviews can be filtered to only show verified reviews. We have over a million verified reviews across the Orbitz Worldwide group.
EFT: What are the main issues pertaining to reviews in the travel industry today?
JW: While reviews can be really beneficial to consumers, they are not all equal. Some people have a one-off good or bad experience and the reviews reflect this. Dates of the reviews are also important as we want to make sure that customers view reviews that are recent. Our hotel reviews can be sorted by most recent, highest score and lowest score.
EFT: As concerns grow over fake consumer reviews, what do you think is being done today to remove any misleading or inaccurate reviews from websites?
JW: Moderation is important in managing misleading or inaccurate reviews. HotelClub provides review guidelines that include questions like ‘how did this compare to previous trips you may have taken?’ We also have an insider tip section for customers to include tips and tricks for the next traveller. Finally, all reviews submitted are subject to our terms and conditions and won’t be published if they don’t adhere to them. We encourage customers to share their opinions to assist with the decision-making process for other travellers. However, this content needs to be moderated. Guidelines must be put in place for obscenities, spam and personal information.