Careful with adding TripAdvisor widgets on your accommodation website

TripAdvisor website

Adding TripAdvisor widgets to your website? Think carefully.

TripAdvisor is one of the most popular and influential travel websites. Many accommodation  managers have embraced the TripAdvisor concept, and actively monitor reviews that guests post. This allows them to view feedback and provide a “management response” to any reviews that deserve another point of view, so that prospective guests can make an informed decision.

TripAdvisor allows you to implant “live” widgets on your website. There are a range of different types – some simply show that the accommodation is featured on TripAdvisor, while others go into more specifics, such as showing how many travellers gave a 5/5 rating.  The one you really need to watch out for is the “review snippets” widgets as it shows the last (5 by default) recent reviews.

One of our clients has embedded the “review snippets” widget by TripAdvisor on their website. They are an acclaimed B&B – one of the top ranked their area. 90% of their reviewers have given them an overall “excellent” or “very good” rating. However, at this exact moment in time, this is what their “live” TripAdvisor widget is showing:

TripAdvisor widget

TripAdvisor review snippets live widget

That widget is displayed prominently on every single page on their website for everyone to see.  2 out of the last 5 reviews are unfavourable.  After seeing the phrases “didn’t live up to expectations” and “terrible and over priced”, you can imagine some people won’t spend a second longer to delve any deeper, and they will simply look elsewhere. That means lost bookings.

The problem here is those reviews have been taken out of context. While 2 out of 5 bad reviews are showing there, if you look at the bigger picture, that accommodation establishment has a total of 30 positive reviews out of a total of 33. In fact, half the reviewers gave the accommodation the highest possible score of 5 out of 5. Now that’s a pretty impressive achievement. Delve a little deeper, and each unfavourable rating has been followed up with a management response which casts significant doubt on the version of events described by the guests in question.

It’s a big risk implanting the TripAdvisor recent review snippets widget on your website. Any bad reviews from the 5 most recent really stand out and contain no explanation other than some derogatory catch phrase which is sure to put some people off, no matter how good all the others are.  If you want to implant a TripAdvisor widget on your website, you’d be much wiser to choose one of the safer ones that don’t show the leading catch-phrase of guest reviews up-front. That way, if people want to see your reviews on TripAdivsor, they can go in and see the whole picture.

Identifying those fake TripAdvisor accommodation reviews

True or False

True or false? Spotting those real or fake TripAdvisor reviews.

The world’s largest and most popular holiday review site, TripAdvisor, publishes millions of reviews by those who have stayed at hotels and other types of accommodation around the world. The primary reason for its popularity is that one of the best ways to find out what to expect when staying somewhere is to actually read feedback by those that have been there before. After all, a slick website and the right photos can mask things like poor quality rooms and less than desirable service.

TripAdvisor is not without controversy, as there is no mechanism in place to verify that the writer of a review actually stayed there.  So there may be fake reviews creeping in, either by disgruntled staff or guests, hotels trying to sabotage their opposition, or paid reviews by accommodation providers trying to boost their standing.

One of the ways to possibly spot a fake review is by pasting the text of it into Cornell University’s Review Skeptic. They claim to use sophisticated language models that can identify whether a review is real or fake with an impressive 90% accuracy. They do state that it works best with hotel reviews worded in English.

Give it a go!  Our boss here at Travel Victoria is an avid traveller, so we put his recent TripAdvisor reviews (which we know are absolutely 100% genuine) to the test. We took the 12 reviews he posted for accommodation he stayed at over the last 3 years and plugged them into Review Skeptic. The results were that out of those 12 reviews,  only one was reported as being “deceptive” and the remaining 11 were reported as “truthful”.

With 92% accuracy in our real-world test of Review Skeptic, it’s quite impressive.

While Review Skeptic was able to declare that 92% of our real reviews were genuine, we obviously don’t have any fake reviews to give it to check. So we can conclude that if a review is really true, then Review Skeptic is pretty good at picking that up. We leave it up to the reader to test how well it performs with fake reviews.

There’s more to accommodation reviews than just reading the review

review

Don't just read the accommodation review - ask yourself how it got there

When deciding on a place to stay while on holidays or away on business, many people turn to guest reviews published on the internet for a more realistic picture of what to expect.

When looking at reviews, there’s a bit more to them than just the actual contents. You need to give weight as to whether they have been verified as being written by confirmed guests, and if there’s been any censorship of reviews. So let’s look at some of the more popular websites used by Australians for finding accommodation which publish reviews.

TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com.au)

  1. Reviews are accepted for any accommodation property without the property owner’s knowledge or permission.
  2. Anyone can submit a review without actual proof of staying there.
  3. Property managers cannot remove reviews, just respond to them once only if they are registered with TripAdvisor.

Wotif (www.wotif.com.au)

  1. Only guests who booked through Wotif will have the ability to submit a review for the property they stayed at.
  2. Reviews only include numerical scores for specific items such as location, value, facilities, service and cleanliness. No comments are permitted.

Take A Break (www.takeabreak.com.au)

  1. Only guests who booked through Take A Break will have the ability to submit a review
  2. While all reviews are published, a property manager can get Take A Break to remove a review they demonstrate is unjust

Stayz (www.stayz.com.au)

  1. Anyone can submit a review without proof of staying there
  2. Property manager controls which reviews are displayed in their listing, effectively “censoring” all reviews

What is interesting here is that reviews on TripAdvisor cover very wide ground, from glowing accounts of superb accommodation and impeccable service, to reports of appalling conditions and disgraceful service – often relating to exactly the same property! This is expected, since anyone can submit a review – although TripAdvisor claim they can detect most fake submissions. Those reviews are published independently of the accommodation property, so there is effectively no way for a review to be removed.

At the other end of the scale is Stayz. While anyone can submit a review without verification, the property manager will only release for publication reviews of their choice. As they are unlikely to allow bad reviews to be published, the general public effectively gets to see only the very best reviews and no others, similar to the cherry-picked testimonials that businesses tend to publish on their website. You may get the impression by reading the reviews that every stay at every property listed on Stayz will simply be perfect.

So when reading a review for an accommodation property, also keep in mind how the review got published, who may have written it, and what (if any) censorship may have occurred.

Putting TripAdvisor reviews into perspective

TripAdvisor

Putting TripAdvisor reviews under review

There’s no arguing about the powerful influence the world’s most popular travel review website, TripAdvisor, has on travellers planning where to stay when away from home. There’s nothing more compelling and revealing than reading about first-hand experiences by independent guests as opposed to the slick and sanitised marketing material on a property’s website. However, some of the reviews may leave people even more confused than when they first started their research.

One of the confusing aspects of reading reviews is the sometimes huge variation in experiences and ratings. Someone may submit a review saying a particular hotel was the pinnacle of luxury, offering unsurpassed service and facilities that were second to none. Yet the next review, perhaps written by a traveller only a few days later, criticises the property as being akin to “Fawlty Towers”, with serious faults in their room, incompetent staff and being the hotel from hell.

How do you make a reasonable judgement in light of such conflicting reviews? There are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. There are two sides to every story and somewhere in between is the truth. Look carefully for any “management responses” to reviews guests have made. Some bad reviews can simply have their roots in basic misunderstandings between the manager and guests, simple booking errors, conflicting expectations, or once-off incidents that were beyond the control of all involved.
  2. Compare apples with apples. There’s usually a range of room which are appointed to different standards at an accommodation property, and you should ensure that when assessing the actual room, you only read reviews that pertain to the standard of room you intend to book. If you’re booking an apartment penthouse, the scathing reviews of the small budget rooms are not a good guide as to what to expect. Similarly, reviews of a hotel’s refurbished presidential suite are not very useful if you’re planning to stay in the hotel’s older and cheaper basement rooms.
  3. Some people expect too much from where they are staying. You don’t book into a cheap 2 star hotel in a city’s back streets if you’re expecting a king size bed with luxurious linen, a marble ensuite and silver service meals. Some guests look for the cheapest accommodation, expect it to be as good as 5 star, and when it of course isn’t, unload their frustrations on TripAdvisor.
  4. Fake reviews do exist. While TripAdvisor has methods in place to detect fake reviews, no method is ever 100% fail safe when it comes to dealing with huge numbers of contributions by the general public. There’s around 50 million reviews on TripAdvisor and that figure is growing phenomenally. For a start, TripAdvisor doesn’t verify if guests actually stayed at the place they are writing a review for. Secondly, there is no verification of the unfavourable incidents people report, unless a management response has been posted. And thirdly, given the huge influence TripAdvisor has, the temptation of some property owners to post a few bad reviews of their competitors or glowing reviews of their own establishment may be too great to control.
  5. People are more likely to submit reviews of extreme experiences.  Think about what motivates people to write reviews for TripAdvisor.  Some believe their stay was so horrible that they want to tell the whole world about it and get revenge back on the establishment for ruining their time away.  At the other end of the scale are people so impressed and pleased by their whole holiday experience that they want to provide glowing feedback to the management and tell the world about how wonderful everything was. Yet in the middle of all this are people that have fairly normal experiences where things going smoothly and there is nothing noteworthy to report other than they checked in okay, the room was what they expected, and the staff were pleasant. Not strong motivation for rushing onto TripAdvisor to tell the whole world about, is it?

Consider those points when looking for reviews about where to stay on TripAdvisor.

A worthwhile bit of advice that’s been floating around for a while in regards to TripAdvisor reviews is to ignore the very best and the very worst reviews, and give most weight in your decision-making process to those reviews in the middle ground.