Ever hear the term “frenemy”? It’s a slang word that combines “friend” and “enemy”. The idea behind the word is that sometimes a person or thing can be both.
Know anyone like that? If you’re a hotel manager, you probably do. Your number one “frenemy” may be TripAdvisor. This travel review site is the ultimate combination of a friend and an enemy.
As a friend, TripAdvisor helps you attract more people to your hotel. The site does this by providing a space for happy customers to post their reviews. Prospective guests can then read these reviews and use them as grounds for choosing your hotel. Thus, TripAdvisor reviews frequently play a direct role in helping you secure new bookings.
But TripAdvisor isn’t always this kind. For as we’ve said, the site is your “frenemy”. So there are plenty of cases on the opposite side too. You see the “enemy” side of TripAdvisor whenever disgruntled customers use the site to give scathing reviews of your property. Some reviewers act out of a genuine desire to share their experiences. Others, however, are posting purely out of spite and a desire to hurt your business.
Given these two extremes, TripAdvisor is a website that often confounds hotel GM’s. As a general manager yourself, how exactly should you handle this site? You can’t ignore it. Not with TripAdvisor receiving over 350 million unique visitors each month. And you do need the site, since as we said, it can directly contribute to bookings. So how do you take this “whale” of a site and keep it from capsizing your business?
To answer these questions, we at BookingBoost decided to reach out to TripAdvisor “champions”. These “champions” are travel-related businesses that have achieved great success using TripAdvisor.
Travel-related businesses? Yes, that’s correct. As in businesses that offer services related to travel. We purposely sought out these businesses, as opposed to hotels, in order to get fresh ideas. Our logic here is that what works for other closely-related industries can be applied just as successfully in the hotel industry too.
From our efforts reaching out to TripAdvisor “champions”, we came away with a set of five key lessons. These lessons are provided in the sections ahead. Read on for the lessons and understand as you do, that any one of them could be the missing piece in your hotel’s marketing puzzle. That one game-changing insight that gives your hotel a booking boost.
Lesson #1 – It’s Not a Review Site
TripAdvisor isn’t a review site.
If you visit their website, you’ll find reviews. Like 320 million of them. But you’ll also find vacation rental listings, airfare prices, and free travel guides. All of these components fit together to form, in TripAdvisor’s words, “the world’s largest travel site”.
Seeing the multidimensional nature of TripAdvisor, you should stop thinking of it as just a review site. The stars of TripAdvisor who we talked to certainly don’t see the site in those limited terms.
Two of those stars were Liselotte and David, owners of Adventure Divers Bali (AdventureDiversBali.com). Below is a shot of their TripAdvisor page, complete with 914, 5-star reviews
Judging by their performance on TripAdvisor, it’s safe to say that Liselotte and David know a thing or two about succeeding on the site. According to them, TripAdvisor should be seen as an extended, electronic form of “word of mouth”. The two told BookingBoost that a large amount of their guests are recommended by “word of mouth”. TripAdvisor thus serves as an extension of that, allowing those who wish to make referrals to reach a wider audience than before.
This advice can be applied at your own hotel as you think about TripAdvisor’s role alongside your business. TripAdvisor will be far less bewildering to you if seen as an extension of the oldest form of advertising, “word of mouth”.
Lesson #2 – Focus On The Experience
Want to avoid negative reviews? Give the best possible experience. That’s according to Chandra Bertsch, another of the TripAdvisor stars we consulted. Bertsch is general manager of Holo-Holo Charters (holoholokauaiboattours.com), a boat tour company in Hawaii. Like Adventure Divers, Holo Holo also knows what it takes to succeed on TripAdvisor. Their reviews, shown in the screenshot below, are proof.
So our ears naturally perked up when Bertsch spoke on the importance of giving guests the best possible experience. She said that providing a truly quality experience is the only way to avoid negative reviews. Provide a quality experience, she advised us, and you won’t get negative TripAdvisor reviews in the first place.
That makes sense to us. Especially since it matches the advice given by Adventure Divers Bali. We asked them this same question and got much the same answer. Liselotte and David told us that positive TripAdvisor reviews are the result of putting the guest experience first. This further indicates the need for travel-related businesses to focus on the experience provided to their guests. That goes for Holo Holo Charters, Adventure Divers, and – yes – you too, the general manager of a hotel.
Lesson #3 – Humanize Your Company
Another lesson we learned was to “humanize” your company. We got that one from Peter Lewis, co-founder of La Bicicleta Verde (LaBicicletaVerde.com). Lewis advised humanizing your company by having employees personally answer all reviews on TripAdvisor, using their names where possible.
All reviews? Yes, even the negative ones. Lewis was adamant that the negative reviews were particularly important, since they can make or break your business.
He also advised us that businesses should avoid seeming too “corporate”. After all, if a business comes off as too corporate, customers won’t be able to form a personal connection with it. And without a connection, customers will give your business the same limp, impersonal treatment they give to Walmart.
Looking at Lewis’ own business on TripAdvisor, it’s clear that La Bicicleta Verde doesn’t get the “Walmart treatment”.
Take Lewis’ advice to heart and you’ll ensure your own hotel doesn’t get such treatment either.
Lesson #4 – Integrate TripAdvisor with Real World Interaction
Earlier, we made the point that TripAdvisor wasn’t just a reviews website. We said it had far more dimensions than that. Continuing this idea, we’d also suggest one more “dimension” for TripAdvisor – the real world. In other words, you should view TripAdvisor as more than just a website. Think about it as something that you can mold and shape when you’re offline. When you see TripAdvisor in these terms, you’ll find numerous ways to integrate it into your real world interactions.
Our friend Peter does just that at La Bicicleta Verde. The business cards used by his team, for example, feature a link to their company’s page on TripAdvisor. Having this link drives more traffic to the page and increases the chances of getting reviews. La Bicicleta Verde also embeds TripAdvisor HTML on its site, further allowing visitors to easily reach the company’s TripAdvisor page and post a review.
Apart from these strategies for integrating TripAdvisor in the real world, we also got a few from Holo Holo Charters. Bertsch, the GM there, said that the captain and crew on Holo Holo’s boats mention TripAdvisor towards the end of each trip. The idea is to let customers know where to go when they wish to leave a review of the experience. Holo Holo also hands out “comment cards” to all of guests at check-in. These cards mention TripAdvisor, so guests are further reminded to visit the site and hopefully leave a positive review.
Finally, Bertch told us that her company goes one step further a few days after one of their boat charters has ended. At that point, a Holo Holo employee will reach out by email to each guest encouraging them to leave feedback. This outreach not only humanizes the company (lesson #3), but it’s also another trigger toward getting TripAdvisor reviews.
Lesson #5 – Don’t Fear Negative Reviews
Ever heard that saying, “you can’t please everyone”? It applies to TripAdvisor too. We’d all like to get nothing but rave reviews. But it’s virtually impossible to satisfy 100% of your guests, 100% of the time. Sooner or later someone is going to have a bad time. Depending on their level of ire, this guest may then take to TripAdvisor in a fit of fury. That’s OK. It’s not the end of the world, as far as your hotel is concerned. Negative reviews are going to come. And when they do, remember another classic saying – “It’s not what happens, it’s what you do when it happens”.
The champions of TripAdvisor take this perspective when they face bad reviews. One of these “champions” is Fathom Five Adventures (FathomFive.com). When we spoke with Fathom’s President Jeannette Val Auber, she recommended working to convert negative reviews into positive ones. Val Auber said this can be done by listening to the reviewers and trying to remedy a bad situation with perks like discounts. She also said it was important to avoid a defensive response, taking the standpoint instead of thanking reviewers for their feedback.
You should recognize as well that a bad review isn’t always your fault. Don’t pass the buck or look for a scapegoat. But do understand that sometimes a negative review can actually be an intimidation tactic and not the sign of a genuinely unhappy person.
We learned this unfortunate truth from Bertsch at Holo Holo Charters. She told us that unhappy guests occasionally contact Holo Holo threatening to leave negative reviews if demands aren’t met. Her advice to any businesses is to avoid giving in to the demands. Recognize that if a person is set on giving a negative review, they’ll give it regardless of whether you meet the demands.
The best you can do is carry on, as usual, giving your customers a great experience and employing the other lessons learned in this article. Do that and you’ll get a steady stream of positive TripAdvisor reviews, more than making up for any negative review from a lone, isolated “nut”.