Peter Hancock, chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels, explains why, despite its warts, hoteliers must learn to love travel website TripAdvisor
There was a time when, if you asked an American for advice on where to obtain the best trip, he or she might have pointed you in the direction of a dealer in psychedelic drugs. Today, the term has been appropriated for another line of enquiry altogether - where to stay when on vacation - thanks to the US-based phenomenon that is TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor defies any prediction we could have made a few years ago. It now attracts more visitors than any other travel website in the world. It is loved and reviled in equal measure and can always be relied on to start an instant argument when two or more hoteliers are invited to share their opinions. The site has the power to make or break a small hotel business while relying entirely on the general public for its content. It is both wonderful and terrifying at the same time.
Is it fair? No. Can anyone post a review even if they have never stayed at the hotel in question? Yes. Does a poor review have a negative influence on potential guests? Probably. Are hotels displayed in truly random order within each location? No. For these and other reasons many hoteliers regard TripAdvisor with a degree of suspicion, though I know some who actively embrace it and see it as a great source of business. Good reviews, which seem to be the majority, can be very helpful in encouraging people to go ahead and book.
The British Hospitality Association has been gathering intelligence from its members to better understand the anomalies that are causing so much unrest in order to represent the whole industry in future discussions. By far the biggest gripe is the ability of someone with a grudge to post a nasty review without buying so much as a cup of coffee at the hotel first.
Another concern is the order in which "hotels" appear, with the best guest houses and B&Bs often promoted above excellent hotels in the listings because of their high star ratings. This is compounded by the site's own rating system which takes the number of good and bad reviews into account. It amused me the other day to see that TripAdvisor scores the Savoy in London 4 out of 5, exactly the same rating as they accord to the Damson Dene in Cumbria, whose calamitous progress has been featured weekly on Channel 4.
Whatever we think, the genie is out of the bottle and the travelling public are going to use TripAdvisor until something better takes its place. That is why I feel we must use it positively as a marketing tool and try to love it, warts and all.