Cornell analyzes TripAdvisor reviews to help hotel managers


Online reviews of hotels don’t usually make for scintillating reading. But with the power to make or break a hotel’s profitability, they are read closely.

So hotel managers may be curious to know about how university researchers are shedding new light on how guest reviews should be interpreted.

A new study, published by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration’s Center for Hospitality Research, used a bespoke version of a software technique called text-mining to pore over details of how guests evaluate a hotel.

The researchers offer fresh perspectives into how managers should interpret, and make use of, reviews. They also suggest specific practical actions managers could take to boost their property’s online reputation.

Their method helped divine subtle meanings in the phrases of reviews not previously available.

One key conclusion: The most informative reviews to watch out for are the lengthy ones that “focus tightly on just a few issues.” The details in these reviews are generally more accurate than the numerical ratings the reviewer gives. These reviews also tend to be the most useful ones to act on.

“The median isn’t the message”

The researchers looked at a sample of 5,830 English-language reviews from TripAdvisor — which provided data for the study — covering 57 hotels in Moscow, Russia.

They separated out many different strands of cause and effect to the relationships of 18,106 distinct terms relating to five specific attributes: amenities, experience, location, transactions, and value.

The researchers conclude that “the reviews’ content can vary substantially (in sentiment, quality of writing, and themes) from the numerical satisfaction ratings assigned by the review writers.”

In other words, a review may have more damning information than the rating suggests — or vice versa — because consumers sometimes have trouble assigning a number or star-rating that fully captures their sentiment. Hotels need to look for insights not indicated in the ratings to learn how to improve their operations.

Another challenge for hotel managers is that not all reviews can be interpreted in the same way. The authors say that reviews for different hotel tiers gave varying weights to those attributes.

“For instance, the guest’s experience was mentioned more commonly in reviews of high-tier hotels, while amenities and location came up more frequently for motels in the middle tier compared to hotels in other tiers….”

“One particularly noticeable feature of the reviews is that ratings sank when guests wrote lengthy reviews that focused tightly on a limited number of hotel attributes, while relatively briefer reviews that took a wider view of the hotel generally had higher ratings….”

The study also found that guests write more about value and transactions when they are dissatisfied.

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