The Evolution of Hotel Reviews
While it’s unlikely that Mary and Joseph left a scathing TripAdvisor review after being turned away at the Inn in Bethlehem, hotel reviews have been around, in various forms, since the first hotel opened its doors. As with many other human activities (relationships, journalism/information sharing, etc), “reviews” have become digital. And like those other activities, entire ecosystems have sprung up to support this new channel.
How We Got Here
We’ll skip beyond the first form of feedback, word-of-mouth, quickly. It’s fairly obvious that customers who had a great experience (or a lousy one) at a property would tell their friends about it. These data points are virtually impossible for hotels to track and understand. One interesting thing to point out, however, is that the question of “would you recommend the hotel?” has become one of the major markers for whether or not a hotel is doing well. This question is at the heart of the Net Promoter Score.
However, in addition to discussions in which they weren’t privy, hotels spent years soliciting feedback on guest experiences, usually through direct mail or phone. Response rates for these initiatives were generally low, as is true of nearly all direct mail and outbound telemarketing. Comment cards were also among the early forms of feedback gathering. Data gathered from these initiatives was better than nothing at all, but also had a few major challenges. First of all, it was very difficult to track or share in meaningful ways. If a manager at a particular hotel didn’t want to share feedback from each guest’s stay, they would simply hold onto the data (or throw it in the trash). In the cases where info was sent to a corporate office, there could be considerable lag time between the time period when a guest stayed, and when the information was shared with a hotel.
Today’s Review Ecosystem
Let’s fast forward a few dozen years, to a time when Amazon was among the first companies to allow reviews to show up in product search. While it’s commonplace today, the decision to let anyone post their views on a particular product was quite forward thinking.
With the launch of review sites, there was also a concern about policing how fake reviews should be handled. Sites like Yelp and RateMD.com found that there were dozens of negative reviews written about doctors that were all coming from the same IP address, that of a competing physician’s office. Fake reviews have been an issue in nearly every industry, and travel is no exception. To this day, many sites are either unwilling or unable to prioritize verified reviews over those from guests that may or may not have stayed in the property they’re reviewing.