NB: This is an article by Shashank Nigam, CEO of SimpliFlying
When was the last time you booked a hotel without reading a TripAdvisor review? 93% of travelers say that their hotel booking decisions are influenced by a review. But when we book airline tickets, we just sort by price, or schedule. This is about to change – possibly forever.
TripAdvisor airline reviews are about trust
Over the years, TripAdvisor has become the de-facto source for checking out what others say about a hotel, before booking a room. There are 90 reviews submitted on TripAdvisor per minute! However, online reviews from airline passengers have been surprisingly lacking till date. Sites like RouteHappy rate in-flight amenities, and Skytrax has a long-running star rating system that is often questioned in the industry and even boycotted by some airlines. TripAdvisor has finally stepped up to offer a crowdsourced alternative by introducing airline reviews.
Just like hotels are reviewed on TripAdvisor, the site has introduced guidelines for reviewing airlines. Those who have flown on a particular airline can leave reviews on everything from how the seats were to the flight attendants’ service delivery. Given how well the Tripadvisor brand is trusted, airline reviews on the site have the potential to change how airlines market to customers.
TripAdvisor airline reviews are about trust. And nothing builds brand trust like a peer review from another passenger. In fact, 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
What should airlines do?
Many airlines on TripAdvisor already have over a thousand reviews. Like hotels, airlines should be replying to selected reviews, and certainly monitoring them regularly. Reviews are a good indication of overall service levels.
Airlines should have a representative request official access to be able to respond to reviews. If an airline is not in the list, TripAdvisor can be emailed to add the airline to their database.
Airlines should also think about integrating TripAdvisor reviews on their own website to add a layer of authenticity, like many hotels have done. That will be a much more powerful tool for marketing than a slick advertising campaign. Over time, airlines can also use these reviews to complement their own market research efforts.
Tread with caution
While TripAdvisor airline reviews are an important development, airlines need to be cognizant that in the past, there have concerns about fake hotel reviews on the site. Sites like Booking.com are doing better, by allowing reviews only by people who have previously booked on the app. Similarly, airlines will need to be on the lookout for fake reviews and work with TripAdvisor to get them removed. Perhaps this is something TripAdvisor should look to address – may be a valid PNR needs to be added along with the review for authentication.
Furthermore, airline reviews are a little different from hotels. Airlines fly different type of aircraft, with different products and levels of service, based on the route. Last week, I flew on Finnair from New York to Helsinki on a brand new Airbus A350. And then connected on to a narrowbody plane to reach Milan from Helsinki. There was no flat bed or WiFi in the latter, and the experience very different. TripAdvisor currently does not allow one to sort reviews by route or plane type.
There are a number of websites that already do a good job of granular airline ratings, like SeatGuru rating each seat on a plane type. TripAdvisor will need to learn from them to drive adoption for its airline reviews. For starters, Tripadvisor airline reviews will likely be used by leisure travelers who are not familiar with specialist aviation websites, or those flying to unfamiliar countries on unfamiliar airlines.
Ultimately, 91% of hotel managers and property owners in the US are now inviting guests to submit reviews, because they know it impacts the brand. It is likely that this will soon be the case for airlines too. If you work in marketing at an airline, now more than ever, you need to realize that your brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.