Hon­esty is still ho­tels’ best pol­icy

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - David Car­roll

HO­TEL com­pa­nies got the fright of their lives when on­line travel com­mu­ni­ties first emerged, and for good rea­son. Af­ter years of lur­ing trav­ellers with slick cliche-rid­den mar­ket­ing pat­ter, hote­liers sud­denly had to con­tend with the prospect of guests shar­ing their own un­cen­sored prop­erty re­views with the on­line world.

Any­one con­tem­plat­ing a ho­tel stay could go to sites such as TripAd­vi­sor and IgoUgo and read what re­cent vis­i­tors re­ally thought of the ro­man­tic suites, panoramic views, gourmet cui­sine and ‘‘ short’’ walk to the beach.

Some ho­tels hoped th­ese so­cial net­work­ing sites would be a pass­ing fad. In­stead they have proved phe­nom­e­nally pop­u­lar: TripAd­vi­sor claims 20 mil­lion vis­i­tors a month.

Oth­ers have at­tempted to un­der­mine the user-gen­er­ated re­view process by post­ing glow­ing re­ports on their own prop­er­ties. But the sheer vol­ume of con­tri­bu­tions means the odd ef­fu­sive en­try stands out like a sore thumb. And be­sides, af­ter years of de­scrib­ing bath­rooms as ‘‘ lux­u­ri­ous’’ and lawns as ‘‘ lush’’, ho­tel mar­keters are not that hard to spot.

Now a few smart ho­tel groups are recog­nis­ing the rich op­por­tu­ni­ties on­line travel com­mu­ni­ties present. Aus­tralia’s Ry­dges Ho­tels & Re­sorts, for ex­am­ple, has a pol­icy of re­spond­ing in an hon­est and con­struc­tive man­ner to com­ments— pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive — posted about its prop­er­ties.

Speak­ing at a ho­tel con­fer­ence in Syd­ney last month, Ste­fan Drury, e-com­merce man­ager at Ry­dges’ par­ent com­pany AHL, said neg­a­tive re­views could be dam­ag­ing if left un­con­tested. At the same time, re­spond­ing to re­views is a good way for ho­tels to talk about re­cent up­grades and re­fur­bish­ments.

Not all ho­tel op­er­a­tors are as com­posed as Ry­dges. One man­ager re­cently re­sponded to a critic with the fol­low­ing: ‘‘ I make no apolo­gies for the lilac colour in the room . . . af­ter all the room is called The Lilac Room, so what colour do you ex­pect?’’ Some­times com­plaints are so silly they re­quire no re­sponse: ‘‘ Sun­shine is not as nice as I saw on their web­site,’’ laments one un­happy camper.

Sher­a­ton takes on­line travel com­mu­ni­ties so se­ri­ously it is cre­at­ing its own by invit­ing vis­i­tors to its web­site to con­trib­ute pho­to­graphs and com­ments on prop­er­ties they have ex­pe­ri­enced. The images can of­ten look am­a­teur­ish and the com­ments are cer­tainly not the prod­uct of any mar­ket­ing de­part­ment. But the site is help­ing cre­ate a ‘‘ neigh­bour­hood’’ based around Sher­a­ton’s brand.

On­line so­cial net­works are also a source of in­valu­able con­sumer re­search and the team that pro­duced the stylish WHo­tels is tak­ing full ad­van­tage. In Septem­ber, they un­veiled a new ho­tel brand, Aloft, inside the vir­tual-re­al­ity site Sec­ond Life. Vis­i­tors to Sec­ond Life’s dig­i­tal world have been able to visit the vir­tual Aloft ho­tel and pro­vide feed­back on ev­ery­thing from room sizes to colour schemes.

The com­pany plans to ap­ply what it has learned from Sec­ond Life when it opens the first real-world Aloft prop­erty next year. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see whether any of the tech-savvy on­line trav­ellers who con­trib­uted to the fi­nal look will be will­ing to shell out real money. David Car­roll’s col­umn on new travel tech­nol­ogy ap­pears monthly in Travel&In­dul­gence .

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