Mak­ing the right choices

How much of cit­i­zen re­views of ho­tels, restau­rants and ac­tiv­i­ties can we trust?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel - By JAMIE CARTER

How was your week­end away? was the ho­tel any good? Leave a re­view on­line!

what­ever web­site you used to book your last trip, the chances are it e-mailed you when you got home to re­mind you to write a re­view. Did you?

Many of us feel obliged to leave a re­view if we have a good ex­pe­ri­ence – es­pe­cially if the ho­tel was small and in­de­pen­dently run – and al­most all of us rely on other trav­ellers’ re­views to make our de­ci­sions on where to stay, where to eat and what to do. But are we read­ing real re­views?

we now live in an era where so-called cit­i­zen re­views are de­ci­sive, where what on­line travel agents like to call “user-gen­er­ated con­tent” is more im­por­tant than any other fac­tor in mak­ing our travel pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions.

“Al­most ev­ery trav­eller – 95% – reads re­views and book­ing de­ci­sions are de­pen­dent on them,” says Sin­ga­pore-based Alex Tan, vice-pres­i­dent of Asia-Pa­cific sales and op­er­a­tions for guest feed­back plat­form TrustYou, which pow­ers guest re­views on dozens of travel sites, in­clud­ing Google, Kayak, and Ho­tels.com.

“our study on the ef­fect of re­views on ho­tel con­ver­sion rates and pric­ing showed that trav­ellers are 3.9 times more likely to book ac­com­mo­da­tion with higher re­view scores, given equal prices.”

Tan also states that 76% of trav­ellers are will­ing to spend more for ac­com­mo­da­tion that gets high rat­ings from oth­ers.

It’s of­fi­cial; we’re now ad­dicted to on­line re­views, and it’s a global trend. “Trav­eller re­views are an im­por­tant part of both choos­ing a des­ti­na­tion and de­cid­ing on travel ac­com­mo­da­tion and ac­tiv­i­ties,” says Mag­gie Rauch, se­nior di­rec­tor of re­search at travel mar­ket re­search com­pany Pho­cuswright.

“we see this glob­ally, in­clud­ing our most re­cent re­search in China, South-East Asia and In­dia.”

Buy­ing re­views

Prob­a­bly the best known “user-gen­er­ated” web­site glob­ally – aside from Face­book – is TripAdvisor, which has col­lected, more than 600 mil­lion re­views of 7.3 mil­lion ho­tels, air­lines, at­trac­tions and restau­rants since it was founded in 2000.

In its end-of-year (2017) re­view, TripAdvisor noted that the av­er­age Ja­panese trav­eller wrote more re­views than any other na­tion­al­ity in 2017. In Hong Kong, the most re­viewed restau­rant was the ozone Bar, and Vic­to­ria Peak was the most re­viewed at­trac­tion. How­ever, what is a sur­prise to many is that many on­line re­views may be fake. “TripAdvisor cer­tainly has a large num­ber of fake re­views,” says Tom Bourlet, who runs the travel blog spaghet­ti­trav­eller.com and has run the mar­ket­ing for global travel brands.

He cur­rently works as the search and paid me­dia man­ager for thestag­com­pany.com. “You can go on a num­ber of web­sites such as Fiver or Black hat world to pur­chase fake re­views by bulk.”

Bourlet claims to have dealt with sev­eral brands that are buy­ing re­views in the hun prin­ci­ples dreds from such sites, or whose staff sim­ply cre­ate re­views. “It is a very easy game to ma­nip­u­late, which makes it all the more frus­trat­ing for hon­est brands who are try­ing to build a strong rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the qual­ity ser­vice they de­liver,” he says.

TripAdvisor says that its ded­i­cated in­ves­ti­ga­tions team has taken ac­tion against 60 dif­fer­ent “op­ti­mi­sa­tion com­pa­nies” around the world since 2015.

“TripAdvisor was built on the of trans­parency and it is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to us that our site re­mains a use­ful and ac­cu­rate source of in­for­ma­tion to con­sumers,” a TripAdvisor spokesper­son told the South China Morn­ing Post.

How­ever, some have hacked the sys­tem to ex­pose flaws, such as the ex-fake restau­rant re­views writer oobah But­ler, who made a fic­tional restau­rant in a shed the top-rated restau­rant in Lon­don on the travel web­site.

“As eye-catch­ing as this ex­per­i­ment was, it ac­tu­ally doesn’t tell us much about fake re­views in the real world,” said the TripAdvisor spokesper­son. “Most fraud­sters are only in­ter­ested in try­ing to ma­nip­u­late the rank­ings of real busi­nesses – and that is im­por­tant, be­cause there is a cru­cial dis­tinc­tion be­tween fake re­views for a real restau­rant, as op­posed to a fake restau­rant.” TripAdvisor said it had re­moved a num­ber of the fic­tional restau guests, rant’s re­views be­fore the list­ing it­self be­ing iden­ti­fied as fraud­u­lent and re­moved from the site, all be­fore But­ler’s story was pub­lished.

Smart con­sumers

Tan doesn’t think that mass pur­chase of fake re­views is much of a prob­lem.

“Trav­ellers nowa­days can’t be fooled that eas­ily – they read re­views, com­pare, check ho­tel web­sites and other of­fers,” he says.

“In­stead of buy­ing fake re­views, ho­tels should put their ef­forts into col­lect­ing and mar­ket­ing their own re­views, as this helps to im­prove their scores and rat­ings across the web.”

TrustYou tries to cir­cum­vent the pos­si­bil­ity of fake re­views by cap­tur­ing guest feed­back from a va­ri­ety of chan­nels, in­clud­ing on­line sur­veys sent from ho­tels to ver­i­fied as well as from the likes of Google, TripAdvisor, Book­ing.com and Face­book Mes­sen­ger.

How­ever, in this “trust econ­omy”, reput a cur­rency, tion is with fake re­views also used as a tool for cor­po­rate on­line sab­o­tage. “I have per­son­ally dealt with a pre­vi­ous com gained pe­ti­tor who 500 re­views within 24 hours on a well-known re­view site, all with iden­ti­cal text,” says Bourlet.

“Upon re­port­ing them to the re­view site, the re­views were re­moved and their en­tire ac­count was banned from the web­site – this opens up the pos­si­bil­ity that you could ma­nip­u­late this in re­verse by send­ing hun fake dreds of re­views to a com­peti­tor and then re­port­ing them.”

Such an act would raise the sus­pi­cions of Google’s search al­go­rithms, which could rele web­site gate the down the rank­ing for host du­pli­cate ing con­tent.

Ei­ther way, it’s best to avoid the re­views on the venues’ web­site, and keep an eye out for bulk-bought fake re­views. They’re easy enough to spot; if a re­view is very short and very pos­i­tive, low on de­tail, con­tains lots of spell­ing mis­takes, and in­cludes the name of the ho­tel sev­eral times, it is prob­a­bly fake. Also look at the dates the re­views were posted; if there are a lot of re­views posted within a few days, then none for weeks, be sus­pi­cious.

Do your re­search

“Neg­a­tive re­views can be use­ful – if some­one states in a one-star re­view that they didn’t have enough tow­els, or the check­out time is a bit late, then it shows me there isn’t much to com­plain about,” says Bourlet, who nev­er­the­less says that re­views that give a ho­tel three stars are gen­er­ally the most ac­cu­rate. “I ig­nore the ex­tremely an­gry re­views, as well as the overly happy ones.”

“Use a few dif­fer­ent re­sources if you are con­cerned about fake re­views,” says Rauch. Trust pilot, Book­ing.com and TripAdvisor are all worth con­sult­ing even if you don’t plan to use those plat­forms to make a book­ing.

For now, cus­tomer feed­back re­mains king, with cit­i­zen re­views the stan­dard for mea­sur­ing qual­ity across many in­dus­tries. But, new types of re­views are emerg­ing.

“Vis­ual con­tent – pho­tos and video – from trav­ellers is quickly ris­ing in im­por­tance, and prob­a­bly plays a big­ger role now,” says Rauch.

Pho­tos of ho­tel rooms are cer­tainly de­ci­sive, though video re­views are still rel­a­tively rare.

“we think that video re­views won’t have a very big im­pact,” says Tan. “writ­ing a re­view or fill­ing out a sur­vey on your smart­phone takes much less time.”

Per­haps, but com­mit­ting to leav­ing feed­back cre­ates a never-end­ing cir­cle of on­line tasks. Should our de­sire to get away from it all and es­cape our busy work lives – and our de­vices – re­ally come with a layer of on­line ad­min re­quested by needy apps?

Next time you stay in a ho­tel, ex­per­i­ment with not read­ing strangers’ re­views and not leav­ing one your­self. As travel hacks go, it’s one sim­ple way step off the travel tread­mill and find the au­then­tic travel ex­pe­ri­ence you were look­ing for in the first place. – South China Morn­ing Post

Take in the in­dul­gent Premium Deluxe room in Hol­i­day Villa Beach Re­sort & Spa Langkawi af­ter a long day of meet­ings. — Hol­i­day Villa

Ho­tels.com launches Uber fea­ture in mo­bile app. —AFP

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