Sunday, February 19, 2012
It's been only a few years that Tripadvisor picked up in India, but they have eaten into the Indian tourism market. The likes of Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Guide du Routard et al have been caught with their pants down as Tripadvisor is being used extensively now by International tourists.
But, not a lot of tourists realize that Tripadvisor asks hotels to pay a yearly amount of 300 or more dollars (just heard the rate has gone upto $1000/- dollars per year) for their listing. In India. Those who do not pay are punished. How. Read on!
Tripadvisor supports those who pay. And they have clever, subtle ways of promoting places that are not listed in the guide books. So these guesthouses (ones not in Lonely planet) pay tripadvisor as it's a great source for getting customers. The guide books- fierce competitors with Tripadvisor do not put in guesthouses that have top listings in tripadvisor. And vice versa. With exceptions, of course. I do not think it's good for the tourism business. Either for the guesthouses or for the tourists themselves.In Alleppey, if you google Allepey, Kerala, Tripadvisor, you will find that invariabily the number one to three ranked Tripadvisor listings are not listed in the guide books. It also pays for Tripadvisor not to have one particular guesthouse on top of rankings for too long. They need competetion amongst hotels, and capitilize on it. Hence, every year, they increase their annual fees. Hotels already caught in their web, have no option but to cough up, or else get punished. How? - contact details taken off site, suddenly no new reviews, or worse, no good reviews. Owners can't give replies to reviews( good or bad ). Those who do pay have all these facilities plus perks. I've done my research. Problem is, nobody wants to put their head out and speak the truth. The whole system is designed such that, however genuinely good the guesthouse or hotel is, or however good they pretend to be,sooner or later a guest is going to put in a bad review- for whatever reason. That's human nature. Tripadvisor cannot protect an establishment from one of their "senior contributors" (hard core tripadvisor types who contribute more bad reivews than good ones). So these people do their job for them. It's brilliant but also criminal. There are some out there, who actually seem to travel just for this.(putting out bad reviews just to trash some establishment 'cause of percieved faults)
It's common knowledgethat a lot of hotels have started pampering tourists so that they give good reviews on TA. I had a conversation with an award winning Tripadvisor hotel owner in Kochi who was all for TA. Of course he was. He's not in the guide books. I do not think he ever will be. So TA is his only source of income. I asked him what happens when a guest becomes over demanding or nasty for no reason. He answered that the customer is always right. That sometimes "we have to act". I do not think so. I do not act. Here, there are some guests who arrive after a long ride and are a little irittable after being harassed by tuk tuk drivers or are simply tired. And India does take a toll on some tourists. So when some guests arrive and are not very pleasant on arrival, I tend to be patient and try to pacify them. But, if the same guest wake up the next day and is still rude or unpleasant then they are quickly put in place.
And this has been happening more and more recently. As soon as I get a row of good reviews then hard core tripadvisor type guests come in and act as if they own the place. They get told off and a couple of bad reviews turn up soon enough.
I try to pre-empt these sort of guests by A) Putting out blogs like these, and I am now on Twitter as well where I can post my opinions. B) Welcome sheet that is shown to all guests on arrival which clearly states,to check the room and take it only if they are satisfied.
I am sure Tripadvisor is not in it for the long run. Sooner or later, someone is going to sue the owners and that will be the end of it. It's already happened in the States where a lot of hotels clubbed together to fight tripadvisor. Not sure what happened to that particular case. It seems that tripadvisor is hiding around some antiquated right to information American law. Not too sure how that can protect them in India if someone decides to sue. And a Uk watchdog government agency has asked them to take off "Reviews you can trust" logo from their site. And they have. Had to.
The good side of it is that Tripadvisor does keep guesthouses on it's toes. There are, of course, a lot of bad reivews that are genuine, and some of it includes mine. So, it's like a kick on the backside, when I happen to start slacking off or my staff becomes complacent. But, honestly, I think a lot of complaints about us on tripadvisor are simply out of spite. If a guesthouse that's in the guide books has a percentage of 75% or thereabouts, it's probably as good as the tripadvisor number one listing which will probably not be in the guide books. And the 75% guide book listed hotel will defenitley offer more genuine hospitality than the number one TP listed one. That's guaranteed.
I know that over 99.9 % of my guests leave happy enough. So while I get a lot of tourists here through word of mouth publicity, the same people do not put in good reviews on TP. Maybe they write to the guide books. Probably why I am still in the guide books after 10 years in the tourism business. And hopefully, it will stay that way. Fortunately there's so many guests coming in on 'word of mouth publicity' that the likes of Tripadvisor do not have any effect on my business, except the sour taste it leaves in my mouth when I read a bad review. I assure all my good genuine guests, when tripadvisor finally comest to rest, as they surely will, Johnson's will still be rocking.
And finally I hope the guide books or someone with a little more integrity and understanding of the market start thinking about a worthwhile site to compete with Tripadvisor which is fair to both the hotel owner and the guest. At the moment, Tripadvisor is growing and it's the guide books that are suffering the most. Their main attraction, is that tourists think they can trust other tourists. Also, it's a chance for the average Joe or Judy to play God. And that's powerful human psycholgy that Tripadvisor has tapped into. Of course, to Tripadvisor, it does not matter if your average Joe or Judy the tourist are going to be putting out truthful reviews or not. The guide books could start their own version of tripadvisor and let the guesthouse owner reply to bad or good reviews on a new site that they have the resources and financial clout to start. Unlike Tripadvisor which started off by letting me write my replies, but quickly obstructed me once their presence on my business was established. Now, I have to pay if I want to reply. The hell I will. And even if you reply or not, it still will not change your status on the rankings. The bad review stays and so does the star rating. Meaning that the whole process is loaded in favor of the reviewer. So a tourist who does not get a discount at a particular hotel can put a bad review of that place and even if the owner of that particular establishment replies and proves that the review was not justified, the review and the ranking stays! And the trend of guests giving subtle hints about putting reviews for discounts is also increasing. Sometimes, as I have experienced- they just downright ask for it. No hint here, "do us a favor and we will put a good review, if not..." Tripadvisor needs reviews. Although a hotel can pay and get favors from them ( and they do), their main income is on ads on the site. It's just a scam business that promotes itself as a fair broker. It's anything but.
Let me conclude by stating that no establishment in the hospitality business can claim 100% customer satisfaction- human nature being what it is.
www.johnsonskerala.com 8/6/2012 And I just got another mail from Tripadvisor yesterday saying they are going to take away my contact details off Tripadvisor site unless I pay their annual subscription fee of $1000/-. Sure I will :-) Good thing is, it looks like tourists are slowly but surely catching on. However, it's not going to stop them for some time to come. And the owners have already made their fortunes. Johnson Gilbert http://www.johnsonskerala.com 9/10/2012 I was just browsing and happened to see quite a few of what I have blogged here on CNN.com. Visit CNN.com, go to their travel site and search for Tripadvisor. JOhnson Gilbert 16/12/2012 Lot of court cases happening round the world, against Tripadvisor, class action lawsuits in U.S.A., latest being this Scottish gentleman who has won a judgement allowing him to sue for libel and for damages in his country. TA cannot hide under the American laws anymore. And this is definitely going to open the floodgates as far as legal court cases against Tripadvisor is concerned. This is the begining of the end of Tripadvisor. They will go down in history as one of the biggest fraud businesses that happened in the modern world. Johnson's, alleppey,kerala.