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Interview with TripAdvisor CEO

12/10/2010

But not all reviews of TripAdvisor are glowing. Last month, Kwikchex announced its intention to launch a class-action lawsuit against TripAdvisor on behalf of over 800 hotels and restaurants on grounds of defamatory user reviews. More recently, the company told the Telegraph it plans to publish a list of reviewers it suspects of publishing fraudulent reviews and is threatening legal action against them.

Are hoteliers being whiners or is the system truly flawed? I decided to go to the source, TripAdvisor co-founder and CEO Stephen Kaufer, for his perspective. Here he talks candidly about why TripAdvisor will continue to allow anonymous reviews and why hoteliers always get the last word.

Dan: TripAdvisor has been getting a lot of heat from hoteliers these days, who question the legitimacy of some reviews. What’s your take on this issue?

Stephen: There isn’t anything new here … we’ve always had hoteliers that love TripAdvisor, as well as some who wish the website didn’t exist. The bottom line is that, in addition to the quality assurance systems we have in place, when you have hundreds or even thousands of reviews on individual properties, the wisdom of the crowds really does a fantastic job of giving you the right expectations for the hotel. We encourage hoteliers to read the comments carefully and respond appropriately to negative reviews, so prospective guests can see for themselves that you are interested in constructive feedback.

Dan: Another complaint from hotels is that the system for posting responses and disputing reviews is slow, bureaucratic and highly censored.

Stephen: We’ve dedicated a lot of energy to improving our service to hoteliers. In May, we launched TripAdvisor for Business, a new division dedicated to partnering with the hospitality industry, and we strive to post management responses promptly and research reviews that are under dispute. Due to the incredible volume of content we receive, it can sometimes take longer than any of us want to get an issue resolved, and that can be frustrating to hoteliers. In terms of being bureaucratic and censoring responses, I strongly disagree, and feel our policies are very reasonable and clearly spelled out. 

Dan: Given that online reviews provide free marketing and feedback for hotels and, unlike some review sites, TripAdvisor allows hotels to respond to reviews, do hoteliers seem ungrateful?

Stephen: I’m surprised that more hoteliers do not make use of the free management response form. The most common argument I hear is that “I don’t want to continue the debate in public.” My response to that is simply that the criticism is out there, and to not respond is to let the charge stick. On TripAdvisor, there isn’t a debate, as the reviewer is not able to reply to the management response, so hoteliers effectively get the last word.

I am a firm believer in the adage that there are always two sides to a story, and a hotel manager should absolutely put their perspective out in front of prospective travelers. Even if the message is simply a polite apology for the wrong, or a polite expression of ignorance that there was ever a problem, it should be written. Just as a hotelier wouldn’t ignore a guest who complained in person, I always recommend responding in public the way one would respond in person. 

Of course, many hoteliers are very vocal about how grateful they are for the free marketing we provide to them. For many, TripAdvisor is the free amplification of their current, great word-of-mouth reputation.

Dan: Some review sites require proof that travelers have stayed at the hotel before they can post a review. Does TripAdvisor have any plans in that regard?

Stephen: No.

Dan: Can you elaborate? How about discontinuing anonymous reviews and requiring reviewers to give their real name?

Stephen: We believe there is tremendous value to having as many reviews as possible on every property. Quantity matters, as the wisdom of the crowds drowns out the anomalies (good and bad) that can happen on any individual stay. We value the extra quality and reliability that the large number of reviews generates; and we know that if we were to require validation of a stay, the burden on the consumer would dramatically reduce the number of reviews contributed.

We have considered requiring reviewers to provide their real names, but feel that we would get less candid reviews as a result. It is human nature to provide a more honest assessment when a level of anonymity is maintained, and our mission is to help every traveler find that truly candid information in order to plan the perfect trip.

Dan: What’s next for TripAdvisor?

Stephen: There is a lot going on, of course, but let me highlight a couple of items:

On the consumer side, we’re trying to help our visitors better understand the unique attributes about properties without having to read through all of the reviews (our new “Reviews at a Glance” feature), as well as pulling your network of Facebook friends into your travel planning experience (Trip Friends). Expect to see more developments on both of these fronts in the coming months.

On the hotelier side, we’re aggressively expanding our international reach, and are planning some more features to help property owners better market to the audience that is already planning a trip to their city

 

Matt Walters.  Grape Leaf Hospitality.  Marketing Consultant for Inns, B&B's & Hospitality Industry