A world of difference: pub reviews

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Tripadvisor, Website

TripAdvisor: manage your presence
TripAdvisor: manage your presence
How do you ensure a fair representation on consumer review sites? Michelle Perrett investigates.

TripAdvisor has hit headlines as Dragon's Den star Duncan Bannatyne looks to sue over a negative review of one of his hotels. So, how do you ensure a fair representation on consumer review sites? Michelle Perrett investigates.

An abundance of re-search over the past few years has shown that people prefer to take advice from friends, family and other consumers when choosing products and services. The growth in consumer review websites, such as TripAdvisor, opens up this market to pubs and bars.

Yet danger also lies in this technology for licensees. A bad review can have a disastrous effect on business regardless of if it is fair or not. Indeed, TripAdvisor's policy of publishing every review it receives has attracted the wrath of many, including entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne.

Following a bad review of one of his hotels the Dragons' Den star is threatening to sue, accusing the site of "bullying small hotel owners". So how can you manage your presence on such sites?

TripAdvisor is by far the largest of all review websites, with 40 million users worldwide — meaning it can open up accommodation, bars and restaurants to international customers, as well as those in the UK. The site is not just confined to accommodation — a common misconception.

A venue can sign up to TripAdvisor, customers can review their experience and the pub owner can respond. Integrated technology means it can also allow consumers to book a room online once they have read a review by clicking through to various online-booking engines.

The website recently revealed a major upgrade to its Facebook Trip Friends service, creating what is essentially a mini-Facebook within the user-review giant's site. Those seeking reviews of any hotel or pub will see comments from their friends first, ahead of the millions of others on the TripAdvisor system.

Gerry Price, licensee at the Inn @ West End in Woking, Surrey, believes using TripAdvisor, along with a range of other online marketing initiatives, is essential for your business. His pub has no accommodation but Price uses the website to highlight his strong food offer.

"Initially, we received mixed reviews. But it is all about perception. If you come in wanting sausage & mash for £10, we don't offer that as we have a more expensive offer — but people sometimes get the hump."

Use criticism

Price advises licensees to take any criticism and use it to think about their offer and whether some of the customers' concerns might have weight. He says it can even be used as part of an assessment of your business.

The website has helped get the name of his business out there as TripAdvisor has high search rankings on Google — and international coverage, he adds.

"We have people from Heathrow Airport who have travelled 40 minutes for lunch just from reading TripAdvisor," he says.

"There is a management tool on TripAdvisor that allows you to respond to complaints. The temptation is to counter bad reviews by putting some positive ones online. But I sent out a newsletter to my customers and mentioned the TripAdvisor reviews. I didn't prompt them but they went online and posted their own reviews," he says.

A recent survey from TripAdvisor revealed that 76% of travellers said they have a more positive view of owners who respond to online guest reviews.

"We frequently hear from hoteliers, who track referrals closely, that they get more bookings referred from their thoughtful management responses to an occasional negative review, than from the positive reviews," explains TripAdvisor.

The Castle Inn

The Castle Inn, in West Lulworth, Dorset, was named as the top real-ale pub on TripAdvisor in September 2010. Director Alex Halliday said: "It was something we weren't expecting. The website has its pros and cons but a lot of people do search for a pub name and accommodation so you can't ignore it. I think signing up has helped new customers to judge what sort of business we are."

Over the past two years the business has pushed its offer of being dog-friendly and offering a range of ciders. He said this is something they have driven on the review website. "A lot of good reviews from former customers have helped. But it is important to ask customers to post a review of their experience.

"Signing up to TripAdvisor has mostly been a positive experience. But you have to treat it in the right way and manage your responses."

Bad reviews

After all, it's not just Duncan Bannatyne who is unhappy about the way bad reviews are published without being checked.

Online reputation company KwikChex has already revealed it is considering a court case against TripAdvisor on behalf of hundreds of hotels. Hotelier Frank McCready, owner of the Old Brewery Guesthouse in Richmond, North Yorkshire, recently set up a website called ihatetripadvisor.org.uk​ to take issue with the website.

"My concerns are that anybody can put anything up — they can even post false information. There are people who have grudges, people who slam their opposition, and then it becomes nonsense to the user."

McCready says. "I get emails from other hotels all the time claiming untrue reviews have been put up on the website. If eBay and other sites control their users, why can't TripAdvisor? Review websites are fine but they must be accountable."

He says that pubs should stick to simply running a good business. "If you do a good job then you are going to get repeat business anyway," McCready adds.

Alex Halliday, director at West Lulworth's Castle Inn, says that the website had removed some fake reviews after he complained.

"You can challenge any bad reviews and, as long as you provide evidence, TripAdvisor will act."

TripAdvisor spokeswoman Emma O'Boyle says: "We take our responsibility as the world's largest travel site extremely seriously.

"A team of dozens of quality assurance specialists investigate suspicious reviews.

"If a property owner has an issue with a traveller review, we are able to provide avenues for them to raise concerns and encourage them to contact our Owners Centre, where the issues will be investigated fully.

"Hoteliers also always have the option of posting a management response to any of the reviews on their property, giving the hotelier the opportunity to acknowledge the good and offer their perspective on the bad ones."

Other review sites

TripAdvisor is not the only website with reviews, although it is the biggest.

Online booking engines, such as laterooms.com​ and booking.com​, allow consumers to read reviews before booking a room.

And other review websites, such as www.holidays-uncovered.co.uk​, boast reviews of various destinations, including the UK.

Lastminute.com​ provides reviews, but these are provided by TripAdvisor.

Holidaywatchdog.com​ provides a range of reviews. This is also owned by TripAdvisor.

Get the best out of your TripAdvisor profile

• Update your "primary listing photo" regularly

Guests want to see what a property looks like today. The primary listing photo can help to make a great first impression. Change it with the seasons or showcase renovations and new features.

• Add more than 20 photos

As a general rule of thumb, the more photos, the better. Make sure there are more than 20 photos of a property available.

• Encourage guests to write reviews

While it is against TripAdvisor's policies to offer guests incentives in exchange for positive reviews, it is perfectly acceptable to ask your guests to write their own review on TripAdvisor.

• Add widgets to your own website

TripAdvisor offers several badges and widgets allowing owners to add reviews to their

own website

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