Social media makes it really easy for customers to air their dirty laundry and give immediate feedback about brands. One industry that’s been profoundly affected by this is the travel industry. According to one survey, 52% of Facebook users said their travel plans were affected by seeing pictures of their friends’ trips. And, according to another, it’s the ones ready to pull out the black Amex, the wealthiest travelers, who are the most influenced by online travel reviews.
Either way, it’s big business, and the biggest in that business is TripAdvisor. It claims 10% of all traffic to hotel-related websites. But aside from disgruntled hotel owners, some are wondering if TripAdvisor has a little too much power. Rumor has it that TripAdvisor’s CEO Steve Kaufer told the industry it can either “adapt or die.” Whether that’s true or not, he is quoted as saying, “We think we’ve done a very good service to the hospitality industry by letting value and customer service level the playing field.”
Consumer advocate, frequent traveler, and my crush, Clark Howard, compared TripAdvisor’s role to that of a policeman. He says that hotels know one review on TripAdvisor can do more than any advertising campaign ever could. And, as a result, hotels are updating their decor more often.
Consider these staggering numbers from TripAdvisor’s Trip Barometer,
98% of U.S. hotels say reviews are important for booking
93% of travelers say online reviews have an impact on their booking decisions
51% of travelers have written a review of a hotel after a trip
92% of U.S. properties actively monitor social media
Wielding another example of its power, TripAdvisor recently decided to let hotel owners erase old reviews after they complete a major renovation. Hotels must provide proof to TripAdvisor, consisting of a press release, notarized copies of work permits, notarized copies of invoices for materials and labor, and a notarized letter from the city or tourist board verifying the scope of renovation. No, they are not kidding around. Looks like someone is taking their title as industry policeman seriously.