HAL-9000

The (almost) human TripAdvisor

Recently, I was approached by general manager with a highly irregular issue concerning his hotel’s listing on TripAdvisor. That man is Mark Sample, and his property is the Ocean Sands Beach Inn in St. Augustine, Florida. The problem arose when TripAdvisor changed his hotel location to Vilano Beach, a small, unincorporated community just north of downtown St. Augustine. Although the property held a foremost rank in its new locale, 900 (cumulative) unique searches for Vilano Beach is a tad less than the 41,900 metric for St. Augustine.

The review site’s listed zip code for the property placed it more than 20 miles (32 km) away from the actual location, and Sample was getting complaints from guests who attempted to use this misleading zip code on their GPS devices.

The obvious solution was to contact a senior rep at the aforementioned review site and have the change reverted. That wasn’t so simple, apparently. Sample reached out over the phone and via email with lackluster results. Finally, through the grapevine that is LinkedIn, he was able to directly pass the word along to Stephen Kaufer, the very approachable CEO of TripAdvisor.

This time, the response was immediate. Kaufer rectified the problem within hours of receiving Sample’s plea. He explained the organization was having problems with its new email system. A slew of TripAdvisor VPs then emailed Sample, apologizing for the damaging error.

Other Vilano Beach properties also were promptly added back to the St. Augustine group, bringing the set from 58 properties up to 73. While this means that the Ocean Sands doesn’t rank quite as high, the hotel is being listed where customers are looking, which is what’s most important. All this was fixed prior to heading into high season, undoubtedly mitigating severe losses for the properties.

There are several things to take away from this story. First, TripAdvisor is a company owned and operated by humans. They have noble intentions — safeguarding travelers from bad guest service — but occasionally they make mistakes. As the preeminent third-party review site, it’s TripAdvisor’s duty to be fair to travelers as well as to hotels. The company is undergoing some very drastic growing pains right now, but it also understands the notion of great power coming with great responsibility. Even behind the miles of accumulating red tape, they still care. This is a positive example of top-down management support.

On the flip side, it’s every hotel’s job to take actions that will mitigate any losses incurred by a TripAdvisor slip-up. To start, make sure all your other “credible” address sources (Google Maps, Yahoo, LinkedIn, brand.com and so on) are consistent in their display of the proper location. This is especially true for your brand.com, where the address should be spilled out in big, bold letters. Beyond that, keep records of your attempts to contact TripAdvisor personnel, and if the problem persists, don’t hesitate to take it to the top!

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in HOTELSmag on February 25, 2014)

Larry MogelonskyThe (almost) human TripAdvisor