Hoteliers: Stop Torturing Us on TripAdvisor

Memo to hoteliers: stop polluting Tripadvisor with self-serving, self-centered hollow comments. Please.

I know reputation management firms advise hoteliers to respond to x% of TripAdvisor posts, both positive and negative. They point to data that allegedly draws a clear connection between hotel management posts and guests finding that engagement to be positive.

Not me. Not usually.

It’s hard to see anybody connecting with what management usually posts.

The other day I was reading reviews of a resort where many guests angrily complained about the slow, balky WiFi. In just about every case, a hotel functionary posted a comment to the effect that “our WiFi is excellent.” Except – quite obviously – it is not.

What happened there? After reading the management response, probably the initial posters are mad because their quite legitimate concerns are dismissed as wrong. They are depicted as somehow the cause of their own bad WiFi.

But even more to the point: how many prospective guests such as myself read the hotel response, have come to believe it false, and conclude that this hotel just is out of touch with the reality of its operational failings and also has no clue how irritating their comments are to many, many readers. Guests are not to blame for operational failures.

Another TripAdvisor plague: hotels that copy and paste the same boilerplate after just about every guest review and, inevitably, it is mindless swill. “Greetings from the shady side of the island where the surf is gentle and so are the breezes. Thank you for your comment. I have referred it to our operational team.”

One time that comment is ignorable. When it is on every page, many times, it’s logorrhea, just verbal diarrhea smearing the page.

Another favorite (not) line from hoteliers, typically in response to blisteringly negative reviews: “We hope you will give us another chance with a return visit so we will have the opportunity to make a better impression.”

In this case, that is in response to a long review that complained – loudly – about inadequate housekeeping, worn room finishings, mediocre food and more. That guest is not coming back and neither will TripAdvisor readers if the best the hotel can do is sigh and beg for another chance.

Mind you, I am all for a hotel using TripAdvisor as an adjunct to its customer service channels. Personally I am a lot more likely to post on Twitter, even TripAdvisor, than I am to air a complaint with hotel management. So, maybe, if the hotelier is swift and committed he/she can turn around a moment of my unhappiness that had been ventilated on a social channel.

But when the hotel clutters TripAdvisor with repetitious, pointless points – well, just stop it unless your underhanded goal is to drive readers off the site because you have concluded that those who read the many negative reviews just wouldn’t book. So better for you to have no readers at all.

Could a hotel do TripAdvisor right? Absolutely and a very few do. These are hoteliers who see the complaints as an opportunity to win back that irate customer – and also to show other guests and prospects that this is a hotel that genuinely cares. Be authentic, be real, be honest.

If many guests complain about the WiFi, guess what, the WiFi is a problem. Fix it. Don’t litter TripAdvisor with non-sequiturs. Just get the problem fixed.

I see some hotels really doing that. In reading a Phoenix hotel’s TripAdvisor page I noticed a couple reviewers complained that the well known restaurant was no longer as great as it had been. Then I noticed a comment from the GM where he acknowledged that and added that a new team was coming on board imminently, precisely to address those issues.

That’s impressive.

It’s also rare to see such honesty and energy.

Words of advice to hoteliers: Stop lying on TripAdvisor. Stop ignoring your hotel’s obvious failings. And really, please, stop polluting the pages with word after word of nonsensical posturing. That is no way to boost engagement, in fact it accomplishes the exact opposite: It drives guests and prospects away.

The Airline Club Wars

The last time I was in Newark Airport’s Terminal C I entered a United Club and there in front me me was a pulsating, vast sea of humanity. It took 10 minutes of hunting to find an empty seat and of course it was nowhere near an electrical outlet.

The WiFi was anemic but what do you expect? A packed roomful of travelers all wanted on.

When I was last in a USAir Club at Phoenix Sky Harbor it was much the same. I had to wait for a passenger to exit her chair before I could sit down and all I could manage was a cup of mediocre coffee.

I asked myself: really is this much better than being with the hoi polloi outside the club? I did not honestly think it was.  At least outside the clubs there are generally decent food choices and good coffee is easy to find in most airports. Are the concourses a hectic hurlyburly? Indeed but if the airline clubs are too, so what?

Personally I have found a better club solution – more on it momentarily.

First, however, know that United Airlines has now reshuffled the deck.  In an email that landed in my box on August 18 – header: United Club access changes – the carrier decreed: “To maintain and further improve the United Club experience, we’re announcing the following change to our program:

 

■   Effective August 18, 2016, a same-day boarding pass for all United Club customers, including members, will be required for United Club access.

The carrier continued with promises: “We’ve been working on a variety of improvements to our United Club program. To provide a more productive and relaxing experience, we’re investing more than $100 million in renovating existing locations and building new spaces with expanded seating areas, more power outlets and upgraded Wi-Fi. We’re also investing in a brand new complimentary food menu that you can now find at our hub locations across the U.S. and will be available soon at the rest of our locations.”

The United goal obviously is to cut down on some of the guests in its clubs and the carrot it is waving is a better club experience. It’s not alone.

Earlier, Delta had taken more aggressive steps.  It’s effectively eliminated free guests passes for most classes of membership ($29 fee applies) and it also has eliminated free access for most partner credit cardholders (who now are nicked $29 to get in).

Both those carriers – obviously – are seeking to improve the club experience by reducing the headcount.

This is not a new story. As long ago as 2013, Joe Sharkey wrote: “One result of the airlines’ scramble for extra revenue from their airport clubs is a free-for-all in lounge access — with mounting complaints from business travelers about crowded conditions in lounges.”

It really has only gotten worse.

American Airlines, at least for now, is leaving club access as is and in fact it recently extended free access to some Alaska Air passengers.

You know what? I don’t care what any of the airlines are doing and that is because I am all in – mainly because the carriers pushed me – with American Express’ Centurion Lounges, a free perk for Platinum Cardholders.  Really: Centurion lounge food is vastly superior to whatever airline club’s offer, drinks are free, the WiFi is fast, space is reasonably quiet and I have not seen it jammed yet.

The airlines of course forced Amex’s hand. For years I used the Platinum Card to get in free at Continental, and also Delta.  It’s now a no go at United (which absorbed Continental) and at Delta there’s now a $29 fee for guests. <UPDATED>

So Amex fired back with the Centurion Lounge and it is a winner. It really has outmaneuvered the airlines.

The only drawback? Clubs are not everywhere. So far they are in Las Vegas, Dallas Fort Worth, San Francisco, Miami, Laguardia, and there’s a smaller outpost at Seattle Tacoma.

The next opening is supposed to be Houston, early in 2016.

Me, I want one in Newark Airport, also LAX.

Where there isn’t a Centurion Lounge, often I have found free access to clubs via Priority Pass, another Amex Plat perk.  That’s been true recently in San Jose and Phoenix and, no, it’s not as swank as Centurion but these are quiet clubs with plenty of newspapers and decent coffee and WiFi.

So count me as just not caring what the airlines do. I am a satisfied Centurion Lounge user and where they aren’t, Amex has alternatives that (so far) work for me.  I may never set foot in an airline club again.