Feb 102012
 

Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee this week marked 60 years on the throne, making her the second longest serving monarch in Britain's history (Queen Victoria being the longest).

Good morning

Our September North Korea tour continues to go from strength to strength, with yet another couple deciding this literally was a once of a lifetime chance of a unique travel experience and sending in a deposit this week.

In light of the steady increase in participants, I’ve persuaded the tour operator to double the number of guides we’ll have with us.

This is going up from two to four, so even though the group size is now in the mid 30s, we’ll have lots of guides to ensure everyone gets good personal attention and lots of chances to ask questions and to hear/see the things they want on what promises to be an amazing tour.

This week has been hotel focused.  You’ll see, following and on the website, the main creative results, about how to best negotiate hotel rates.  A couple more hotel related things also :

Tripadvisor now censoring Travel Insider reviews?

There’s another thing that’s quietly working its way through the system as well, and it is a rather surprising story.

I regularly write about the problems Tripadvisor has with the dubious quality of its reviews, and the legal constraints that now, in the UK and possibly elsewhere too, forbid it from continuing to make its doubtful claim ‘World’s most trusted travel advice’.

When I last wrote about this, a couple of weeks ago, it had seemed that Tripadvisor was doing little to respond further to the criticisms about its reviews being sprinkled with fraudulent ratings.

I occasionally send reviews in to Tripadvisor myself, indeed, they call me one of their ‘Senior Contributors’.  I sent a review in to them about my disappointing stay at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas last month, and I realized, after some time had past, that it had not been published.

I asked why not, and they said they weren’t publishing it because it failed to meet their guidelines for reviews.  I’m asking them to please explain what guideline I violated, because I thought the review to be fair, honest, reasonably well written and appropriate.  I’ve asked them twice, and have received no further response.

So clearly Tripadvisor is now censoring some reviews.  But the reviews it censors seem to be bona fide honest reviews that just happen to be negative/critical of a hotel – a slightly ironic response in light of the fact that the largest part of Tripadvisor’s credibility gap is not so much a problem with negative reviews (although that too does exist) but rather a problem with reviews that are too positive.

It is also particularly strange that they’d take a person who has contributed 30 different pieces, on all sorts of different travel products, all around the world, over the course of three years, and suddenly start censoring those reviews now.

Typically fraudulent reviews are from a person who has not submitted any other reviews, or who appears, writes a few ‘throwaway’ reviews then slips in one or two or three fraudulent reviews, then disappears again.

There is nothing in my account profile and review writing history to suggest I’m anything other than a real honest person.  I’ve written reviews across the spectrum from positively enthusiastic to mildly neutral to strongly negative, the same as I do here.  There was nothing in this particular review to trigger any fraudulent activity flags either (as best I can tell).

I’m continuing to press Tripadvisor to explain their actions, and will keep you updated.  For now, it is relevant to keep in mind that for peculiar reasons, Tripadvisor is capriciously censoring the reviews it chooses to publish.

Reader Survey Results on Hotel Amenities

I asked readers last week what hotel amenities they rated as most important and which were least important.  I also said that if you couldn’t choose just one absolutely most (and absolutely least) important amenity from the list of 14, it was okay to pick two or even three.

Well.  Some readers ended up choosing all fourteen!  And several readers complained that free internet access wasn’t offered as a choice.  There was a reason for this.  My guess is that free internet access would probably score as the most desirable amenity of all, and by such a margin as to obliterate the relative importance of other amenities, hence I tried to level the playing field a bit by deliberately specifying internet access as something you’d pay for (although I kept the amount one would pay vague).

Here are the results

As you can see, there were five clear winners in the ‘Most Important’ category, being, in order of votes received :

  • Breakfast Included
  • Shuttle Service to Airports/Attractions
  • Late checkout/Early checkin
  • Guest Loyalty Points
  • Internet Access

The five least important amenities were

  • Pets Allowed
  • Turndown Service
  • Spa
  • Free Phone Calls
  • Tour Desk

There are two more categories we could consider.  The first is what I’ll call the most controversial – amenities getting similar counts of votes for both most important and least important.

The most controversial amenity would be a gym, with slightly more people rating it as least important than as most important, but similar numbers for each (although note that very few people expressed an opinion about a gym either which way – so by that dimension, it is simultaneously the most controversial and also the least controversial).

Most other amenities had a clear split one way or the other, with the next most controversial amenity being room service, and even so, room service had just over twice as many people rating it important as unimportant.

One more category could be ‘least interesting’ amenities – ones which people had no opinion on, one way or the other.  Scoring the lowest number of votes, either for or against, was an onsite restaurant, followed by a tour desk and then room service and, surprisingly, room upgrades.

The two amenities that most people expressed an opinion on were pets allowed, followed by breakfast included and then turndown service.

Overall, we had 1364 votes for ‘most important’ amenities and 1128 votes for ‘least important’ amenities.

This has been a rather short and monothematic newsletter this week, so I’ll close with a couple of miscellaneous items.

First, anniversaries.  May I most respectfully wish a very happy anniversary to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith; who this week celebrated sixty years on the throne.

Her reign has been an extraordinary one, and she has proven herself to be an extraordinary woman, and the entire world, not just Britain, is very much the better for her ‘behind the scenes’ role in helping shape British and Commonwealth policy.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, this week also saw the fiftieth anniversary of the US’ imposition of its trade embargo with Cuba.  What good has it done to either country?  It has certainly harmed the Cuban economy and the Cuban people, but has it modified their policies in any way?  Only in a rather self fulfilling prophecy form of making the Cuban government hate us more, and thereby making our government hate Cuba more, too.

Surely it is well past time for this ill-advised embargo to be lifted.

As an interesting aside, one of the criticisms of North Korea is that ‘obviously’ their form of government is an abject failure due to the appalling poverty of its people.  Well, maybe.  But have you ever wondered how much of the poverty suffered by North Korea is due to the trade embargoes placed on that country by much of the rest of the world?  Is the poverty in North Korea the fault of their government, or is it possibly the fault of our government?

I’m certainly not an apologist for communism, for Cuba, or for North Korea, but we need to be able to see both sides of these issues to make our own informed decisions.

Lastly, it is Valentine’s Day next week, and being as how you are a Travel Insider – better educated, better informed, and more likely to travel more often than the average person; so if you are a lady, you’ll probably already be aware of this piece of essential travel advice – advice which is apparently widely adopted among the fairer sex in the UK.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

 

David.

 

 

 

  11 Responses to “Weekly Roundup 10 February 2012”

  1. I understand the concern with TripAdvisor, but you don’t have evidence that they are censoring all reviews, and until you know exactly what the issue was in your review. You are equating their delay in responding to your request with a deliberate attempt to bias reviews and I don’t buy this. I have written negative reviews myself, but I also understand as a lawyer that certain things said in reviews could potentially expose TripAdvisor to liability, and it doesn’t make a difference if you’ve written 5 reviews or 500 reviews. Myself, I find TripAdvisor a very trusted source because I never rely upon just one review and I carefully see what others have to say. Are these people that spend the same amounts that I do? Do they have similar expectations when they travel? By really looking in-depth at reviews and studying traveler’s pictures, I can say that I’ve never, ever been surprised when I arrive at a hotel. I know just what I’m getting. And I’m disappointed that you’d use one experience as evidence of some vast conspiracy that I don’t really think you even believe is the case.

    • Hi, Brad

      You obviously are a lawyer, because you are splitting hairs, and for little underlying purpose. Universal censorship doesn’t mean universal deletion. The mere fact that my review was refused indicates there is some sort of filtering process (call it a filter or a censoring mechanism, whatever you prefer) and indeed Tripadvisor itself boasts about its internal (let me think of another synonym) ‘quality control’ of its reviews. So – a ‘vast conspiracy’? Where did I say that. But, while I’d not have used the word conspiracy, Tripadvisor itself fully concedes that it restricts the reviews it allows on site.

      I fully intend to publish the full text of my review, but as a timed release alongside their response indicating what is wrong with it. My point is not the ridiculous one you try and give to me of claiming a vast conspiracy. Instead, I’m pointing out that their filters are massively out of alignment, and their customer service sucks.

      Lastly, people who say ‘I am a lawyer’ as justification for whatever nonsense they then spout really get my back up. It is a bit like other people who say ‘I am a doctor’ and then demand special consideration in some non-medical related field. Tell me you are an attorney who specializes in online publishing law, and then I’ll respect your opinion about Tripadvisor’s liability issues, but for all I know you’re a criminal defense attorney or perhaps one who specializes in wills and trusts. My own understanding – and I’m not a lawyer – is that there is a shield for companies such as Tripadvisor where they have held not to be the publisher of the information on their site, and in fact, if I remember correctly, if they start quality controlling the reviews, they then risk puncturing their shield and assume liability as a result.

      If Tripadvisor has legal liabilities as you claim, perhaps you could point to some successful cases brought against them to date and also indicate the measure of damages they’ve had to pay out.

      You also don’t say what jurisdiction your legal qualification applies to. Maybe you’re from Britain or somewhere where such laws are massively more draconian than in the US. Here it is normal that the aggrieved party has to prove the disputed commentary is false; whereas in Britain, the defending party has to prove it is true. This massively reduces the liability any and all publishers face in this country, and that is also probably why most of the action against Tripadvisor is occurring in Britain not the US.

      Lastly, it seems you agree with me and my several times repeated advice that to get some value from Tripadvisor, it is necessary to evaluate not just the reviews but the reviewers.

  2. I take umbrage at your suggestion on various occasions that we give Cuba a pass on Travel-Embargo
    et al………Apparently YOU have NEVER experienced Communist brutality and/or lost of life-or lost
    any family members due to they NOT accepting any other ideology. Cuba can AND does get any and all it needs from Canada and just about any other country……..they are just trying to get free financing for their
    purchases etc………Remember they kill and torture people. Better jet, would you like to live there?

    Sincerely
    Robert Ros

    • Hi, Robert

      Please think about what you say and the built in lack of logic :

      1. Cuba can/does get any/all things it needs from Canada and just about any other country : In this case, what is the remaining purpose of the US being the only country in the world with a trade embargo? What purpose does it solve either us or them?

      2. They kill and torture people : Are you suggesting that we should have no trade relationships with any country that kills and tortures people? Ummm, which countries in the world would that leave us to trade with? Where would we get all the raw materials – minerals, oil, etc from, if not from countries that torture/kill people? Why are we singling out only Cuba for special condemnation?

      You also don’t answer my questions. How is anything we’ve done in the last 50 years improved society in Cuba? It hasn’t. Instead we’re in a pointless pissing competition with a tiny country, and as a result, they delight in thumbing their nose at us. In fact, it could be argued that prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the enormous sponsorship from the USSR actually created a net benefit to Cuba in return for it continuing to make fun of us.

      There’s no point or purpose in our Cuban embargo, and it is overwhelmingly hypocritical that we single Cuba out for special attention when there are many other countries in the world massively more deserving of our opprobrium.

  3. In general online reviews whether of hotels, hostels, doctors, restaurants seem to be suspicious and
    manipulated. A family member recently had very specialized and expensive surgery to repair poor
    result of surgery overseas (under “socialized” medicine!). The online negative reviews of surgeon and office staff were quite discouraging and have proved totally the opposite of our experience. We truly wonder where some of the disgruntled supposed “patients” came from and how realistic they might be. A bad hotel stay is not life-changing, but a bad surgeon could be! The bottom line I think people are PAID to spend their time posting both positive & negative reviews, thus I spent my time to post three very favorable reviews of surgeon who has vastly improved a family member’s life. Before using a hotel or restaurant — or doctor — when possible ask a lot of questions of others with direct & recent experience. Also I’ve found direct hotel AARP, AAA, Senior or special weekend rates often much better than hotel booking site ‘deals’. Also beware of vastly differing hotel parking fees in major cities.

    • Hi, Lane

      Yes, there are thriving industries, particularly in third world countries, where people are paid small amounts of money (but significant sums from their perspective) to write reviews. I’ve seen advertisements for such positions in countries such as China and the Philippines.

  4. You know, I thought it was an oversight when hotels.com did not publish a negative review of The Venetian in Las Vegas I did.
    Now I’m realizing, with your experience with TripAdvisor that perhaps it’s not an oversight at all.
    Could it be that this is a problem with a lot of sights and not just TripAdvisor?
    I did, however, send in a tepid review of a restaurant and they (TripAdvisor) publish it. But perhaps that was due to the fact that they don’t have much stake in that.

  5. David,

    Thank you for the survey you provided on hotel amenities. The Internet question has got to be one of the toughest issues for hoteliers these days.

    With the introduction of IPad and similar type devices, the demand for bandwidth has exploded. This is not only true for hotels, but virtually every hotspot you might come across these days.

    Applications that are used for videos, music, etc. require substantial bandwidth and the Internet infrastructure hotels installed over the past few years have become, generally, obsolete technology.

    The cost of installing a hotel wide Wi-Fi network can be enormously expensive and a hoteliers are facing a conundrum, how to pay for technology that can become out of date nearly as fast as Apple releases new versions of it popular I-Pads and I-Phones.

    The hotel industry may created a monster with free Wi-Fi, and now that the genie is out of the bottle, how to recover its capital costs for Internet distribution technology. I agree and like free Wi-Fi at a hotel; but, nothing annoys me more than slow Internet service. And the only thing worse is slow Wi-Fi that you have to pay for.

    Perhaps you might want to survey your members with the idea of providing complimentary basic Internet service with limited bandwidth that provides for basic service for checking emails, etc. But the real question is: would people be willing to pay for the option of access to high speed connection with good bandwidth for downloading videos, music and other large downloaded files?

    Best regards,
    Jerry Jacobson

    • Hi, Jerry

      Excellent points. I’m amazed at the number of people who now expect to be able to stream video from their hotel room, and when I count the number of rooms in a property and multiply it by the number of simultaneous video streams that may be requested and calculate the bandwidth required, the answer is, to put it mildly, non-trivial.

      I also don’t know about the relative merits of Wi-fi distribution compared to traditional cabled Ethernet distribution. On the face of it, there might seem to be higher upfront costs to feed Cat5e cabling through a building, but once that is done, the system is more upgrade-resilient.

      I hesitate to say that we’re approaching the limits of the bandwidth that people would require. What else, beyond video, still remains? But, of course, there are plenty more things. Higher definition video, other gaming type products, and apps as yet not even thought of. Plus we’ll simply see more and more guests with more and more devices – the percentage of guests needing high bandwidth, and the number of hours/day they ‘need’ it, will continue to grow. So doubtless bandwidth demand will continue to rise.

      Maybe a tiered model is appropriate? Free, moderate bandwidth, and limited to a certain number of MB of data per day, and beyond that, for the deluxe package, a higher rate.

      Free is of course one extreme. But $25+/day for only moderate quality internet is the other extreme. Somewhere in the middle there should be a fair compromise for all. I’m not sure what that is.

  6. Hi David

    thanks for the link to what 43% of us British girls carry in our handbags. When I looked at it, this one also came up….http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2097694/Kelly-Brook-models-New-Look-Valentines-day-lingerie-collection.html. sorry I’ve tried and tried, but just could not find a travel connection to this 🙂

    Happy Valentines Day to all
    from a British Girl in London

  7. I enjoyed these well thought through comments from David and also from Jerry.

    I always carry my own internet USB stick for use in hotels. As Jerry says, the only thing worse than slow wi-fi is slow wi-fi that we have to pay for.

    Don’t you also think the situation with internet in hotels is becoming similar to the situation with Inflight Entertainment? I’m not sure if it is worth it anymore for any airline to upgrade their Inflight Entertainment Systems. The reason is that so many of us now carry IPADs, smartphones, Kindles and pc’s that have more than enough capacity to carry all the films, books and other entertainment that we want.

    What do others think?

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