Held to ransom by social media?
Can the customer take over the role of the hotel inspector? Should we abolish the rating systems of stars maintained by AA, RAC and VisitEngland? Is it enough to scroll through the comments on Trip Advisor or similar websites before booking a business trip or holiday? Or are we being held to ransom by social media?
This was the hot issue for discussion at the Tourism Society’s President’s debate this week. The President himself, Lord Thurso, chaired without favour to either side – those who trusted the amateur reviewer on the one hand and on the other those who’d rather rely on inspectors or assessors.
It was during the preparation of the latest DCMS Tourism Strategy that this topic became a hot issue, when the Tourism Minister, Jeremy Penrose MP, suggested that as a saving Visit England could abandon its hotel and other accommodation rating scheme as customers were doing such a good job reviewing hotels online.
Since then we have had a spate of stories, a television documentary and legal cases against review websites which have been accused of hosting malicious comments, destroying businesses, and turning a blind eye to favourable reviews posted by professionals on behalf of hotels.
So what’s the argument?
Four protagonists took the stand; Alison Rice as a journalist defended the right of customers to use social media. She also suggested that people don’t really understand the star system. Jeremy Brinkworth of Visit England, agreed that there had been a lot of perhaps confusing changes in the rating system over time but that currently the systems in the UK were well integrated – 76 percent of people interviewed most recently had said that they trusted the rating system – although there was a problem with self-classifying hotels.
Karen Plumb on behalf of Trip Advisors quoted the millions of consumers using their services and added that there was an average of 32 reviews per hotel on the site. Reviews did not replace the rating system, she said, but added those “feel-good” experiential factors which made a holiday special.
Mandy Lane of Live Tourism endorsed the importance of rating. She has extensive experience of the hotel rating business, including overnight stays in some less salubrious hotels in London. However, with 25 per cent of London’s hotel accommodation (establishments) found to be sub-standard in a survey carried out by Live Tourism for the former VisitLondon (ie they didn’t meet the minimum standards of the VL Marque), it was clear, said Mandy, that the rating system by itself did not necessarily improve the quality of accommodation overall, as it is voluntary.
A lively discussion followed
Here are a few chosen comments:
In conclusion, the audience voted for the retention of a star or similar rating system for the accommodation sector while recognising that review sites such as Trip Advisor or Reevoo play an important role in filling in the gaps.
More on www.tourismsociety.org
It’s not right just because you can….
One of the arguments in the debate was for social media per se. Just because it’s possible for every jo bloggs to blog (like me) or tweet or file a review on Trip Advisor or similar, we must put up with it even if it’s wrong or harmful to some businesses. BUT we must not be held to ransom by social media! Trip Advisor and similar websites are responsible for the content on their websites legally and morally, and should control and delete malicious, out of date and other non-genuine comments.
And individuals who use the power of the internet to extract a discount on their hotel stay or a freebie, should just as journalists usually do, own up to their readers that they enjoyed a free meal, or a reduction in price before they wrote a review (or blog!).
For example, your blogger paid for her attendance at the Tourism Society debate.
AND A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
TO ALL MY READERS!