Until recently, professional travel reviews were the dominant force in the hospitality industry. A great write up in the Michelin Guide or The New York Times was considered the ultimate success. Bookings increased, guests flooded the favorably-reviewed hotel with tidbits from the review memorized. They were full of trust in their favorite travel reviewer and by association with the hotel itself. People booked through travel agents, called directly, or just walked in, the hotel’s picture meticulously painted in their minds by their favorite reviewer.
For just as long, the other way people have gotten recommendations for travel is by word of mouth. You might change your plans if your coworker or doctor happened to stay at the hotel that you saw splashed all over the front page of the travel section and said that it didn’t live up to the hype.
With the advent of the internet, word-of-mouth reputation and professional travel agency reviews no longer hold the reigns. Now, someone looking to book travel accommodations has access to a database full of millions of regular people’s opinions. Planning and booking travel accommodations will never be the same.
Professional Review Outlets in the Digital Age
This is not to say that professional reviews have disappeared. They’ve made their transition into the age of the internet as well. The Michelin Guide, Fodor’s, and The Lonely Planet now have websites with plenty of clicks of their own. These sites usually structure themselves around short listicle-style reviews based on a certain place or special topic.
The Lonely Planet’s website featured an article entitled “Exploring the real-life locales from the 2018 Oscars,” as well as Best-Of lists, a booking center, and searchable hotel databases. In their lists, Lonely Planet includes a short description of the hotel followed by the introduction from Booking.com. Many other professional review websites seem to have followed this trend, using copied and pasted descriptions from the hotels themselves or Booking.com. What this does is it effectively turns them into curation websites.
There are other websites that purport to work against this trend, like Oyster.com. Oyster employs undercover agents who review hotels incognito, receiving the same everyday treatment as you and me. These agents also make sure to take real photos of the accommodations, and then post these photos side-by-side with the more doctored photos the hotels publish online. But at the same time, more specialized functions are being performed by locale-specific rental websites like Paris Attitude, which only focuses on apartment rentals in Paris.
Pro Review Sites Recognize the Power of the Crowd
But even these sites show adjustments to the growing power of the customer review. Oyster.com is actually owned by TripAdvisor, and Fodor’s has thousands of customer posts on its forums, which have millions of additional posts and regular users. The Lonely Planet links to Booking.com when you click through on one if its reviewed hotels, as does Michelin Guide. So, if the leading professional review websites drive business to the leading customer review websites, that means that every facet of the travel industry now depends on customer reviews at one point in the process. Some travelers might be leery of rumors of preferential reviews for pay or fake reviewers on customer review sites. However, these types of reviews still make up a small percentage of all reviews online and can be easily spotted by the savvy traveler (that has a ring to it!). In a rapidly growing sector, there are inevitable growing pains, but that also means that for every questionable review there are hundreds of real ones.
Customer Reviews and Bookings Work Hand-In-Hand
Booking.com and Airbnb.com are the industry leaders in online bookings, and it’s no surprise that reviews are the central part of the booking process. On Booking.com, when you click through to compare hotels the aggregate ratings are in the upper-right hand corner of each section, with a click-through to read all the reviews of each hotel. In Airbnb, the rental properties can be sorted by rating, and certain property owners are given “Superhost” status based on customer reviews. Even Google has built a strong customer review section, combining native Google reviews with reviews aggregated from Booking.com and TripAdvisor. This helps build a comprehensive portrait of how real customers feel about hotels and other accommodations.
A decade ago, 60% of travelers depended on a professional to book their travel for them. Now, that number is down to 50% and decreasing every day.
One of the biggest reasons for this drastic decrease is that rental websites like Airbnb, HomeAway and Paris Attitude have taken a lot of market share from traditional hotels. These websites not only offer advantageous pricing and a slew of searchable options, but they make customer reviews central to the booking experience. When someone looking for Paris vacation accommodation decides to begin the search, they might search Paris hotels. But, in a city like Paris, the apartment rentals available might offer a more authentic experience. They will check on Google and begin comparing prices and reviews. In a city that has so much tourism, the sheer volume of customer reviews gives the traveler a lot of pertinent information in their search. Once the customer picks a website, the quality and quantity of reviews on said site has a huge impact on their time spent on the site and thus increases the chance of booking.
Since customer reviews have a marked impact on booking likelihood, they’ve become a valued ingredient in the way hotels themselves drive business. They have the added benefit of allowing hotels and rental property owners to get a much clearer picture of the customer experience. With this information, they can adjust in real time and keep their standards of service in tip-top shape.
At eKomi, we specialize in this incredibly valuable part of the process. We’ve partnered with Paris Attitude, a leading Paris apartment real estate agency founded in 2001 (a time of massive flux in the early stages of the information age) to supercharge their transition into the modern age of customer reviews. While Paris Attitude apartments are curated and listed professionally, they are sortable by price and customer rating. This gives the website a customer-centric feel while retaining professional real estate expertise. This helps Paris Attitude compete in one of the most competitive, if not the most competitive, hospitality markets in the world by retaining traffic, creating consumer trust, and encouraging repeat renters.