Is the TripAdvisor Spin-off So Much Spin?
Damage control at its best. That’s all anyone can say about how Expedia has handled the TripAdvisor fake reviews issue. At least this is how most PR professionals would gauge the world’s biggest online travel entity’s efforts to stem the flow of negative press, and offset all other negatives in a potentially disastrous affair. According to the news, Expedia shareholders will vote their “conscience” on December 6th, on the TripAdvisor spin-off.
On the heels of investigation, allegations of fake reviews, on the crevasse of misleading, Expedia engages none other than PhoCusWright for research into TripAdvisor voracity, trust, credability, etc. And the result? Not 90, not 89, not 77, but 98% of participants in the study found TripAdvisor reviews accurately reflected their stay experiences. Not even the Ritz Carlton can get those kind of rave reviews. I mean a bellhop steps on someone’s toes once in a while, forgets the mint on the pillow. But TripAdvisor manages sniper accuracy review reliability – even after rumors of Maggie’s Drawers?
The Spin (interesting term) transaction profile, as seen here in the roadshow from the docs at the SEC, reflects the power of what TripAdvisor has done. No one can take away the legacy of what Barry Diller’s, and Stephen Kaufer’s efforts have produced. The hard line question on everyone’s mind is though; “Did they cheat getting to it?” Not many come right out and put the rub on digital paper even, but Google, the SEC, about a gazillion lesser visible hotels and services, would sure like to know.
Black hat web tenderizers or sure fire business geniuses, Expedia and TripAdvisor are not unlike most corporate entities. Their PR would say something like; “Any major corporation has its share of negatives thrown in the path.” Blah, blah, true or not, the jury is still out on credible reviews, at least for many. Now we are down to scam artists blackmailing hotels, supposedly, or else they write nasty reviews – “stick-em up, or we trash your hotel – digitally, that is!” Now there is a validation aspect for those two bazillion reviews.
Let me round off this “heads up” post by turning to an article on BigMouthMedia’s news aspect. Hoteliers on both ends of the spectrum, those now Red Flagged, and some at the upper end of the legit-popularity curve, have reasons to gripe. Reasons besides and sometimes because of the economy. BigMouthMedia highlights at least one owner(s) are ready to file defamation case(s) (I use parenthesis, so when more are ready, I will be correct) over TripAdvisor’s “suggestion” hotel agents may have “interfered” with the site’s reviews. Over to the positive side of the isle…
The other day Intercontinental Hotels Group CEO Richard Solomons was in a Q & A at WTM, one in which he shocked quite a few with the suggesting his and other hotels are fed up with OTAs and their manipulations. Those interested should read the article by Jeff Higley, here is the mobile version. I quote directly from the Hotels News Now article and Solomons:
“…We’re very happy working with third-party intermediaries or the online travel agents when they drive incremental businesses to our hotels at a sensible price. When they basically steal our business or substitute much, much more profitable business to our owners from our (reservation) systems, we don’t like that.”
And for every negative, as should be the case with proactive PR, there is a counter move. Tripadvisor does counter at every turn. Here is an interview with Christine Petersen, President of TripAdvisor for business. What’s significant about this interview is not Ms Petersen’s view, but the site where it appears. Caterer and Hotelkeeper is not the New York Times exactly, but it is highly influential within its niche, and in the UK. Did you ever hear about influencing the court? Maybe I am being too critical here? You tell me. Can we trust Expedia and TripAdvisor? Who am I to say? I can only add, I never trust reviews of any kind. Some of the best movies I ever saw, got horrible reviews, how about you?
In conclusion. No matter how “fluffy” Expedia and the PR moguls there try to paint the upcoming TripAdvisor “spin” – Expedia and TA probably have much bigger problems than they are letting on. This Travolution article highlights another issue that could doom TripAdvisor, potentially. The Advertising Standards Authority threatening to outlaw third party marketing of TripAdvisor reviews. As a branding issue alone, imagine all those little owls with spyglasses disappearing! Oh my. Let’s see how the spin effects that.
Edelman & Weber Shandwick have both represented Tripadvisor