Looking back to one of my first positions working for a large overseas travel agency in the UK, I remember what a significant part of our overseas team was dedicated to quality.
In fact all properties listed by this travel giant were personally inspected for health, safety and quality at least six monthly if not more. The judgement of the overseas team would then lead to hotels being further investigated, resulting in changes in advertised ratings and sometimes even removal of the property for sale. It was perhaps in this role that I really learnt the importance of setting realistic expectations through marketing.
We are in a very different world today when it comes to travel planning and booking with increasing online travel bookings and a reduction in this kind of quality management by the traditional travel trade. With research showing that official star ratings are considered less in the overall decision making process, whether you love or hate them, review sites have undoubtedly become the most trusted quality audit, in many ways helping to keep the wider travel industry honest.
Like many industry colleagues I believe the star ratings on online review sites aren’t at all relevant to a credible quality level, instead only relating to the reviewers experience against their expectation. This philosophy can be easily proven by looking at the cheapest backpackers that have five stars then top five star hotels that are consistently scoring at threes and fours.
If you delve into this subject further, I think there are some fundamental errors in the way people promote themselves online that can be linked back to the level of their reviews. Here are some of the most common misrepresentations I see:
– ‘The sea view’ – I know that everyone likes an ocean view if they’re staying by the beach, but if someone has to lean over a balcony or the view constitutes a tiny proportion of the window I’d suggest rewording. Perhaps use the terms ‘partial sea view’ or ‘sea views from your balcony’
– Hero photography – Hero photography is perfect for your main image sliders and as website backgrounds when setting initial impressions but when it comes to the room shots and general galleries try to ensure your photos are honest. It’s just not good practice to only show photos of the best rooms as it sets an expectation that you’re just not going to live up to.
– Extra fees – As anybody that has travelled to Las Vegas will know this popular US destination take extra fees to a whole new level, from ‘resort fees’ to ‘credit card fees’ to fees for ‘premium sunbeds’ – they really do go all out to capture those extra dollars and cents. Here in Australia and New Zealand this really isn’t part of the culture, if any facilities are chargeable make sure this is really clear on your website and through your third parties. I’d also carefully consider how you use photos of these chargeable facilities too.
– ‘Just a few minutes’ walk to the central city’ – We all know that people want to be close to the key attractions, beach or city but if your property isn’t, why say it is? As a rule try to use the number of metres to avoid confusion or misrepresentation.
– Internet – Everybody wants free Internet! According to a 2012 survey by Booking.com customers this is the most sought-after extra, even before free breakfast. All too often the term ‘wireless Internet’ is included in a list of amenities online. If it doesn’t say it’s chargeable, your customers expect it free. Whether you are charging for Internet or not, your customers expect a good connection – it’s not ‘free Internet’ if you can’t get on it for your whole stay.
– Shuttle buses – Particularly relevant to airport properties the inclusion of free transfers will be key in the decision making. On too many occasions I’ve checked in and found out that either the eight-seat van for a 100 bedroom hotel is fully booked at the time I need it or the bus only leaves every 1½ hours. If promoting this service online as part of your value proposition be sure to include a timetable to ensure you don’t under-deliver on the final aspect of the guests stay.
While I advocate for selling your property in the best possible light, I firmly believe you should rely of good copyrighting and photography that is honest in the way is represents your business.
I challenge you to look at your reviews then carefully consider your own website and other online assets to see what expectation you are setting.