I was supposed to post "The care and feeding of Termites" next but there has been some demand for a run-down on the lessons Laurie and I have learned from TripAdvisor so I decided to go out of sequence and post our "Tips and Techniques for TripAdvisor" now. We are also working an a list of the best Bed and Breakfast directories. Please send us your suggestions. TripAdvisor listings have become the single most important advertisements for Vacation Rentals, small Inns and Bed & Breakfasts in Puerto Rico. Different locals are featured even our little are of the El Yunque rainforest of Puerto Rico has a section. I don't know how important TripAdvisor is for B&B Inns in other locations and I hope some Inns from other locals will make some comments here about the importance of TripAdvisor for their new customer hits. I also don't think TripAdvisor is going to stay in the top position forever as there is always something new and in internet time weeks are years. I am not going to hold anything back as I 'm sure my tens and tens of readers do not include any of my competitors. I also don't have any competitors who I have any ill feelings about and I have sent many customers to other B&B and vacation rentals in the area when I am booked for the dates the guests request.
If TripAdvisor continues to grow in importance soon there will be professional TAO's or "Trip Advisor Optimization" experts that you can hire.
Things not to do for TripAdvisor :
- Don't put a link on the index page of your web site with a tag line like: "Read unbiased reviews about our bed and breakfast on Tripadvisor" as it will only make it easy for people to write bad reviews (and not necessarily guests).
- Don't send an email out to everyone who has ever emailed you with a URL to your TripAdvisor page.
- Decide who can be cordial when woken up from a sound sleep at 3 am and have that person answer the phone.
There are very important reasons not to do these things and you can only learn this through experience (or from the examples I relate below). In our case some fairly bad experiences. To understand the social website review process we should delve into human nature a little. People by and large have fairly busy lives and making a "review" posting on TripAdvisor is not something especially easy. It takes some effort so there has to be some strong motivation. Often times the strong motivation is of a negative nature. As an example let me tell you about two would be guests who placed negative comments on our TripAdvisor space. We try very hard to please every guest that stays with us and even answer many questions and help out as much as possible the people that contact us even if we can't accommodate them or if they're just looking for information about the rainforest. But sometimes we fail to please them. The El Yunque Rainforest Inn is a very private location. We don't have any signs. We are at the end of a mile long gated drive with the whole Caribbean National forest on one border and many surrounding acres of property on the other. We have a system of taking reservations where we receive a deposit guaranteeing stay before we write down the reservation and before we send out an email with directions how to get here. And now we link all the emails using gmail and google calendar for an even better system then we had started with. The web 2.0 "backpack" of 37 signals is an excellent system too.
We made such strong improvements in our reservation system for a good reason. A small innkeeper's worst nightmare occured. Somehow a guest received an email from us with directions to our place without a confirmed reservation being placed on our calendar (which we now do both with a physical calendar and the excellent google calendar). We looked at the emails later on and figured out that I sent out the directions because of an earlier email from the guest that confused me. He showed up at our gate asking to be be beeped in for his 3 night reservation (surprising us because we our private location allows no unexpected drive-ups). It was a further shock to us as we already had other confirmed guests for the nights in question but we sat down with him immediately and found other accommodations for him at a nearby inn and paid the extra (it was a more expensive place) charges out of our pocket. We thought we handled it quit well until later when we sent an email out to everyone who had ever contacted us (against my wife's better judgement for which I will never hear the end of) and suggested in the email that everyone go on over to TripAdvisor and write a review. We sent out about 200 emails (it was in the beginning of our business). We got one positive review from that mass mailing and one extremely negative review from the guest who had never stayed with us. He had a powerful negative motivation and we made it easy for him by emailing the TripAdvisor link to his mail box.
So that is why you should be selective in who you email TripAdvisor links to. Have a list of emails that are confirmed guests separate from the list of all the people who just contacted you and may not have stayed. We even fill-out index cards for each guest now. Don't make it easy for just anyone to post a review. Send the link out (along with a "thank you for your stay") to former guests only.
Our other negative review came from answering the phone at 3 am. I have relatives in Alaska and sometimes they call at odd hours and my wife's children and family might call with an emergency from her home town of Kennebunk. Also there are no telephones in the guest's suites (we are an eco-resort and do not have TV, radio or air conditioning in the rooms either but we do have WIFI which is the only thing that really matters along with chocolate) and sometimes an incoming phone call might be an urgent call for one of our guests too so we can't just ignore the phone. When I had woken up enough, after the phone had rung many times and I managed to find it in the dark, I realized that the caller was someone inquiring about staying with us. I told the caller that it was very late and to please email or call in the morning. He asked if he could speak to the night manager. I explained that I was the owner and that I couldn't talk right then as I didn't want to open the office and perhaps wake more people up too. He couldn't understand what kind of hotel didn't have night employees. I suggested that he call one of the big hotels. I could tell from reading his very negative review later that he did call one of the big hotels and that he didn't understand what a bed and breakfast inn is.
We haven't figured out any way to avoid this kind of review in the future as we still have to answer the phone. We did make sure that the hours which we take reservations by phone is very clear on our web site with an explanation of time zone differences. The negative reviews that you receive have a very strong impact. And, as you can see by our examples, anyone can post a negative review and they don't need to have been a former guest and they don't need to know anything about your place--just have the motivation to write a negative review. So make it easy for your guests to post reviews and don't make it easy for anyone else. Take any links to TripAdvisor off of your index page. Even with TripAdvisor's huge database and fairly complex interface people will still find your reviews (and because the reviews come up in Google searches is one of the reason the TripAdvisor reviews are so powerful). You don't want negative reviews because your TripAdvisor rating is based on an average of your reviews and those 0 scores bring your average down and make it so you aren't in the most important top five or so listings. The bad review also stays at the top until someone comes along and writes another review. It it also good to get many positive reviews often because they show up in Google searches and the positive scores add up to increase your rating on TripAdvisor.
What are the positive things you should do to increase your TripAdvisor ratings and benefits?
In your Bed & Breakfast operations:
- Kind of obvious--do an extremely good job pleasing your guests. But you wouldn't be an innkeeper if you didn't know that. Make sure every guest has a great experience staying with you. Make this a little easier by being sure that new guests know as much as possible about your place before they come. Our web site makes it clear that we are a nature location deep in the rainforest. So guests shouldn't be surprised to hear lots of birds in the early morning. We also have pictures of the endangered Puerto Rican Boa on our web site so guests won't be frightened if they encounter one in the garden (and may even think it's cool like we do and take pictures of the rare boa). Serving a gourmet breakfast in the morning helps a lot too. In any case, doing a good job pleasing our guests has been the single most successful way to get good reviews on TripAdvisor. Perhaps some of our guests feel guilty that they had such a sumptuous stay for so little money and then make the effort to put in a review as a thank you.
- Make a file with email and mailing address for each guest and write down what their experience with you was like. Put down children's names and other important facts that you are likely to forget. I tend to only remember the interesting occupations our guests, who have been doctors, artists, writers, TV chefs and many other occupations but I never can remember faces (Laurie always does which helps) or names so I really need those cards. Your later correspondence with the past guests (in our case letting them know as we get more repairs completed) will help for getting good reviews and also help get return guests.
- Leave a form in the room for guests to fill-out complaints and suggestions. This will help defuse any anger and it will help you learn things about your service you may not have thought of without your guests help. The guests that may have complained on TripAdvisor probably won't if they were able to leave the complaint with you and feel assured that you will act on it.
Read the Trip Advisor FAQ's to find out how to do things like editing your page (you have to email them the changes) and some good ideas they suggest.
On the TripAdvisor web site:
- Make sure you are located in a popular area on TripAdvisor. And--it doesn't seem to matter if you are actually in the popular area either. We are in the El Yunque rainforest with hikes going out our back door. As far as we know we there are only three bed and breakfast that close to the rainforest but on TripAdvisor there are 15 bed and breakfasts in the El Yunque rainforest section. Some of our "rainforest location" competitors are actually nearly an hour's drive from the rainforest.
- Further categorize your place either correctly or what you think will be most searched for. We were originally listed in TripAdvisor as a specialty lodging through a mistake I made when entering the original listing. Since we are a true bed and breakfast; we serve a gourmet breakfast on a private table on the porch outside each villa in the morning and we live on the property and are always available for vacation advice and other concierge duties, we decided that was the category we should be in. I emailed TripAdvisor requesting they change our category and after a week or so they changed it for us. But, bear in mind, actually being a bed and breakfast or not doesn't need to effect your choice as most of the other inns in that category are vacation rentals, hotels and motels or specialty lodgings. There is one special trick about TripAdviser that you should consider. There is a vacation rental section and if you are listed there that is the only section where trip advisor will allow you a link directly from your listing to your own web page.
- Speaking of URL's to your web site I will now let you in on a very important TripAdvisor secret. The "go lists" can bring many hits to your website, draw customers and increase your google rating. Anyone can write a go list. There is no requirement that you be a tourist just that you be knowledgeable and write an interesting list of places to see and to stay and each place you list can have a URL. The go list I wrote months ago about things to do in the El Yunque area is still bringing hits to my web site. TripAdvisor also has a WIKI. Be sure that you fill out lots of information about your travel location there too.
- Be careful on the TripAdvisor forums. There are some people posting there who may not have an actual life which means they have far more free time than you and can barrage you with negative comments and other harassment if you accidentally incur their ire.
I titled this "TripAdvisor Tips and Techniques" not tricks but here are a few "tricks" others are using that I don't recommend but which you should know about. Tricky ways to increase your TripAdvisor rating and the results you get from your listing:
- Posting your own reviews. You may have noticed that some Bed and Breakfast listings seem to have glowing review after glowing review with nary a negative comment and everything "five stars". By all means tell your guests to give you five stars when they post the review but how can you get guests to say that many complementary things? And why are some of the reviews so similar as if they were written by the same person? Well you guessed it. Many establishments write their own reviews. The TripAdvisor web masters are supposed to look at the IP addresses of reviews and check to see if they are all coming from the same place (obviously you use different emails) but there is a way around that. Write a nice review and email it to a relative or friend in another state and ask them to post it. Or, if you're lucky have friends and relatives that can make up the whole thing do that for your. Maybe a nephew in college who is a creative writer can help.
- Many reviews (two or three a week, like spam) actually start to show up high in Google searches which could make TripAdvisor become the single most important advertisement for your inn which may not be a good thing in the long term. But to make that many posts you have to have lots of free time to do that or lots and lots of relatives and friends to do it for you. And none of this will increase the ranking of your own web site except for the "go lists" which you can honestly fill-out yourself without any guilt as you are the most knowledgeable person about your special local. Remember that when you make a "go list" you need to include all the fine bed and breakfasts in your area as well as all the cool things to do and the special places to eat that you know about.
- I'm really starting to feel dirty describing these tricks. I also think that discerning guests can figure out that something funny is going on when a bed and breakfast listing has a hundred glowing reviews all saying how cordial the hosts are and how terrific the antiques are and how yummy the home made strawberry jam is-- God, at least I hope so...
I found an interesting blog about TripAdvisor which points out how surprised most people are by how big TripAvisor is.
Clicz news has some information about advertising on TripAdvisor and new features
Our next blog is going to be about the many directories that all want you to send them $300 a year. Some of them are a waste of money. Which ones are actually worth the $300 a year? How can you tell? And which free directories does your Bed and Breakfast have to be listed in? Please send us your suggestions for directories.
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