Tag Archives: forum

The Dilemma of TripAdvisor

Prompted by a Comment on Another Post:

"I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member"

So I’ve got this blog called TripAdvisorWatch and it’s full of stuff pointing out the faults on TripAdvisor and other review sites – but mainly TA, as it’s the only one that really counts.

So how come I’ve also got 500-odd posts on TripAdvisor traveller forums answering people’s questions – doesn’t that just help TA’s cause?

Well, here’s my answer.

Yes, it’s a dilemma. I’m aware that it’s the freely contributed content that is TA’s biggest asset. However, whatever the appearances, and making no apologies for it, I don’t have a problem with user generated content in principle and I’m quite happy to give free advice as long as I don’t think the person asking for it is just plain lazy.  You’d think some people had never heard of Google.

In particular I like to use TA to promote tourism in the inland areas of western France that tend to get ignored as the herd heads blindly for the D-Day Beaches and Mont St Michel in the case of Normandy, and Angers/Nantes in the case of Pays de la Loire.  This is the region where I live and that I’m most familiar with and that I love the most.

I do get mildly irritated when people say “Isn’t TripAdvisor wonderful” when they get an answer. TA isn’t wonderful – some of the contributions are good advice but others are just pants.

It also pisses me off when someone gives perfectly sound advice on TA but they are ignored because it isn’t what the person wanted to hear.  More fool them.

But what I really rail against are some of TripAdvisor’s sneaky and underhand practices, blasé attitude to genuine owner worries, refusal to accept blame and faults in their systems, their stubborn resistance to change, apparent belief that they are a law unto themselves and piss-poor communication.

That’s what this blog is about and also the subject of most of my posts on the TA owners forum. I’ll carry on the struggle from within and without – even if I’m just peeing into the wind!

Phil

TripAdvisor “Destination Experts”

Mooch around the TripAdvisor forums for a few minutes and you’ll come across posts by people whom TripAdvisor has designated as “Destination Experts”.

Putting aside how expert some of the “experts” are (the main criterion seems to be to post a lot and regularly – many do display good local knowledge but others seem to rely mainly on Google!) it is surprising that TripAdvisor lets some of them get away with regular, open advertising and self-promotion of their business – something that is explicitly forbidden in TripAdvisor’s own forum rules.

The most obvious example is the placing of links by forum Experts to their own commercial websites.

For example:

The identical link at the bottom of each of these posts (and there are 3 787 posts to date by the Loire Valley Expert) goes to a blog which promotes a company specialising in tours of the Loire Valley – a company run by the same TA Loire Valley Expert.

Is there one rule for “TripAdvisor Experts” and another for the rest of the forum members?  Or does no-one at TripAdvisor ever bother looking at their own forum?

I suspect the latter – a case of TripAdvisor not caring enough to look at its own forum, relying instead on other people not only to generate content but also to police it for them.

TripAdvisor – How Private is Private Messaging?

GENERAL WARNING

A warning to users of ANY forum – not just TripAdvisor – if you think the content of PMs between members is private, able to be seen only by you and the recipient, BEWARE.   What you exchange in private may also be observed by others.

I recently queried on the TA forum how “private” Private Messages (PMs) between members actually are on TripAdvisor.

Most people would assume they were private – the word “private” being the clue. Furthermore, probably the most popular and commonly used forum software states in its glossary of terms:

Private Messages

Private messages are a way for registered members to communicate privately through your board without the need to fall back to e-mail or instant messaging. They can be sent between users (they can also be forwarded and have copies sent, in phpBB 3.0) that cannot be viewed by anyone other than the intended recipient. The user guide contains more information on using phpBB3’s private messaging system.

However, it appears private does not necessarily mean private on TripAdvisor.

A TripAdvisor staff member replied:

As XXX wrote, we do reserve the right to read PMs, and we have to be able to do so in order to investigate complaints of inappropriate use of the private messaging system. That said, access to private messages is restricted only to TA staff who have a compelling need to be able to access PMs, and we will read a member’s PMs only in the course of investigating complaints from other members or as needed to investigate other misuse of TripAdvisor features.

(my bold)

I find that puzzling – both because it goes against the usual forum etiquette and  TripAdvisor stated policy regarding PMs.

Because today, http://www.twitter.com/tripadvisor sent me a tweet with this link to TA policy on PMs:

do_you_monitor_what_i_write_to_other_members

If you follow the link it says:

Although TripAdvisor does not actively monitor the messages exchanged among members, we do want to make sure that members do not misuse our private messaging system. Therefore, we reserve the right to monitor member to member messages for cases of reported abuse, harassment, spamming and commercial mailings.

If you receive a private message that does not meet our guidelines, please contact us as soon as possible.

Notice the word REPORTED in relation to abuse, harassment, spamming and commercial mailings, and the last sentence asking you to report PMs that do not meet guidelines.

I think that by any reasonable interpretation, most people would think this means TA will NOT look at PMs between members unless a specific PM has been reported by the recipient for abuse, harassment, spamming and commercial mailings.  They may then look at PMs from the sender for evidence of the alleged abuse etc.

It may be that the staff member who replied to my question has made a genuine mistake.  We’re all human.  Or it may be that TripAdvisor stated policy on Private Messages and what actually happens are slightly divergent.  Or maybe I’m just confused!

UPDATE #1 of 26 May 2010: Apparently I’m not confused – it’s just that the Help Page is wrong.  TA does reserve the right to look at any PMs if it thinks it needs to.  I’ve suggested that the Help Page be corrected and “Private” changed to “Direct”.

UPDATE #2 of 26 May 2010: A helpful TA staff member has taken on board the first suggestion and has amended the Help Page on Private Messages; it now clarifies the position as follows:

Do you monitor what I write to other members?

TripAdvisor does not actively monitor the messages exchanged among members.

We do, however, occasionally need to access private messages in order to provide technical support at your request or to investigate violations of our messaging guidelines or Terms of Use (i.e. spamming, commercial mailings and reported abuse), so we reserve the right to read or delete messages and to temporarily or permanently disable messaging privileges if we confirm misuse.

We will never disclose content of your member-to-member messages to other members or to any third party without your express permission.

If you receive a private message that does not meet our guidelines, please contact us as soon as possible.

The policy may not have changed, and may not be what you would understand by the term “Private Message”, but at least the new Help Page makes it clear that PMs are not necessarily private.

Open Letter to TripAdvisor

My TripAdvisor ID

I was prompted today to send a “Private Message” (henceforth to be known as “Direct Message” now I know they are not really private!) to one of the TripAdvisor staff members on the TA forum.

As I was tapping away, I soon went off from the specific matter I was contacting them about, and started discussing life as an owner and how I felt about TA in general.  Maybe I should change my TA avatar from a frog to a butterfly.

Anyway, I thought I would share part of this same message in an open letter to TripAdvisor:

Hi XXX

I know I’m a pain in the butt.  It must seem that all I do is ask awkward questions. But I honestly think they need to be asked, and I think open discussion on the Owners Forum helping both sides understand each other’s standpoint.

In my opinion your responses are helping to remove one big source of owners’ frustration, namely the difficulty of entering into any meaningful dialogue with TA.

That said, there are certain points over which owners and TA are probably NEVER going to see eye to eye. In particular, the issue of fake and malicious or unfair reviews. At the centre of the problem is the TA policy of not checking (and usually being unable to check) the veracity of reviews.

I think I’m a fairly typical owner in that I’ll take fair criticism on the chin, apologise when I fall short and try to do better next time. But when I knew that 2 reviews of our property were plain lies, that led to genuine distress and anger, loss of sleep and all the rest, both for me and my wife.

Doubtless other owners in a similar position feel the same.  Most of us knock ourselves out to look after our guests and it’s crucifying when something like that happens.

I don’t take wrongs against me lying down – whether in day-to-day life or on review sites. I fight back to get wrongs against me righted, and it’s clear some other owners feel the same.  We can’t be expected to roll over when someone spreads lies about us.

Finally, I do appreciate your and other staff members’ recent contributions on the Owners Forum – though it may sometimes feel like a pretty thankless task from your point of view.  But it’s also a pretty thankless and sometimes fruitless task trying to get a malicious review removed.

Phil

A Cautious Thumbs-Up for TripAdvisor

I hope I’m not imagining this, but it seems to me that TripAdvisor is becoming better at responding to owners’ problems.

The Owners Forum is a private area of TripAdvisor where owners often post questions about missing reviews, property listing errors, allegedly fake reviews etc.  When I first started posting there (where I use our B&B identity of Basse Cour) I hardly ever used to see any sign of an answer by TA staff.

Virtually all the responses to anxious owners were by other owners; even the “Owners Forum Destination Experts” are just other owners and can do no more than point owners unfamiliar with TA procedures to their Owner’s Centre dashboard.  What the owners really wanted was a forum where they could address concerns to TA, not just to other owners.  Unfortunately this was not how TA saw the forum.

Recently, unless I’m much mistaken, TA staff seem to be more active on the Owners Forum and are starting to reply to owners’ concerns.  The answer isn’t always what the owner wants to hear, but at least there is the occasional TA “human face”.

I think this is a Good Thing. 🙂

Moreover, I recently posted a question about TA’s liability in libel cases, linking back to the previous post here.  I tried to make sure that it remained within the restrictions of forum rules, but wasn’t sure whether this would be allowed to stand, as in the past TripAdvisor has jumped very quickly to remove any forum posts that carried even a hint of criticism – like this.  To their credit, on this occasion TA let it stand and even replied to it.

I do hope this is the start of a move towards greater openness and better communication on TripAdvisor, and not just a one-off case.  Opening a dialogue with owners should be the first step to addressing their concerns and creating a partnership, rather than the “Us and Them” mentality that comes from refusal to engage.

How to Win Respect on a Review Site

Rule #1 – Choose a Review Title that Stands Out from the Crowd

Something short, snappy and eye-catching is what you’re after.

Rule #2 –  Choose a User Name that Says “I Know What I’m Talking About”

Once you’re registered, that’s it.  So make sure you like the name you choose and that it reflects your personality.

This reviewer from Hawaii, writing about the amusingly named “Red Frog Bungalows”, got it half right.  Their chosen review title, “Killer Place” really stands out – even if it’s a little ambiguous.

But what does the Reviewer’s chosen name say about him?

Wanker

Wanker

A Glimpse of TripAdvisor’s Owners’ Forum

Did you know there is a special forum on TripAdvisor which is hidden from the general public?

To access this forum you need to be registered as an owner of a property listed on TripAdvisor.   There are plenty of properties on TripAdvisor that aren’t claimed yet by their owners – I wonder if just anyone could claim one and so get access to the forum?

You would probably imagine that this forum is very useful for TripAdvisor to get valuable feedback from owners.

Here’s a small glimpse into this hidden world – the exchange of views is fascinating.

Dialogue between Owners and TripAdvisor

Dialogue between Owners and TripAdvisor