Full disclosure — for a decade I owned a bed and breakfast. So when I was asked to write a story about a hotel that offered a reward to a guest in exchange for a positive review, I could sympathize. But that doesn’t necessarily make it right.
In this case, a Comfort Suites franchise holder offered one of our readers an incentive to give their hotel a positive review if they received a survey from the parent company, Choice Hotels.
“As a special thank you for taking the time to review our hotel and providing us with a 10/10 score on your survey, we will reward you with an additional 2,000 Choice Privileges Points to your account,” the letter read.
After hearing from our reader, one of our advocates reached out to the hotel and asked if this was corporate policy.
“It is not a requirement by Choice,” they replied, “but it is urged through our management company to send out these emails to encourage guests to give us a 10 out of 10, or to contact the hotel to resolve any issues prior to filling out these surveys.”
The hotel also asked our reader to share their experience on TripAdvisor, but avoided suggestions about what to post there or specifically offering an incentive. A good thing, since TripAdvisor’s guidelines have specific language about that: Reviews that are being offered “in exchange for personal gain, such as gifts, services, or money,” will be removed.
The hotel also asked for the opportunity to “make it right” if the guest had any complaints, prior to taking the survey. Sounds pretty customer-centric, even if the hotel’s incentive was to make sure they got a good score. But again I can sympathize.
The internet and social media have dramatically changed the accommodations industry. Bad reviews can ruin a business, especially small businesses, like B&Bs. And as anyone with a Facebook account knows, folks on social media often don’t feel the need to restrain themselves as they would in a face-to-face conversation.
Fortunately, our B&B received mostly very positive reviews, but as the adage goes, “You can’t please everybody.” Our 150-year-old Creole cottage had a lot of historic charm, but a house that old perched over New Orleans’ archaic sewage system is going to have the occasional plumbing problem, no matter how vigilant you are. So we were disheartened when one guest posted a problem with their toilet, after the fact, to TripAdvisor, rather than telling us during their stay, so that we could fix it immediately. Their review specifically noted that they “didn’t feel comfortable” telling us directly. What ya gonna do?
Now that I’ve gone from lodging provider to lodging consumer, that earlier experience has taught me how to read reviews on TripAdvisor and other such sites with a critical eye. Do the complaints (or accolades) pertain to my particular needs? A complaint about the lack of luxury bedding doesn’t matter if I don’t care about high thread-count sheets. Does the review seem mean-spirited rather than objective? Just as elsewhere on the web, there are traveler “trolls” who delight in just being mean.
Recognizing this, TripAdvisor guidelines set standards for civility in its reviews.
Keep your reviews relevant and helpful to travelers — keep in mind they are reading your review to understand what an experience with the business might be like. For this reason, please don’t include personally insulting language, smear campaigns, or any personal opinions about politics, ethics, religion or wider social issues. TripAdvisor does not allow reviews that promote intolerance for individuals or groups of people based on their race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or nationality.
Some travelers may be more motivated to post reviews on sites like TripAdvisor when they’ve had a bad experience. So it’s understandable that a hotel would want to “get out the vote” from those guests who’ve had a great experience.
But is actually offering a reward, in this case with loyalty points, crossing a line? Does it produce an artificially positive impression of a lodging?