Review this! Travelers fed up with solicitations

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By Christopher Elliott

Is it my imagination, or are travel companies getting pushier with their solicitations? The come-ons include repeated invitations to return to a hotel or restaurant. Sometimes it is high-pressure pitches to “like” a company’s Facebook account and urgent requests for positive online reviews. As summer vacations fade into memory, the aggressiveness has never been more obvious.

The unsolicited and often unwelcome overtures are usually delivered in a rapid-fire succession of emails after your trip. Unfortunately, increasingly also in person. There’s a reason for that. A recent study by e-commerce company Barilliance suggests the sooner you send an email, the likelier a customer will act on it. The success rate, measured by conversions, drops from 20% for emails sent within an hour of someone abandoning an online shopping cart to 12% for an email sent within a day. Fortunately, you can stop these digital sales calls cold, and you probably should.

Feedback requested within 24 hours

Consider what happened to Katherine Kotowski when she visited The Azul Fives by Karisma in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with her husband and three kids.

“A number of waiters and waitresses wrote down their names on a piece of paper and asked that we mention their names and give positive reviews on TripAdvisor,” she remembered.

She told one server at the all-inclusive restaurant’s buffet that she’d be delighted to leave a review when she was back in the States.

“He said ‘No, it has to be within 24 hours,’ ” she says. When Kotowski, a food service marketing manager from Arlington Heights, Ill., said she didn’t bring her computer on vacation, he responded, “Don’t you have the app on your phone?”

A Karisma representative said company policy doesn’t permit employees to request their names be included in reviews. They are also not permitted to incentivize guests in any way in exchange for reviews on TripAdvisor.

“We are disappointed to learn that a guest reported any such request was made. We will be working through the necessary channels to ensure our policy is always respected,” said Anna Pegler, a customer service manager.

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Hotels like to hammer their guests with emails

Before I even checked out of a full-service hotel in Portland, Ore., this summer, it had emailed my folio three times. Finally, it sent a form letter asking me for a positive review on social media. “We would certainly appreciate your feedback as well as any staff recognition that you may especially have experienced,” it wrote. I clicked the “unsubscribe” button; I had never even opted in to the hotel’s list.

That relentless barrage of emails inevitably leads to something called message fatigue, said Aaryn Kobayashi, a marketing manager for Kahuna, a Redwood City, Calif., digital messaging company. “These kinds of emails are typically part of a drip campaign. Someone gets five to seven emails, regardless of whether they interact or engage,” she says.

Inma Gregorio books flights, hotels and activities every week. She has noticed that the level of aggression has increased.

“What’s starting to bother me is that many of them do ask for a positive write-up straight away,” said Gregorio, a travel blogger and former tour guide. “I am way too busy to answer them. Unless my experience was extremely good or really bad, I don’t bother.” (Related: You’ve never heard of these people, but they’ve changed the way you fly.)

Why is this happening?

Part of the reason is that social media “likes,” tweets and user-generated reviews matter more than ever. Another reason is that these hyper-aggressive campaigns work. Hit someone with half a dozen emails after a hotel stay, and enough people will respond favorably to make all the harassment worthwhile. (Here’s what you need to know before planning your next trip.)

The fix is even simpler. Just say :no.” Openly refuse to review a hotel you haven’t even stayed in and opt out of the next come-on. Only then will the travel industry get the message.

How to end the aggression

• Click the unsubscribe button. Every legitimate email campaign must have one. The sooner you click it, the louder your message to the hotel, tour operator or cruise line that these high-pressure tactics won’t be tolerated.

• Say “no” — and say why. Most travel companies will offer a “feedback” option when you opt out of an email campaign. Tell them why you’re unsubscribing, especially if the annoyance affects whether you’d do business with them again. Such messages can really affect future marketing efforts. They will stop if enough customers are turned off by the campaigns.

• Tell the feds. Complain to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if a business is emailing you without consent. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, you have the right to end the seemingly relentless emails. A travel company must include a clear explanation of how you can get off the list, and the FTC spells out punishments for violators. Here’s how to contact the FTC.

Need help? Here’s our guide to filing a complaint about your travel experience. You can also get free assistance on our advocacy website.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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