Living on Lord Howe Island

Jan
08

GuestAdvisor - coming soon

Posted by Pinetrees Lodge – Thursday, January 08, 2015

Tell the world that you're a winner!

We love TripAdvisor and we love hotel and restaurant reviews ‘by the people for the people’. It’s great - people sharing their thoughts from recent experience and offering constructive advice on how to improve the food, service or accommodation, and all of this without inducements or bias. You beauty! Better still, the reviewers remain anonymous and the business gets a chance to respond to the review – all according to strict guidelines and etiquette. Surely this sounds better, and more interactive, than the local Lonely Planet Guide?

I should take this chance to declare, before going any further, that we do well in TripAdvisor. At our last count, we had over 100 reviews with a rating of 4.5 stars (out of 5 stars) and we’ve won a ‘Certificate of Excellence’ for the last 4 years. The vast majority of reviews say something like ‘great staff, amazing food and perfect location’, and we really appreciate them. However, we do get some shockers – reviews that claim we have ratsack in our rooms (of course we don’t), that our wine is more expensive than the $7.50 per litre rate available in 4 litre casks (true, thankfully), and that a cancelled Qantas flight is somehow our fault (we should use our direct line to Alan Joyce more often). One guest recently suggested that Dani’s ancestors should be ashamed of her for the way she’s running the 6th generation family business (and it got 8 ‘helpful votes’). These reviews are so extreme that they’re kind of funny (and sad) and we rely on readers’ common sense to put them where they belong.

The real problem, and perhaps one of the reasons for TripAdvsior’s legal headaches, is the ‘threatened’ review. You know – “if you don’t give me a free bottle of wine (or free night’s accommodation, or lift to the shops, or loan of your car, or different dessert, or 50 dollars, or whatever), then I’ll write a review on TripAdvisor”. And these people can be nasty. It takes a serious amount of discipline, and runs contrary to every hospitality bone in your body, to look them in the eye and say “sorry, you’ll just have to write that review”. Mostly they don’t, but sometimes they do. Dills.

After a series of these threats in recent times (I can’t imagine what happens in big city 5 star hotels), we’ve finally found a solution. Something that will restore the balance of power and promise mutually assured embarrassment – GuestAdvisor – an online forum for hotel and restaurant owners to write anonymous reviews about guests. GuestAdvisor will include candid photos and mugshots, contact details, personality profiles and fun ways for reviewers to interact with each other through ‘helpful votes’. Best of all, there’ll be a 24/7 complaints email address for guests who are unhappy with their review, and complaints will be answered efficiently by a really smart computer without any need to ‘upscale for human intervention’. Now we’re talking. If you’re thinking of threatening TripAdvisor, then bring it on.

But why limit GuestAdvisor to controlling extortion and corruption? It would a have a genuine and reasonable application for the people who pinch our waiters’ bums (can you believe it still happens?), leave used condoms in the bedside drawer, wet the bed, poo on the floor, break stuff, have adult tantrums, yell at other people’s kids, shove other guests to get dessert sooner, take all the oysters for themselves, be rude to our staff but lovely to us (one of our favourites), walk around the lodge in old saggy speedos, demand a charter flight to get off the island when all flights are cancelled etc. This list could go on for a while, but you get the idea (and yes, we could write an Anthony Bourdain inspired book called Hotel Confidential, in two parts).

GuestAdvisor should limit the extreme reviews on TripAdvisor, and also help blacklist the guests who really shouldn’t leave home. We’ve all seen them in restaurants, check-in counters and reception desks (rest assured, very few of them make it to Lord Howe Island!). Hotel reservation staff around the world will refer to GuestAdvisor reviews before the confirmation of bookings, and guests who have bad reviews will find that most places are always ‘full’. Sorry about that.

The best part of GuestAdvisor will be its regular contact with guests who’ve been listed or reviewed. Instead of offering the chance to opt out, it will instead offer professional services to help guests improve their personalities, behaviour and ultimately rankings (and in the background, change the ranking algorithm to ensure that guests who don’t engage professional services, or actively seek new reviews to spread its reach and authority, will slide down the rankings). And just when you’ve spent a small fortune trying to understand how it all works so you can improve your ranking and limit any potential damage to your reputation, the algorithm will change again. Perfect. It’s an Orwellian masterpiece coming to your next holiday destination.

Can you imagine the outrage?

Here’s an idea. Next time you have some genuine feedback for a restaurant or hotel, have a chat to the owners (not the waiters). They love talking to guests about their experience. If it’s too difficult to talk, as it can be, then send a letter and ask for a response. And if you like (or dislike) a place then tell your family and friends over the dinner table or BBQ – it’s more effective. We’ve learnt this because most of our guests come via personal referral.

To those who insist on writing anonymous online reviews, either for the convenience or for more dubious reasons, then please remember that GuestAdvisor may just be the next big thing.

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About Dani Rourke

HELP! I have 2 children, 25 staff and up to 75 guests. I was a lawyer for 10 years, but escaped. My husband and I moved from Sydney to beautiful Lord Howe Island to run Pinetrees Lodge, which has been in my family for 6 generations. I'm writing about family business, island life and the whole work/family disaster. Did someone say balance? When I'm not writing, my lovely staff do it for me - they see more of the island than I do.

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