What an interesting day. Most of you know I am into transparency, and feel there is a general lack of accountability by these same companies that are scorching the earth with a new transparency, and openness.  It is always curious to me that these companies that are changing the world to be less secretive and opaque are *precisely* just that.  But in my hawkwatching the ethical grey areas between social media as a communication tool, vs social media as a profitable business – I might have even crossed the line and suggested a wonderful hotel company, JDV, was part of this when they weren’t. Apologies to anyone that got caught up in that, and HATS OFF to Christa at JDV – a patient, professional, intelligent, and CLASSY woman, who took her time patiently educating me rather than giving me the “what fer” I likely deserved.  But it was collateral damage from friendly fighter in a great battle.

We, as technologists, hoteliers, and business people have a higher standard to live up to when it comes to ethics.  There are plenty of people that black hat or dip into the grey areas, but we don’t have that luxury as intellectual leaders and mentors to people learning the business.  We have to firmly entrench ourselves in crystal clear waters of ethical, transparent, accountable behavior.  Tripadvisor is getting into some of these grey areas in light of combatting those unethical people writing fake reviews.  They have been so beaten up in the press, it’s obvious they need to rigirously standardize and verify reviews.

Review Direct is their imperfect answer to that, and I think they should reconsider it.  When I have the option, our hotels would be absolutely nuts not to use it, whether it is a good or bad review that is published.  Some properties may not want to use it, as their product or services, condition, etc isn’t at that level yet.  But there are some serious ethical issues and liability concerns I have about the product.  So…


Dear Tripadvisor and Market Metrix (or the two people who read this blog, pass it along please):


Basically, here’s my concern:


Review Direct is basically Tripadvisor sanctioning “paying for more reviews”.  There’s *SO* many questions here: about marginalizing the equity of Market Metrix’s internal reviews, about unfair advantages within competitive markets that basically lead to gaming the popularity index, etc.


I know Tripadvisor needs to legitimize reviews, but this is the wrong way to go about it.  Beyond my concerns about any pilot hotels that were secretly allowed to pilot inside of markets, it seems an unfair advantage for hotels with marketing dollars vs the mom and pop that doesn’t have the money to pay for it.


Basically, a mom and pop hotel cannot post paper comment card guest reviews as a Tripadvisor review, but market metrix will automate that internal discussion onto a public forum, *FOR A FEE*.


Not only does that point to competitive disadvantage, but there’s some serious legal liabilities as well.  It’s been well documented that higher Tripadvisor popularity rating equates to higher revenue, so couldn’t someone sue, saying that it is an uneven playing field, anti-competitive, etc? There could be monetary damages.  For our properties that remain at #1, we know it is worth $100K’s in revenue.  You may have bitten your own rear with all the obvious data collected that points to ranking and revenue.  If what determines popularity index is amount of reviews, how recent, and rating, aren’t you just gaming your own algorithm by finding a back door that increases number of reviews, *for a fee*?


It feels like a legal liability to a number of the parties involved.  I just don’t like it because I like a free market…. this should be rolled out to everyone, equally, immediately, at no price.  All hotel owners should be able to post verified comments and reviews… not just a few at a price.  I hate to think that social media or hospitality could fall victim to the unethical business practices on Wall Street or Capital Steps – it’s not how hard you work, how ethically you manage – it’s who you know and who you bribe.


But from a protectionist aspect, I would imagine there are some legal liabilities here that should be addressed before you have some ambulance chaser with dollar signs in their eyes.  There are some CRAZY unethical and penny pinching people in every business, and I would hate to see anyone sidelined by our “Sue Everybody” culture.  That’s not me…. you won’t find me near a lawyer. lol  Oh wait, all my friends. =)  But if Tripadvisor’s popularity index can be equated to revenue, then paying to increase your popularity seems very, *VERY* much a grey area.


Just my thoughts. I hate rabble rousing, but it’s something to consider for the benefit of both of your companies.  I know it’s a fast moving moment in human history, and missteps are brutal.  But I really don’t think you have considered this part of it.


Thanks for listening.

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