Thursday, July 15, 2010

Freebies at Hotels? Meet the Right People Online and You Could Be Set

Knowing the right people has all sorts of advantages. And now, thanks to the internet, getting to know the right people is getting easier than ever...if you're sneaky about it.

Take the case of my pal Carl. For about 20 years now, Carl has worked in the online world, though not in travel. But he knows enough to spot the pros among the amateurs. Which is just what he did when he started reading online reviews for a certain resort he was thinking of going to on the Mayan Riviera.

After reading through the standard "user reviews", he went onto a message board on which this resort was being discussed. There he noticed that a person who identified herself as a past guest, let's call her "Pearl", kept popping up to offer chipper, and very, very detailed answers to questions and advice. Advice that a mere vacationer likely couldn't have given, simply because she wouldn't have the depth of knowledge Pearl had.

Carl sent a direct message to Pearl with a question, and then mentioned to her that it was a special event trip for him and his family. Would Pearl know how to contact the concierge, Carl asked?  He'd like to ask a question directly, he said.

Boy did she ever. Within a week, Carl had snagged a room at a deep discount, far below what he'd been able to find elsewhere. When he arrived at the resort, he found that he and his family had been upgraded from the one room he thought the four of them were going to share, to a penthouse suite, with a large bedroom for Carl and his wife, and a bedroom each for the kids.  It didn't stop there. Carl and his wife got free bottles of wine in their room and the kids got free beach toys. Wherever they went on the resort, they were greeted by name.

Here's the thing: Carl doesn't twitter, and he may have 100 Facebook friends, if that. He has no influence whatsoever in the travel industry. But because he met Pearl, and let slip at some point that he'd likely write a user-generated review when he returned home, he was treated like Conrad Hilton or Brad Pitt.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article detailing the ways other hotel guests were feted, thanks to social media.

Frankly, I don't know how long the hotels will be able to keep this up. I very much doubt they got much, in tangible terms, from treating Carl in this fashion. (I suppose their reward will be in heaven, as he is a lovely guy and deserves good treatment.)

And once the public starts to realize that potential reviews are being bought in this fashion, will they take these user generated reviews as seriously? It'll be interesting to see where this trend is headed. In the meantime, milk it for all its worth, if you can!

(Photo by Chris Lott)

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  1. The WSJ article is more focused on hotels which "make good" after guests mention an incident on social media - and that is not a bad thing.

    What happened to Carl is more controvertial - and I think that the hotel took him for an influential blogger (I doubt that they would do it for just a user generated review on Tripadvisor). But in some cases, being convincing (as Carl probably was) can overcome a lack of hard data.

    But hotels can find ways to get/buy those lower impact reviews too. I have recently stayed in an hotel which gave points on their frequent guest program (an amount that I would value at $2) to those who left Tripadvisor reviews - and you have to provide a printout at the front desk to get the points, so even if a good review is not required to get the points, guests are likely to provide a positive review.
    And these $2 were well worth the cost to the hotel ; it is ranking very well (#3 out of 16 in its city).

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