Web portals as popular tools to judge and compare holiday destinations

Web portals as popular tools to judge and compare holiday destinations

BENTYN ZBIGNIEW

Departament of Management

PWSB

Niedziałkowskiego 18 / 61579 Poznan,

Poland

z.bentyn@pwsb.pl

www.pwsb.pl

 

ABSTRACT

A new era demands new media. New media create new possibilities. Travelers across the world use interactive internet tools to collate information about places like hotels, resorts and holiday destinations. Portals, such as cholidaycheck.com, allow customers to voice their opinions against or in favour of the places where they have spent their holidays. This is a new way to share good or sometimes bad holiday experiences. Potential holidaymakers  gladly check their destinations before they put their money on them. The possibility to share pictures or even a video showing the accommodation also increases the potential to influence customers. The majority of tourists  entering the portals make larger contributions than a few words or impressions. There are detailed reviews made by customers who really care. They constitute a significant source of free and quick feedback information. Managers can use it to improve the operation of the hotels they run or just to look at them from customers’ viewpoint. Thanks to such inventions company websites are no longer the only source of information about destinations, hotels or resorts. The portals constitute an alternative which may well be harsh or even lurid but, more importantly, by virtue of being free from company’s control, they are more objective in the presentation of information.

Keywords:  Hospitality, research, customer, image.

1 INTRODUCTION

Years ago customers looking for information about a hotel or other places had a limited choice of sources. Travel agents, however friendly they could be, were not allowed to reveal full details about the hotel they were recommending for many different reasons. Firstly, they themeselves did not have more information than that given by the operator. The materials like posters or leaflets are always prepared to create a certain impression. Only their experience and contact with experienced customers provided them with a certain amount of inside knowledge, which gave them a possibility to direct the right customer to the right place. Yet, gaining such experience and knowledge about many places across the world required plenty of time and effort. It cannot be forgotten either that their business was, and still is, also based on advertising which may make them reluctant to reveal everything they know about recommended places. [1]

Another, more credible, source of information were close friends. They were more sincere than travel agents but could provide a rather limited amount of information because of their limited possibilities of traveling. This particular source was also very subjective, which decreased its reliability.

Articles in papers reviewing places were also helpful but their usefulness for potential travelers is also limited. It is difficult to publish a very detailed opinion therefore it is usually very general. The idea behind this is to get with this article to the greatest possible number of potential customers. Besides, it is rather inconvenient for a paper to criticize certain places because its goal is to build an interest in traveling among readers in the first place.

The growing potential to travel increases the demand for detailed information. A development of communication infrastructure and the investments in the field of communication made by private sector strongly influence the prices of travelling services. Potential tourists have a wide range of offers to choose from and in order to make an informed decision they need credible information, which will be possibly most objective and up-to-date. Web pages were created by companies with a view to reach potential guests and to satisfy this demand for knowledge. This clever move allows prospective customers to check hotels or resorts thanks to galleries with pictures and video materials whereas descriptions of the places are very helpful for those searching for details. The possibility to modify websites and to place up-to-date information creates a less expensive and still much more dynamic way to get with the right information to right people in comparison to the printed materials. Moreover, thanks to the reservation systems websites have become more like virtual front desks to the customer. The ability to use them as an active promotional tool is a new quality. 3D tours around the advertised place help to visualize the hotel and its neighborhood and afford a great opportunity to highlight its advantages.

The greatest innovation of the websites, however, is the possibility to publish other people’s opinions about the place. This level of objectivity was lacking in each of the previously mentioned sources of information.

2 PROBLEM FORMULATION

Trust is one the most sought-for values by customers. On this very competitive market, opinions of other users provide invaluable information. The tendency to give credit to someone else is supported by an assumption that other users have no vested interest in misinforming anybody. Rather, they are expected to voluntarily warn others against an unfortunate destination in an act of retribution on the owner responsible for bad accommodation conditions. By analogy, customers who are satisfied will feel the need to reward the host for a pleasant experience. That is why they will tend to share with others positive reviews of places, hotels or a resorts.

Up to now the problem has lied in the absence of a medium or a tool which could connect those two groups of people: one wanting to share their knowledge and experience with others and the other composed of people looking for information about a hotel. The growing segment of online travel agents employs the internet as a tool to fulfill the need of potential travelers.

The travel distribution model shows three main fields which combination influence business transaction. They are:

  • Buyer data,
  • Seller data,
  • Fulfillment Loop[2]

Information delivered by travel agents are detailed but they are lacking objectivity. The materials prepared by the agent are often rejected by the customers as misleading. Even corporate websites have a tendency to virtually improve the appearance of their destinations, which increases customers distrust and augments the need for additional information from other sources, not involved in the transaction.

Travelers present a growing experience but have natural limitations in gathering useful information about potential destinations. They are looking for information they can trust. Social network creates relations, which can prove useful in such cases. However, this type of information is far from precise and is still limited in quantity.

The fulfillment loop plays a key role in closing the transaction. The presentation of the offer which has a virtue of objectivity allows the travel agents to convince the traveler. There is a great need for  unbiased and up-to-date information.

Figure 1 Travel distribution model

 

Maurer, Internet for the retail travel industry,  Cengage Learning, 2002

3 PROBLEM SOLUTION

In the times of social networks there is a solution for those groups of potential customers. Portals like holidaycheck.com provide for them plenty of up-to-date and detailed information.

The examples of such portals are:

  • tripadvisor.com
  • trivago.co.uk
  • hotelbewertungen.net
  • openholidayguide.net
  • myhotel.de

Some of the portals listed above have accumulated a massive amount of information. Tripadvisor claims that they provide 45 million trusted travelers’ reviews and opinions. Holidaycheck gathered 1,8 million reviews. If words are not enough, they also provide 2.2 million of pictures and 33800 videos,[3]  all made by users and free to browse for anyone interested. The main goal for all the portals is to increase the awareness that thanks to the new media like internet it is possible to share information and to gain experienced and potential customers. Tripadvisor’s slogans are: “World’s most trusted travel advice” and “First get the truth then go” [4]. They realize that such amount of information influence many potential visitors. They also provide a secure way to write a review. All forms include a formula which says: “I certify that this review is my genuine opinion of this hotel, and that I have no personal or business affiliation with this establishment, and have not been offered any incentive or payment originating from the establishment to write this review”. This is a part of their policy which claims zero tolerance for fake reviews. It means that they dedicate significant time and resources ensuring that the reviews are written by the real travelers and based on their real experiences. For those who would have an idea to use this website as a handy advertising tool there is a warning. Any discovered biased activity made by owners, employees or third party vendors hired on behalf of the property owner will be subject to severe and long lasting penalties[5].

Holidaycheck advise their reviewers to take into consideration the following remarks:

  • Share personal experiences and insider tips
    The more detailed and descriptive, the better.
  • Write your own text
  • Do not copy or use any text from other sources.
  • Correct spelling and grammar
    Please use full sentences and correct grammar
  • No self-promotion is allowed
  • ”Reviews” from owners, employees or representatives are forbidden.
  • No defamation or slander.
  • Personal attacks with no reason are prohibited.
  • Do not write using only CAPITAL LETTERS
    Sentences written all in capitals are neither easy nor pleasant to read

The first remarks oblige writers to write about their own experiences without adding additional rumors which could falsify the reality. Moreover, they encourage authors to use their own words. This is a general idea to promote the subjectivity of a reviewer, yet the sum of numerous opinions helps to create the effect of a general objectivity. The idea is to give the reader a chance to generalize the opinion about a hotel or resort by reading and comparing contrasting reviews. The potential visitor has to bear it in mind that someone’s opinion is influenced by his personal characteristics. The families with kids will definitely judge a hotel differently than singles. Their personal   expectations differ simply because they demand a different kind of service. To stress it all reviewers must share a few personal information:

  • Origin
  • Age
  • Travel time
  • I traveled as- and options to choose from:

Family, couple, singles & friends

  • Number of children
  • Duration
  • Type of trip
  • Booked via …

Thanks to the insight into personal details of the reviewers the readers have the opportunity to look at the personal opinions.. This makes this site even more valuable. It allows the prospective readers to see a range of opinions and  to find their representatives in the group of reviewers. Apart from a brief description of the personal profile of the authors, the reviews also include a traveler’s map where thanks to the google services the readers can find and actually look at the destinations described. Among them readers can find places where author:

  • Been
  • Can advise friends
  • Favorite
  • Going

If a review particularly well answers the expectations of a reader, then, thanks to this option, he or she can look for another destination advised by the same author. The sites offer articles and detailed descriptions which have definite advantages over the printed guides. Firstly, they are written by many travelers whose collective wisdom creates an additional value. Secondly, the internet guides are updated in the real-time, which guarantees a reliable reflection of the constantly changing reality. Finally, thanks to a group of hobbyists and semi-professionals they also provide practical tips about transportation, things to do and places to eat.

In order to make it easier to reach the site from all over the world Tripadvisor offers a free application for a mobile phone which allows browsing reviews instantly on the go. Combining the application with a working GPS in the phone opens new possibilities[6]. Since that moment it has become possible to get directions for driving, walking or public transportation. Yet, this is not all. The application has a Near Me Now function which is useful to find opportunities all-round the traveler location. The remote access to the portals makes the browsing easy and quick. The guests have also an opportunity to share their opinion quicker, which is is a potential threat for those hoteliers whose services are not up to standard and an opportunity for those who are ready to receive guests with possibilities to make their evaluation widely known. The easy access to the opinions of many tourists gives a hotel a chance to improve. All reviews may be sorted by date. Each hotel has its own history, it is registered right from the beginning when they start to operate with a new equipment, furniture and newly hired, highly motivated staff. Yet, this situation evolves. The hotel may continue to provide high quality services but it may also lower the standards. Careful collation of reviews year by year makes such changes visible for those who are looking, which means that it is not only potential guests but also potential investors or owners who must take care of their investments [7]. The latter may treat the new possibilities which their guests’ have gained as an objective and continuous yardstick by which their hotels’ performance can be measured. The holidaycheck.com has recently added a simple sign to the description of every destination, a red arrow directed up or down, which points out the general trend derived from recent rating. It simply indicates whether a place is fashionable and guests  review it well or if the opposite is true. This average opinion is supported by charts.

The first one shows how many percent of reviewers recommend the place in particular months of the last year. It allows to realise which time of the year is best to visit a place. It also gives a chance to look closer at the reviews from a weaker month and find an answer for the question what makes the reviewers to lower their rating.

The next chart shows an evaluation  of the hotel according to specific criteria, which include: room, service, location, gastronomy, sport and entertainment. It supports the conclusion from the first chart and points out where to find the potential to improve the overall quality of the hotel.

The third chart shows the number of reviews sent in particular months. A lower number of reviews reduces the credibility of the judgment. This chart serves as a comment on the comparison. For the managers of the hotel it is possible to confront these data with occupancy rate. The higher rate will explain the higher number of reviews appearing on the portal.

Another chart is a glance at the demographic characteristics of the guests of the hotel. It is a demographic segmentation where the segments are:

  • 19-25 Years
  • 26-30 Years
  • 31-35 Years
  • 36-40 Years
  • 41-45 Years
  • 46-50 Years
  • 51-55 Years
  • 61-65 Years

A quick look at the chart makes it clear which age group has the strongest representation among the visitors of the hotel. This leads to such questions as: is it the target of this certain hotel? Is the hotel prepared for demands of the most represented age group? Potential visitors looking at the same chart have probably different ideas in their minds. They want to find a simple answer for the question: is it a place for me? If the majority of a hotel population reflects the age of a potential visitor then he may feel more confident about choosing this place for holiday. This refers to the problem of preferences of guests who want to spend their holiday in a certain company.

Holidaycheck.com conducted  research about the perception of drinking habits on holiday according to different nationalities. [8]

Figure 2 Perceptions of drinking habits on holiday according to nationalities

dziennikturystyczny.pl, 04.03.2011, 12:00

It has pointed out that there are differences in this field. The age of visitors even more than nationality may influence their behavior on holiday. Therefore, a chart concerning the age groups seems useful information.

The last chart indicates types of tourists. There are:

  • Solo/single
  • Couple
  • Family
  • Friends[9]

This criterion also refers to the potential demands of certain groups of visitors. Families with children will appreciate playground facilities more than singles and couples. Groups of friends will probably care for discos, sport and entertainment programs. From the visitor’s point of view it is important to know which groups choose a particular hotel and why. A large share of families lessens the possibility to relax for those looking for a peaceful place for their holiday.

Hoteliers can now use tourists’ reviews to improve the place. Thanks to such portals managers can observe the reaction of their guests after they have made some changes. For many small companies it is the cheapest and therefore the only way to glean feedback information from their customers. A picture added by a visitor can entirely change the image of a hotel. It can incidentally reveal its potential to improve. Knowledge with strategic potential has now become free and open for everybody. Research results and reports of the perception of the quality of the hotel are no longer a secret wisdom available only for those who can afford a long term research conducted by counseling companies.

Such a big database allows constructing a ranking of the best and the worst hotels and resorts. , Tripadvisor, for one instance, annually  formulates a list of best hotels and awards them with the title “Traveler’s Choice”.

There are more categories which give readers a chance to compare the quality of tourist services and single out the best in the field of hospitality. Among them there are:

  • Top 25
    • World
    • United States
    • Europe
    • Japan
    • India
    • China
    • Hong Kong /Macau /Taiwan
  • Bargain
  • All Inclusive
  • Romance
  • B&bs and Inns
  • Luxury
  • Relaxation & Spa
  • Trendiest
  • Best Service
  • Europeans’ Best Hotel

The first place in the ranking Top 25 in the World was awarded to the Golden Well hotel in Prague, Czech Republic. This place was reviewed by 685 guests. From that number 659 gave the hotel an excellent rating. Only one guest rated it as poor. The managers of the hotel answered to it and expressed their  apologies. Such an output suggests that the place has been carefully checked and is sure to attract potential guests. It is also a remarkable achievement of the staff to preserve such high standards. First opinions shown on the tripadvisor portal are dated September 2004.

For those looking for thrills there is a ranking showing The Dirtiest Hotels in particular years from Asia, Europe, United States and India. Check these out if you dare, encourages the portal. All conclusions are drawn from the collation of opinions. Then there is a chart showing what infuriates guests and what is unacceptable in a hotel these days. All opinions are ordered in the following categories:

  • Value
  • Rooms
  • Location
  • Cleanliness
  • Service
  • Sleep Quality

4 CONCLUSION

In an interview broadcast by BBC Radio John Penrose, the British minister of tourism, suggested that industry websites – such as tripadvisor – could provide a more efficient service than a national hotel star rating system[10]. Star system becomes obsolete in present times . Small businesses argue that it is very expensive and not as interactive as internet websites are. There are voices against tripadvisor. Some hotel managers point out that it is too easy to falsify reviews and such cases exert too strong an influence not to do harm to small businesses. To answer that managers from tripadvisor answered that every review is carefully checked and that there exists a certain algorithm helping to verify reviews. The influence and the belief in trustworthiness of such portals results from a large number of entries and an opportunity to get to know different people’s views[11]. Beside that video and photo materials have an overwhelming  power to convince prospective visitors. The possibility to record and transmit a high definition video may also increase the utility of the reviews.

Figure 3 Developing digital content on portal holidaycheck.pl


www.travelmarketing.pl, 04.02.2011, 12:00

Some tourists are very precise and add multimedia materials to illustrate certain points in the review. The chart illustrates how fast the amount of digital content grows in the Polish reviews published on the holidaycheck.pl portal. One picture represents a thousand words. This allows the visitors to judge the location by themselves even without additional descriptions. The success of such portals lies also in additional services. In fact they act like an online travel agency. Combining credibility of the reviewers and trust of the readers with suggestions concerning holiday destination creates a very expected and powerful offer on the online travel market. This market is a very promising one. As the data of Verband Internet Reisevertrieb illustrate the online travel market is expected to grow. By the year 2015 40%-80% of all vacations are to be booked online[12], which is yet another argument showing the need for an objective, reliable and up-to-date source of information. Since 2006 70%-80% of information concerning travel destinations is researched online. Potential visitors use the web as a tool so it is high time for hoteliers to do the same and appreciate useful innovations changing the market.

REFERENCES

[1] A. M. Sheela, Economics of Hotel Management,  New Age,  International, 2007, p.13

[2] E. Maurer, Internet for the retail travel industry,  Cengage Learning, 2002, p.23

[3] holidaycheck.pl/hotel-Informacje+turystyczne, (accessed on January 2011).

[4] turystyka.gazeta.pl/Turystyka/1,82269,6784941,Ciekawostki_wakacyjne_z_portalu_HolidayCheck_pl.html, (accessed on February 2011)

[5]www.travelmarketing.pl/pl/e_commerce_i_online_marketing/107_spoleczenstwo_informacyjne_w_turystyce.html, (accessed on February 2011)

[6] dziennikturystyczny.pl, (accessed on January 2011).

[7] Z. Zhou, E-commerce and information technology in hospitality and tourism, Cengage Learning, 2004, p.9

[8] www.free-press-release.com/news-russia-threatens-english-drunken-monopoly-1250078470, (accessed on January 2011).

[9] www.tripadvisor.com/UserReview, (accessed on January 2011).

[10] www.breakingtravelnews.com/news/article/government-to-abandon-hotel-star-rating-system, (accessed on January 2011).

[11] R. Egger, D. Buhalis, eTourism case studies: management and marketing issues, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008, p.151

[12] Verband Internet Reisevertrieb, Die Zukunft bucht online,ITB Berlin, 2006

 

 

 

 


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