This is part 2 of this post, click here to read part 1!
If we look at the criteria or established and successful guides to hotels and restaurants such as Zagats or the Michelin board, they are uniform and measurable. The rating scale for Zagat is made up of 30 points and hundreds of reviews are used to create an average score that also comes with carefully curated and edited, insightful comments. The Michelin guide is the zenith of reviews and its system has an unparalleled focus on quality over quantity. A New Yorker article sheds some light on their clandestine process:
Michelin has gone to extraordinary lengths to maintain the anonymity of its inspectors. Many of the company's top executives have never met an inspector; inspectors themselves are advised not to disclose their line of work, even to their parents (who might be tempted to boast about it); and, in all the years that it has been putting out the guide, Michelin has refused to allow its inspectors to speak to journalists. The inspectors write reports that are distilled, in annual "stars meetings" at the guide's various national offices, into the ranking of three stars, two stars, or one star—or no stars. (Establishments that Michelin deems unworthy of a visit are not included in the guide)
As mentioned earlier, 70% of us trust Internet reviews, but when you understand the process of how the most trusted reviewing industry go about creating their reviews it seems untoward that every single guest has that much control over your reputation. Could the vacation rental industry benefit from the type of review analysis that these guides undertake before publishing?
The other problem is that a 100% review rate means that the focal point shifts to pleasing everybody, as opposed to creating a product or service that is the best you can make it, but may not be to everyone’s taste. A blander, more universal palatable experience eventually emerges.Leading to the acceptance of everyone, but to the delight of nobody.
Is an abundance of reviews causing hotels or holiday accommodation to establish a culture of mediocrity that is rewarded by top reviews?
This is not just a hark back to the ‘good old days’, there are real and measurable negative effects of implementing a two-way review system. A recent white paper called A First Look at Online Reputation on Airbnb, Where Every Stay is Above Average has elucidated the impact of a two-way reviewing system. One of the first points they mention is that,
Nearly 95% of Airbnb properties boast an average user-generated rating of either 4.5 or 5 stars (the maximum); virtually none have less than a 3.5 star rating. We contrast this with the ratings of approximately half a million hotels worldwide that we collected on TripAdvisor, where there is a much lower average rating of 3.8 stars
The system of 2-way reviewing means that people are more disposed to reviewing favorably because all reviewers are subject to the same scrutiny. Reviews are also subject to more factors that distort the truth of them. There are 4 factors outlined in the review that demonstrate how online reviews can be altered by the nature of how the information is collected.
- Herding behavior, whereby prior ratings subtly bias the evaluations of subsequent reviewers
- Under-reporting of negative reviews, where reviewers fear retaliatory negative reviews on platforms that allow and encourage two-sided reviewing
- Self-selection, where consumers who are a priori more likely to be satisfied with a product are also more likely to purchase and review it
- Strategic manipulation of reviews, typically undertaken by firms who seek to artificially inflate their online reputations
Despite these concerns, over 70% of consumers report that they trust online reviews.
So, not only does a reciprocal review system skew the results, even the traditional mode of reviewing vacation rentals provides results that cannot be entirely trusted. We have created a system whereby reviews are unevenly weighted towards the positive. We encourage every guest to review but have not set uniform parameters for what exactly these reviews mean.
Having face to face interactions, such as guests and hosts meeting, leaves us disposed to leave a positive review. Airbnb are implementing natural language processing software in order to filter out the true meaning from these ‘rose-tinted’ reviews. What this shows us is that not only are there issues with the way we are currently reviewing properties, but that a major site such as Airbnb consider it serious enough to be trying to tackle it.
Would a system of 2-way reviews give you confidence in who you are renting to, or would make each party overly suspicious of anyone that falls under 4 or 5 stars for whatever reason? Surely any manager would like to know if a potential guest has been violent at a property before or caused damage? Increasing the safety would certainly be a positive effect, but would it not just constrain guest and host into a false bonhomie? Rictus grins never slipping, until it leads to a pleasantness attrition where both sides have the same capabilities to destroy each other via review rather than mentioning any issues either party may have at the time?
It is the erosion of the human connection that causes concern, and even if this connection is based on dissatisfaction. It allows you to avoid confronting what you consider to be unacceptable, safe in the knowledge that you can exert your power on the situation via review, anonymous and protected. This removes the impetus to change.
So, is it better that to operate in an industry that could be safer, but is more saccharine and sickly? Where niceties are forced out under the threat of a bad review? Or to operate where there is more chance, more variation? Where you don’t know what to expect from your guests but then there is mystery, discovery and what you experience is real? This is not to say that having a large number of reviews will not help your bookings and help your SEO rankings. You do still need numerous reviews. This is simply a comment on the effect that reviews could have on the industry and the possible problems of implementing a widespread two-way review system.
Would it bother you if the impetus to forge a civil relationship is based on the fear of a negative review or do think that the derivation and motivation is not a concern when the result is a safer, more accountable and trustworthy industry?