Yelp stronger than 5-star rating companies?

Mar 14, 2017 3:11 AM

Luxury resorts love to validate their targeted stature by receiving a four- or preferably five-star rating from one or more of the prestigious travel guide/rating companies. In the pre-technology and pre-social media world those ratings would mean a very serious dollar difference in the rates the resorts could charge their customers.

In yet another area being affected by the use of social media, traditional ratings are starting to become archaic as the contemporary traveler prefers to know what their peers had as a resort experience over the clinical rating of some unknown paid traveler.

To be sure, quality rating companies take their purpose very seriously and they have developed an extensive checklist with scoring standards based on 500 to over 800 particular criteria to evaluate a resort. These standards are well defined and are intended to rate the resort on every experience and guest expectation one could have there.

The inspectors arrive unannounced and conduct their reviews as if they are a typical guest. This of course is intended to assure no particular special treatment and that the inspector is receiving the same treatment a regular guest would, yet the deck is still often stacked.

Remember in the movie “Oceans 13” one of the sub-plots was that the hotel-casino owner played by Al Pacino was highly desirous of a fictional “Five Diamond Award” and had his staff on high alert to spot the inspector so they could make certain to assure the quality of his stay. While the movie made good fun of that particular sub-plot unfortunately there was more truth than fiction in how hard some resorts will look for those inspectors and the efforts they will take to assure they are taken care of. In fact, some resorts have gone so far as to write database queries looking for customers whose activities touch all the rating criteria.

It is easier than one might think to spot these good inspectors. First off they are usually one night stayers, utilize every service of the property and make requests for services the vast majority of guests never use or even know are available.

For instance, when was the last time you stayed at a resort for one night, used most every feature of the resort in such a short time and placed a room service order in the evening for the next morning at a particular delivery time, without being at the property for a business conference or convention?

Given that these inspectors cover so many areas in such a short visit, it is not hard for the alert resort to quickly spot them and build a list of inspectors. Once identified these “guests” are often tracked and flagged for extra special attention.

But that is the rub, by giving the inspectors special attention they are being treated differently than the normal guest and in some cases so much more differently the rating does not match the normal guest experience.

Before social media, who knew? Complaint letters, if written, went to the hotel, not the world, and if the customer took a picture or video of an “oops” on the resort’s part it was shared with friends at home and did not go viral or become part of a Yelp review.

Some social media users have learned they have a new power over the resorts. In the old days if a guest was unhappy over their stay and complained, about the most leverage they had was to declare if they were not taken care of they would never return to the resort again. The resort executive handling the issue would weigh the complaint verses the amount the guest spent and offer a discount or a free meal.

In today’s world, an unhappy guest not only will assert their disappointment, but that they will also be posting their experience on Yelp, Facebook, their blog, Instagram, etc. With this additional leverage the disappointed guest now expects their current trip to be complimentary along with some form of compensation either in the form of a free future stay, luxury meals, spa, or entertainment event.

While there are resorts that do not try to identify the inspectors and truly try to take care of all their guests at luxury standards, competition and the desire to keep corporate bosses, who take pride in those traditional ratings, happy often cause GM’s to bend things a bit, when they should be treating all guests like they are inspectors.

Heaven help the industry though if social media users also learn to act like hotel rating inspectors, they might start expecting to be paid for staying at a resort!