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Hot mixture: searching, booking, rating

Social media panel at the ITB: the giants are facing criticism

Hospitality Day Panel Social Media ITB 2011  
Moderator Gabriele Schulze (from left) asked tough questions: Markus Luthe, Marco Nussbaum, Joerg Trouvain, Christine Petersen; not in the panel photo: Juliane Cray.


Berlin (April 15, 2011). Evaluation portals, search engines and booking methods are being connected more strongly. The dynamics of this development results in questions – and a lot of criticism from hotel managers. They demand more transparency and fairness concerning the handling of the industry. In the talk "Social Media & Hotel Evaluation Platforms – Friends for Life?" at the "ITB Hospitality Day", top representatives of TripAdvisor, Google and HolidayCheck faced up to criticism. On the side of the hotel managers were: German Hotel Association and prizeotel. More than 500 visitors followed the discussion.

Luthe Markus  
Markus Luthe.


"Today, we are far away from a confrontation, we are more in a dialogue," Markus Luthe, Managing Director of the German Hotel Association (IHA), outlines the current mood of the hotel industry towards hotel evaluation portals at the beginning. However, the reversal of opinion contains some demands, as the European hotel umbrella organization HOTREC summarized them: the portals should outline their business models clearly, display hotel stars correctly, explain algorithms, and allow evaluations only then when a sufficient number is available concerning one hotel, listed Luthe. The answers of the evaluation platforms can be looked up separately at the Hotrec website (see this link).

In Berlin, prizeotel founder and CEO Marco Nussbaum distanced himself from the evaluation portals: "They do not only evaluate but earn money with their links!" he explained emphatically. The criticism of both hotel representatives was mainly directed at the US portal TripAdvisor – however, they testified to open and fair behaviour of the European competitor HolidayCheck.

Critical points: control and influence

Christine Petersen, President TripAdvisor for Business, explained how much effort her business puts into content control, among others by means of technical filters and human knowledge. Only recently did they hire a Customer Service Director whose main task is to improve the communication with hotel managers. In addition, the more than 250,000 registered hotel managers would act as a controlling community.

  Nussbaum Marco
  Marco Nussbaum.

But Nussbaum revealed discrepancies: his hotel, the prizeotel Bremen, for example, cannot be booked via Expedia – the parent company of TripAdvisor – because he wants to save the high commission fees this way. However, Expedia''s hotel evaluations would immediately be used at TripAdvisor and therefore give him a poorer ranking on TripAdvisor, he complained.

How reliable are hotel evaluation platforms, how loyal is their own behaviour? Moderator Gabriele Schulze, founder of the consultancy marketing4results, probed further and the interest once again focused on TripAdvisor: Luthe politely and objectively accused the US portal of a lacking inter-cultural sense. In the US, it is not an insult to call a hotel manager "monster", but in Europe, it is clearly offensive. Christine Petersen reacted openly and promised to handle such things more sensitively in the future. "Yes, we have to adapt to cultural aspects," she said.

Swearwords as standard

The two hotel representatives reproached Google that their hotel evaluations could easily be manipulated... Juliane Cray, Industry Head Travel Germany of Google confessed that they still have to learn a lot concerning hotel evaluations, which have only been possible for a few months now. But the two hotel managers dug deeper: it should not be possible to defame the Adlon Berlin as a "tart hotel" – such evaluations imply that somebody wants to harm the hotel purposefully (see article link below). And Google was not in a position to apply "star symbols" for evaluations as these had to be reserved for the official and approved hotel classification.

Petersen Christine  
Christine Petersen.


TripAdvisor as an experienced business concerning hotel evaluations and Google as a start-up business in this sector were reasonable, but demanded in return that hotel managers increase their online involvement and comment on the content of their own hotels. At Google, one possibility is via "Google Places" a tool, which is linked to "Google Maps". At TripAdvisor, one possible way is the tool of "Business Listings", which was introduced one year ago.

Danger: hotels are losing content control

Juliane Cray''s comment is very relevant: "If hotel managers do not provide their own content we use other content provided by foreign portals, for example." This clearly means: If the industry does not participate, it loses control over its content. As Google is not a classical evaluation portal but the largest search engine in the world, they probably work on automated connections of various content sources. And this could signal another disadvantage for the hotel industry.

In this context, Markus Luthe called on TripAdvisor and Google to settle their current conflict. In this conflict, TripAdvisor reacts against the fact that Google takes evaluations from its pages and uses them for its own purposes. Although TripAdvisor blocks pages for Google, Google is able to get content indirectly (from pages of other countries) – which means that evaluations do not only turn up once but five or six times, claims the hotel industry. And this again is a misbalance compared to evaluations of HolidayCheck, for example, which only appear once.

  Cray Juliane
  Juliane Cray.

The hotel industry is the victim of this conflict, criticised Luthe and said: "You cannot measure our industry by the standards of others." TripAdvisor''s President Christine Petersen did not like the behaviour of Google at all: "It is not fair to take content from TripAdvisor out of its context!", she said and reproached Google''s unfair behaviour. Juliane Cray of Google promised: if hoteliers present us with content, this content will be treated preferably; at the same time, existing partnerships are already under examination (like the one with TripAdvisor).

Questionable rankings and awards

This much was clear: in the relations network of all participants, there is a lot of tension. Right now, everybody is only revealing what is absolutely necessary. This became obvious at the mention of the keyword of rankings. "I want to know how these rankings or awards come about," said Marco Nussbaum. "When hotels with less occupancy and fewer evaluations obtain a TripAdvisor award, my members of staff are demotivated," he describes the effect within the hotel. After all, he is a media-affine boss and grants his employees two to three additional monthly wages depending on the hotel''s performance in the rankings.

Trouvain Jörg  
Joerg Trouvain.


At TripAdvisor, the rankings or hit lists are mainly assembled by hotel evaluations, by a small proportion of travel articles, and location of the hotel and the evaluations'' countries of origin. The rest was TripAdvisor''s secret, she added and blocked any further questions. The hotel managers are shaking their heads: Why should an evaluation from Munich be more important than one from Stuttgart? This question remained unanswered. Concerning this point, HolidayCheck was also criticised – by the moderator Gabriele Schulze. CEO Joerg Trouvain was not able to answer the question why resort hotels in the green are never rated as high as resort hotels, which are "connected to shops"… Apart from that, the hoteliers in unison declared HolidayCheck as a partner with open ears and fast reactions.

Have the booking methods already shifted because of the connections of search engines and hotel evaluation portals? the moderator wanted to know. It certainly looks like this as Google and TripAdvisor would like to bind the hotels closer by means of – purchasable – links and offers in future.

A dependent connection between TripAdvisor and the parent company Expedia, as suspected by the hotel managers, was strongly denied by Christine Petersen. "There is no connection!" she said insistently. But the relationship between parent company and subsidiary will change now: according to recent news, TripAdvisor is to be split off from Expedia and go public. / Maria Puetz-Willems


April 15, 2011 TripAdvisor for IPO

April 8, 2011 2020: The hotel as a living laboratory - Study presented at the ITB Hospitality Day shows future scenarios

Feb 25, 2011 Fight of the giants - How TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google influence the hotel industry


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