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Giving Back To Fellow Travelers

I was on a trip to Salt Lake City with several colleagues and my older daughter last year, and we needed to find a place to eat dinner.

My daughter has a system for these situations: Look for TripAdvisor’s top-rated restaurant in the area and try to get a reservation there. If that’s not practical, move to restaurant number two and work your way down the list.

It so happened that, then as now, the number-one restaurant in Salt Lake City was Valter’s Osteria, located a few blocks from the Temple Square complex. Our party was able to secure a last-minute reservation. So, after touring the Tabernacle and other public venues on Temple Square, my colleagues, my daughter and I enjoyed what may be the best Italian meal I have ever had outside Italy - and a better meal than most I’ve had inside that country, too.

Salt Lake City is not the place I would have guessed I’d have that experience. But that is the beauty of listening to your fellow travelers on TripAdvisor.

This is a good place for me to confess that I am not doing my part. Although I travel a considerable amount for both business and pleasure, I have never submitted a TripAdvisor review. Call me a lurker. Call me a mooch. But in an age of social networking, where comments from peers can provide so much insight (at least when taken with the proper dosage of salt), I know I should do more to hold up my end of the bargain. Maybe it will be my New Year’s resolution.

TripAdvisor turned 15 this year, and the company moved to a new Massachusetts headquarters in July. According to The Washington Post, the site sees an average of 160 new review submissions a minute, arriving from the keyboards of more than 84 million reviewers. A recent survey conducted by travel marketing company MMGY indicated that more than half of respondents now trust review sites like TripAdvisor more than the advice of established travel guides like Fodor’s and AAA.

TripAdvisor originally set out to compile existing travel wisdom, with employees linking to useful travel articles and sorting them by property and location for easy searching. Its user-submitted reviews were something of an afterthought. However, when it became clear that those user reviews were getting much more traffic than anything else, TripAdvisor changed course and grew rapidly as a result. The site’s users, who today benefit from a huge, searchable database of their fellow travelers’ experiences, freely give back by writing reviews of their own. And while many users think of the site primarily when researching hotels, TripAdvisor offers reviews of restaurants, cruises and local attractions as well. (The site recently rolled out pages for 200 major airports.)

TripAdvisor has become a valuable resource, not just for discovering new treasures in unexpected places, but also because it has genuinely opened a two-way conversation between the hospitality industry and its guests. Travelers these days can expect hotel or restaurant managers to pay close attention to reviews posted on TripAdvisor, as well as those posted to Yelp, Twitter and other social media. In all likelihood, these managers are indeed getting valuable information not only from praise, but also criticism and complaints that may identify problems they did not know they had. Well-run establishments address not only the complainers themselves, but also the underlying problems in a timely fashion.

Reacting to customer reviews isn’t only good service; these days, it can have a real impact on a venue’s bottom line. A study by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research found that a hotel that can increase its overall review score can also increase its average daily rates and maintain its market share, at least to a point. For big chains, this is nice, but probably not essential; for independent and boutique establishments, however, a commitment to providing an excellent experience can convince more travelers to take a chance off the beaten track.

Moreover, when someone at a property goes beyond the call of duty to make a guest’s life easier, prompt and public recognition on a site like TripAdvisor is a valuable motivator. It might even help advance that employee’s career, if he or she is mentioned by name. While the old adage has it that a happy customer tells a friend while an unhappy customer tells the world, sites like TripAdvisor encourage all types of customers to share all kinds of reactions with the world, from “ugh” to “eh” to “wow.”

So I won’t make excuses for my TripAdvisor slacking. If I am going to partake of my fellow travelers’ thoughtfulness, I ought to put something of my own on the table.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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