PAII Position Statement on Online Reviews
As most of you know, the advent of the online guest review has made a big impact on our industry. Some days, as our board chairman says in today’s press release, it feels like the “Wild West.” Innkeepers are fearful of the impact of negative reviews, and at the same time enjoy the glow of positive reviews. Many inns, which had been heretofore hidden gems, might now be discovered on account of online guest reviews.
Our industry has been accused of being a place where fraudulent review-posting is more likely to happen than in the hotel market. PAII’s own keynote speaker at our conference suggested innkeepers leave positive reviews of their own properties, which was a shock to us as well. Innkeepers complain to us about how TripAdvisor ignores the needs of our industry. There are features and policies within the review sites that may or may not meet the needs of innkeepers, our guests and the industry at-large.
In the midst of what sometimes feels like chaos, the PAII Board of Directors felt it necessary to offer a public statement on the ethics and use of online reviews. I believe the press release and position statement explain how we are feeling, as well as provide some guidance on the matter. You should look to PAII as a both resource and voice for innkeepers. In that light, I encourage you to give us your opinions, stories, grievances, at-a-boys, etc. We want to hear from you, so that we can continue to be a valuable resource, as well as carry your message to those that have a big impact on our industry. Leave your comments on this blog, or the PAII Member Forum. The press release and statement are below.
Thank you for allowing us to serve and lead,
For Immediate Release
Jay Karen, President & CEO
Professional Association of Innkeepers International
Innkeeping Association Urges Ethical, Fair Behavior for Online Review Systems
Haddon Heights, NJ, June 11, 2008 — The largest international association of innkeepers is promoting standards to ensure fair and ethical use of online guest review systems — one of the fastest growing segments of so-called “social media” on the Internet. The Board of Directors of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII) is calling on its members to adhere to the highest ethical standards, for example to not offer incentives to guests for posting a review. Similarly, PAII is asking the companies that provide online review systems to respond fairly and in a timely manner when innkeepers complain to them about false or misleading reviews posted about their properties.
In just a few years, online review systems have dramatically changed the way millions of people plan their travels. The web-based technology used by TripAdvisor.com, BedandBreakfast.com, and other companies enables leisure and business travelers to read first-hand reviews by other travelers of their experiences at hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, resorts, and restaurants.
“The widespread use of online guest reviews is a fairly recent phenomenon, and many innkeepers feel at the mercy of exceptional situations, rather than what systems seem to be designed for – honest feedback from guests. The systems most widely used by B&B guests try to prevent fraud and unethical behavior, but they are not fail-safe,” said Jay Karen, PAII’s President and Chief Executive Officer. Karen said most of the problems he hears about from innkeepers involve mean-spirited, false and misleading reviews posted by guests, and the occasional difficulties experienced by innkeepers when pursing an expedient method of addressing problems. In a few cases, innkeepers have discovered false reviews posted by their competitors. “There have been media reports and assumptions that owners and managers of smaller independent properties, like bed and breakfasts, are somehow more prone to circumventing the rules of these sites. While this is not true, we want to set the record straight regarding the ethical standards this industry supports, and this statement articulates our position.”
PAII’s position statement addresses the appropriate decorum which innkeepers should follow. In addition, the statement covers what the association’s board feels is “fair play” for the sites that offer opportunities for guests to leave reviews. “False negative reviews on these sites can definitely color a potential guest’s likelihood of making a reservation, and we want to encourage administrators of these sites to rapidly address grievances and reports of fraudulent activity,” says Karen. “Lost business is a very serious matter, especially if you’re an innkeeper with only 5 rooms in your inventory.” Karen reports that the systems are generally working well for innkeepers, but that singular incidents of indiscretion seem to disproportionately impact innkeepers, who have reported grievances to the PAII office. “The leaders in the business of online reviews are TripAdvisor, which promotes its services to the general traveling public, and BedandBreakfast.com, which specializes in our industry. Innkeepers and guests should avail themselves to all reputable sources, but sites that demonstrate a deep understanding of the B&B marketplace are going to be most helpful when travelers are looking for the special experience offered by a stay at an inn or bed and breakfast.”
“While there have definitely been transgressions in any industry that has online user reviews, we believe the rules established by these web sites are only one piece of the puzzle,” says Debrah Mosimann, PAII’s board chair and owner of Swiss Woods Inn in Lititz, Pennsylvania. “It’s important for an industry’s representative group to establish its own benchmark of appropriate conduct. In many ways, these web sites are doing a great service for our industry by bringing to light matters that innkeepers need to address at their own properties, and yet also giving exposure to hidden gems in our industry that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Some days it seems like the Wild West out there with user reviews, and we hope to provide a little bit of guidance to the stakeholders in our industry – the user review sites and the several thousand innkeepers who deliver the experiences being revealed for the public to see.”
PAII’s position statement, while not an official code of ethics, is intended to address a current matter of importance in the innkeeping industry.
About PAII:The Professional Association of Innkeepers International is the innkeeping industry’s trade organization, representing owners of bed and breakfasts and country inns. PAII provides education, communications, public relations, networking, and research services to its membership and the greater industry. PAII hosts the world’s largest annual gathering of innkeepers, the Innkeeping Conference & Trade Show, and publishes the industry’s leading trade publication, Innkeeping Quarterly (IQ).
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PAII, the professional association for owners of bed and breakfasts and inns, believes online travel reviews can be a useful source of information for both travelers and innkeepers. Research shows that travelers are far more likely to trust an evaluation or review of a product or service by a fellow consumer than a paid advertisement by the manufacturer or service provider, or even reviews from professional journalists.
Unfortunately, the review process is susceptible to dishonest acts: “good” or positive reviews can be posted by friends of lodging properties or by the properties themselves. And “bad” or negative reviews can be posted about a competitor, or travelers can post negative reviews based on misleading information, a misunderstanding, or an unwarranted grudge. While the review sites themselves have a number of mechanisms intended to prevent dishonesty, these mechanisms are not foolproof, and unscrupulous individuals or businesses will look for ways to bypass the safeguards.
First and foremost, PAII does not support any kind of false or deliberately misleading reviews, whether positive or negative. Reviews should be posted only by guests who have stayed at a property. Inn management should be able to respond to all reviews, with responses posted promptly alongside the corresponding reviews. A guest should be allowed to submit more than one review for each visit to a property during the course of a year, or at minimum be able to update older reviews with relevant new information.
PAII also supports, and will strongly pursue, effective and balanced online review systems for proper monitoring of reviews and responses to complaints of misuse. Expedited responses to innkeeper grievances are paramount, because unresolved matters could result in lost business.
Innkeepers should solicit feedback from their guests, both during and after their stays. PAII also believes it is appropriate for innkeepers to encourage guests to post independent reviews. However, it is not appropriate to offer incentives for them to do so.
The internet and its many utilities will continue to grow and change. PAII and its members will grow and change as well, and in the process, maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.
Adopted by the PAII Board of Directors
June 6, 2008