The good, the bad and the review

By Trent Bagnall, Co Founder, Slingshot Accelerator

Does anybody actually read website reviews on hotels and restaurants? It turns out that 93 per cent of people say reviews impact their booking decisions and 51 per cent of travellers have written accommodation reviews after a trip.

Recently, I spent time in Thailand and it’s fair to say the quality of food, service and accommodation has improved remarkably in the last decade.

On first glance it’s easy to attribute this to the rebuilding after the 2004 tsunami. I think I can make an argument that review sites such as TripAdvisor have had a massive impact on the way hotels and restaurants operate in Thailand and that there are lessons here for Hunter businesses, particularly with the recent increase in cruise ship arrivals in Newcastle.

One evening the question of “Do we eat at restaurant A or restaurant B?” arrived.

Restaurant A looked great and after walking past the previous evening would have been my obvious choice. Restaurant B was 20 plastic tables and looked like an obvious case of food poisoning in waiting.

Before we headed off to restaurant A, I had a quick look at some website reviews for advice. The advice was simple; avoid restaurant A like the plague and go to restaurant B. The 3000 crowd reviews were correct. The food was excellent at restaurant B. Soon enough there was a line waiting, taxi queue style for a table.

I grabbed a quick moment with the restaurant owner and asked how important website reviews were to her business. She estimated that 80 per cent of her trade was via website reviews. Not only that, she employed a full-time social media expert to respond to good and bad reviews and took them into serious consideration when she measured how her business was delivering to customers.

I knew reviews were important to all businesses, but this brought the value of reviews into sharp focus.

The next day I discussed the same topic with a tour operator that organised sight-seeing trips to the islands off Phuket.

On return I decided to look at how Newcastle-based restaurants and hotels approached reviews from customers on these sites. I would say less than a handful are actively engaged in responding to customer reviews with some only responding to the good ones and seemingly ignoring the bad ones.

A number of the Newcastle establishments that had over 500 reviews, had a similar theme of complaints about service, food quality and atmosphere; the same complaints from multiple customers over and over again.

As in Thailand, Hunter businesses are now competing with the world for a share of the tourism dollar, it’s not simply a local league competition anymore and establishment owners need to recognise that online feedback and reviews form a crucial component to their success.

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