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Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

Atascadero...
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Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

Having been a user, a now formerly listed ( and very highly ranked with no prodding for reviews ) business, a DE and frequent contributor for many years, I have always been distressed to keep seeing the revolving door of businesses working this entity for all its worth.

Whether its the newest restaurant, B&B, hotel, spa, chocolatier, etc.. I am constantly amazed when the latest business to jump on the "pump every customer for a glowing review" bandwagon with no concern for how it affects the overall integrity and trustworthiness of this site.

The assumption that nobody notices these trends or isn't the slightest bit suspicious is incredibly naive and calculating.

How anyone could think that in this day and age of skepticism and doubts about online veracity, business people would still embark on clearly transparent campaigns to garner more and more reviews in rapid succession is beyond me.

The pattern is virtually always the same. Huge bunches of superlative laden reviews in very unnatural patterns of frequency with a rapid rise in the rankings, followed by unreasonably elevated expectations, which are then followed eventually by the inevitable negative reviews due to travelers putting too much stock in all the glowing reviews and being let down.

Or the business just isn't up to the challenge of providing the kind of service or quality, readers grow to expect.

Just some food for thought.

New Mexico
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378 posts
9 reviews
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11. Re: Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

TimToad, I just realized that you were the OP, apologies for not taking the time to scroll to the top of the page and double check. So thank you for bringing up this topic!

I think ultimately the TA forums are like any other consumer-oriented forum: people who come here for advice, or to read reviews, need to use common sense, and take responsibility for double-checking to see if what they read here can be verified anywhere else. To use the restaurant example, there are some restaurants that are highly ranked for Albuquerque that are, thank goodness, not the actual best that the city has to offer. And if you take the time to check other restaurant review sites, you can figure that out pretty quickly.

That said, I think that TA, and the wonderful people who post on the various fora, offer an invaluable service. When I'm planning a trip, wherever it is, TA is where I come first, and a few people abusing the spirit of the site haven't changed that for me.

Atascadero...
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12. Re: Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

ConCelli,

I think where the rubber hits the road for me and others is that "not the actual best that the city has to offer." is actually who is the best at soliciting reviews.

Are there flaws in the system, some overly aggressive, capitalistic manipulators of this or any other similar venues? without a doubt.

This site is enormously effective at generating new traffic for the top ranked businesses whether one believes most people use some skepticism and filter through things or not, so its not surprising see the kind of effort it must take to "work" it pretty hard.

Speaking from my professional experience. To get even a few reviews a month or even a dozen or so per year without hammering people to submit them is about average and a natural pace I see my colleagues with a similar ethic and approach receive. You start seeing some business getting them nearly every day or in big frequent bunches and it isn't just because good hearted travelers want to "share" or "confirm" the previous reviews as Bandmom has suggested or hopes for.

When in business, if we had a nickel for every well intentioned guest who swore up and down ( ad nauseum in fact, until it became extremely annoying, ) that they intended to run home and "confirm" that their experience mirrored those in the previous reviews and never did so, we'd have retired, not gone out and gotten day jobs.

People are really busy and once home from vacation, get caught up in catching up and regaining their normal routine. I know we always are. The only way I can justify why the places getting huge numbers of and very frequent reviews is that the simple, innocent enough request for a review must turn into multiple reminders, etc.. ( hopefully not worse..... )

Edmond, OK
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474 posts
50 reviews
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13. Re: Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

I think you may be right, Tim - once again, read all the reviews, considering the dates - but that would involve some time and research. And, I think alot of people would rather not review a place than give a bad one. Well, there you have it. Hopefully, folks will come here for information on some place they are interested in. That's why there are the experts!

Santa Fe, New Mexico
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6,399 posts
83 reviews
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14. Re: Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

A clue that "management" is fiddling the TA system is when ones already posted review suddenly disapears...Cynical operators hammer on the mods for deletion of adverse comment using TA notions of fairness...When the member actually attempts to go into detail on precieved issues with a offending property...The post seems considered a "rant". Now truly, we cannot tolorate unpleasantness in this site...carracar

Silver City, New...
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for Silver City, New Mexico
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45 reviews
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15. Re: Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

I agree with all the foregoing comments. It may be worthwhile to mention some of the criteria *I* use when evaluating a restaurant or lodging:

1. I will often discount a negative review if the reviewer has posted no other review but the bad one. Someone who has written several reviews, both positive and negative, counts for more credibility; someone with no other reviews may have been 'encouraged' to write one (positive) or may have a grudge (negative)...and if the positive review from a first-review reviewer mentions the chef by name, my BS alarm goes off.

2. I look for consistency in the comments in the reviews that a venue receives-- and examine them carefully, with a grain of salt. A terrific restaurant that I enjoyed in New Orleans gets the occasional complaint that the place supposedly isn't worth the trip from the French Quarter to get there; once you understand that many tourists come to NOLA and *never* venture out of the Quarter at all, then you have a clue about how much weight to give the comment..

Taos, New Mexico
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644 posts
38 reviews
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16. Re: Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

It takes a certain type of love for this Forum and for New Mexico itself to participate in these Forums and we ultimately appreciate the answers we read here because we see their positive impact. For us, it's a love/hate thing.

After coming to Taos about 4 years ago and seeing our Inn listed as #12 out of 43 in the County listing (which only 5% of visitors go to) and #8 out of 27 for Taos proper, we attended various professional Innkeeper conferences where TA had staff present and where seminars were given on the whole TA phenomenon, including responding to reviews, etc.

We asked *some* of our guests early on to post a review and suddenly our listing shot up to #3, then slowly over time to #2. We trade off #1 with a Guest House business. Should guest houses and B&B's be listed together? Probably not, but TA sets the rules and their corporate culture has been very defensive and non-responsive on this matter despite direct involvement from tourist officials in our region.

Our position in the rankings on these pages allows folks to feel more comfortable staying with us. TA lists 22 B&B's in Taos and 38 in Taos County these days. That's a lot of choices for a first-timer.

Being #1 or #2 combined with working the programs that TA offers has also increased the volume of traffic to our website (direct referrals from the TA website to ours) by hundreds of percentage points year over year since we started paying attention. Please don't take this the wrong way. Our ranking is hard-earned and keeping it is a source of pride for our small staff.

I wish I could give you a screen shot of the Management Center page for our B&B but its all copyrighted. TA actively solicits a variety of products to businesses. There are basic and enhanced subscriptions available. A TA sales rep calls on B&B's all over our region on a regular basis trying to get new or enhanced subscriptions. They want us to solicit reviews since it increases traffic and substantially increases the value of the advertising sidebars they run.

It should be said, however, that those who know how to "work" within the system must also be ready to get their you-know-whats handed to them by folks who had a bad experience. Look at the reviews of the top-ranked restaurants, for example, who have had their share of negatives. Almost all of them actively respond to each negative review since an increasing number of folks believe themselves to be James Beard Award judges. Again, is it fair?

It's all part of the wonder associated with a social media site like TA. Those who try to fake their way to the top will never succeed. New studies published by Hotel Management Schools have developed ways to detect fake reviews and TA's own programs to root out such nonsense have been pretty successful.

For all the good that it has done for us, there continues to be some terrible side affects of the TA phenomenon. In Taos, TA is literally putting people out of business because of the way they exclude them from listings based upon their Zip Codes. I've posted a rant or two about this in other TA forums in the past. It's a horrible thing to watch, but as one TA VP told me about a year and a half ago, TA won't act because "New Mexico has to fix its geography." Huh? Luckily, our business' geographic location means we're always going to be listed in Taos, but those listed in just Taos County have virtually no visibility. The Town of Taos bought the landing pages for both Taos and Taos County on TA last year. The volume of traffic to the Taos County landing page was so incredibly low they are dropping that program this year and only purchasing the Taos landing page.

Bottom Line: We participate in TA's programs because it is the 600-lb gorilla in the room right now. Businesses ignore it at their own peril. On the day of check-out from our B&B every guest receives an e-mail using a format provided by TA itself with links to the review page for our B&B. We believe, however, that the only *control* we have over this is to focus entirely on the guest experience WHILE THEY ARE HERE.

Santa Fe, NM
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249 posts
10 reviews
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17. Re: Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

Here, here Taos BandBLover!

For those who might rant about the mysterious TA ranking system that can place little businesses above fine old institutions, I think that most businesses who focus on making their customers happy in a consistent fashion and encourage them to participate in the TA experience either with reports or reviews are going to show up favorably.

Big or little businesses, older and newer can all participate.

Asking regular customers to report or review is encouraged by TA, and is the modern equivalent of asking "tell your friends and family". No incentives, not fake reviews, not trickery, not hounding.

And since my little business has never to my knowledge been used, mentioned or recommended by the DEs in this forum, I'm glad my regular paying customers think well enough of us to review favorably--consequently ranking us well on TA. No insult to the DEs (who give excellent advice!), but I guess we just aren't on their personal radars.

Good business practice still means great customer service for a fair price, but the internet and sites like TA mean that your "word of mouth" reports--good or bad--get broadcast more widely. If your good hospitality business is not on TA, you simply won't see as many visitors.

But as said by Taos BandBLover, the way to get listed well is to work hard for your customers during their visit.

USA
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9,465 posts
44 reviews
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18. Re: Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

Informative info from the last 2 posters giving me insight in TA from another perspective. I appreciate that.

One-time-wonder reviews concern some of the DEs on AK forums. It's all a part of it. I take it all with a grain of salt.

I know personally my own reviews are skewed since I tend to review places that I loved. For example, I don't even want to think about some of the hotels-from-hell that we've had to stay at on the alcan over the years much less remind myself of them by writing a review LOL

Plus, as a DE, I have my own personal biases for what I love to do, my passions in the back country. So my recommendations are in itself myopic and narrow.

Hopefully, folks glean a lot of info from here in a lot of various formats in order to make an informed decision that seems the best fit for their own personal leanings.

Cheers!

ps Just spent glorious week in Santa Fe in a $40 casita off the plaza as a respite from our off-the-grid cabin on the high road. Santa Fe plaza area rocks!

Edited: 07 March 2012, 08:59
Atascadero...
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19. Re: Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

The last three posts were all very interesting, but nowhere near to the point I originally was making, or very reassuring to the "average" TA user who probably naively still thinks this is a user driven. unfettered clearinghouse of information put forth primarily by other travelers of their own volition and motivation.

In fact, if I was one of those uninformed, not very cynical and trusting users, my whole belief in the above stated perception of how TA works would now be blown thanks to the revelations of the authors of posts # 16 and 17.

The rationale that just because TA encourages businesses to take full advantage of the programs and review propagation encouragement it offers, does not:

a.) make it right

b.) provide a totally trustworthy or completely objective basis for traveler's opinions thanks to the element of interference and manipulation of the review procurement process.

c.) eliminate doubts in many user's minds about the veracity and trustworthiness of reviews, as certain unnatural patterns in both frequency and wording present themselves.

While I do agree that a business still has to deliver on its service, quality, etc... the premise I stated earlier about the inevitable "I went to XYZ Cafe based on all the glowing reviews and was disappointed" type reviews certainly muddy the water enough to force quite a bit of due diligence on the average user's part to sift out the truth. Which was a major point of my original thoughts.

I'd be the last person to dissuade folks from working this entity for all its worth if that's the course one sees fit. I think whether its sanctioned by TA or not, I truly believe it veers away from this site's original mission and caters to the worst in our capitalistic impulses. Especially due to the lack of real oversight, policing and its inherent anonymity.

People defending an aggressive approach to review procurement can rationalize about TA's security and fraud measures all day long as safeguards against abuse, but in the end, no system is foolproof. If a business doesn't respect its own colleagues that don't take the same approach enough to ease back on the throttle just a tad, or not feel just a little funny or self-conscious about "working" a system knowing full well what its original and current mission and primary thrust is, then there will always be at least a couple businesses in any one area operating at a substantial advantage over those that may be doing just as good of a job on the important things, just not as good of a job procuring reviews on this enormously powerful marketing tool.

Which at one time, was a TRAVELER driven resource and information clearinghouse.

Which was the whole point and has been for all the years that I've raised these kinds of concerns.

Personally, I wouldn't patronize a business that makes it too obvious just how much effort and attention they are putting into those efforts. I also wouldn't recommend one to anyone.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
Destination Expert
for Santa Fe, Mesa Verde National Park, Boulder, New Mexico
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52 reviews
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20. Re: Flavors of the month or folks just working this thing hard?

I will say that my forum posts and reviews are all my opinions. I have received numerous private messages from local lodging and restaurant owners, and have never followed up on their invitations.

I hope everyone gets information from TA and has great vacations!