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Hoteliers Attend Boot-Camp to Get Schooled in Reputation Management

By Hannah Sampson, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 10, 2011--Typical day on TripAdvisor watch: Address the comment about slow check-in. Apologize for the musty smell reported by upset former guest. Thank the satisfied customer for the nice review.

Hotel representatives from a swath of destinations including Jamaica, Tampa and South Florida attended a free TripAdvisor boot camp on Thursday at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach to learn how to better handle the attention that the site brings. Nearly 250 registered to attend.

Friday's sessions were the first "master classes" offered in Miami-Dade by the site, which features ratings based on reviews from anonymous users. TripAdvisor -- launched in 2000 and the best-known traveler review site -- claims more than 40 million unique visitors a month.

When it comes to reviews, said presenter Daniel Edward Craig, a hotel consultant, "You can't escape them. You can't hide."

He and TripAdvisor staff highlighted the areas where hoteliers do have control -- in responding to praise or criticism, posting photos and videos and encouraging more people to participate in reviews. The meeting also served as a sales pitch for TripAdvisor Business Listings, which launched in January 2010 and allows hoteliers to post contact information, links and special offers at a cost that ranges from a few hundred dollars to more than $10,000 a year, depending on the size of the property.

The class came as TripAdvisor has faced harsh criticism, and some threats of legal action, over defamatory reviews and questions about allowing anyone to post a review, without requiring them to prove whether they have stayed at the property.

Payea said the company has a zero-tolerance policy for fraud on the part of both reviewers and hoteliers and devotes considerable resources to sniffing out false claims. He said the classes were intended to empower hotels to use the tools available.

Margaret Rose, director of operations at Sonesta Bayfront Hotel in Coconut Grove, attended one of the sessions and said online reviews are discussed at her hotel on a daily basis.

"It gives you immediate feedback," she said, and an idea of what needs to be fixed. So when guests complained about noise from nearby nightlife venues in Coconut Grove, the hotel brought those issues to the city and police.

While Rose said she responds to negative reviews, TripAdvisor industry relations Brian Payea said she's in the minority. Only about 7 percent of negative responses get a management reply.

Jose Batista, a front office manager at Airport Regency Hotel in Miami, said he checks the site every day so he can reply to reviews.

He said Friday that TripAdvisor should discard old negative reviews if hotels have made management changes or undergone renovations; currently, that can only happen if a hotel changes its brand or ownership.

Despite his concerns, Batista said the site is "super important" to his hotel.

"We have to be on their side. They are too big to be ignored," he said. "We need them and they don't really need us. But they need to be fair."


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