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Transparency Provided to Potential Guests Scores Points for
Hotels Posting Website Links to Reviews, Good or Bad

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sept. 24, 2012--The online review of the Best Western hotel in Eagle Rock started with a critical headline: "Very poor quality, will never stay here again."

What is surprising is that the review was posted on a link found on the hotel's own website.

Best Western International, one of the world's largest hotel chains, announced last week that it had redesigned its website, adding links to reviews submitted by guests to the website TripAdvisor.

The move marks a trend in the hotel industry.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. --whose brands include Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis -- began last year to encourage guests to post reviews on travel websites.

In March, Wyndham Hotel Group began to include TripAdvisor reviews on its reward program site, where visitors can book rooms in Wyndham hotels such as Ramada, Days Inn, Howard Johnson and Travelodge.

TripAdvisor officials say they use advanced algorithms and tips from website users to flag and delete bogus reviews.

Although hotels that post links to reviews on their own website run the risk of losing customers because of harsh reviews, there's still an upside even if all comments aren't rosy, they can also benefit from the reviews, said Neha Singh, an assistant professor at the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona.

"One benefit is the transparency," she said. "It allows guests in a transparent way to see what other guest enjoyed and did not enjoy at the hotel."

Hotel review sites are so prevalent that Singh said hotels might as well post them and show that they have nothing to hide.

Beyond just linking to reviews, Best Western officials say they are also responding to the posts with messages on TripAdvisor from management to show that the hotel is committed to making improvements.

"Most of the reviews we see out there are positive," said Michael Morton, vice president of member services at Best Western. "If negative reviews come up, we respond. It's another way for our hotels to show our priorities."

Shop around for in-flight Wi-Fi

On the streets of most cities, access to wireless Internet is as ubiquitous as coffee shops. But on domestic airlines, Wi-Fi is still available on only about a third of flights.

A new study by the flight-rating website Routehappy found that 31% of domestic flights offered wireless access as of Sept. 17.

To improve your chances of getting in-flight Wi-Fi access, you'll need to shop around for the right airline.

For example, Virgin America and AirTran Airways offer wireless Internet access on 100% of their flights, according to Routehappy. Among larger carriers, Delta has Internet on about 65% of its flights, while Southwest offers it on 37% of its flights.

On the other end of the scale are airlines such as American (22% of its flights), US Airways (8%) and United (0.5%), according to Routehappy. United hopes to improve its ranking: It has announced plans to install satellite-based Wi-Fi on the rest of the fleet by the end of 2015.

Translation help at the ready

Traveling abroad on business but don't speak the language?

Not to worry. You can communicate in dozens of languages through digital translation software that you can upload to your smartphone, such as Google Translate. Or you can call a service that charges you by the minute to speak with an interpreter, such as Language Line Services.

A new entry into the market is Travel Team Inc., a travel management company in New York that has developed the Interpretravel app, which can be loaded onto iPhones and other mobile devices.

Users of the application can tap buttons on the screen to connect to interpreters -- 20 languages are available -- for $2.89 a minute.

But be warned: Launching the app and getting an interpreter on the phone can take up to a minute or two, so turn it on before you find yourself in a taxicab in Moscow, trying to get to your hotel.


(c)2012 the Los Angeles Times

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