In 2006, Travelocity bought the 8-year-old IgoUgo.com consumerreview site. Unlike reviews and capabilities posted on most travelsearch sites, IgoUgo's is restricted to consumer reviews and has abevy of steady contributors with screen names and column-liketravelogues from across the world. Some have standing reviews withhis or her own following. They contain warnings, blessings andinformation regarding the hotel-stay experience, plus additionalinformation on location and nearby amenities, both good andbad.

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Cameron Siewart, content and community manager at IgoUgo, saysthe review site is launching a hotel owner/operator-response pageto address issues raised in consumer reviews. Do hoteliers takenegative reviews seriously? She tells GlobeSt.com that "we do hearfrom properties on a regular basis asking for negative reviews tobe taken down, which we do not do unless reviews clearly violateour terms or conditions'' of use.What are the three major sins toblock a posting? "It can't be slanderous or contain offensivelanguage and it can't be written by hotel managers,'' Siewartsays.

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Siewart's staff vets each review entry, and yes, generalmanagers have attempted to post fake reviews. "We've had hotelmanagers write reviews and use their (business) e-mail addresses,''Siewart says. "We review every incoming entry for integrity and(staff) is trained to track fakes. It's not that hard to recognizemarket-speak."

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IgoUgo has 350,000 contributing members across the globe,Siewart points out. "There are several motivations" forcontributing content. The biggest one is that users have beenhelped before" by online reviews. And those reviews are heavilyrelied upon. "Definitely, people who come to IgoUgo are coming forfirsthand information from those who have stayed there before, andit is a big factor on where they'll decide to stay, based on price,convenience…it's a powerful driver or deterrent'' steeringconsumers, she says.

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Travelocity director of descriptive and visual content JeffVarhol, based in New York City, says the 12-year-old company hasseen a surge on dependence by travelers on property reviews thatpop up when searching for a flight or hotel. "I think all alongsome folks really paid attention to the reviews, and are nowgetting more and more engaged" in using them, Varhol says.

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Most reviews are standardized among the travel search andbooking sites, with rating systems running from one to five. Oneitem required is the purpose of the trip, business or leisure, avaluable tool to hotel operators. Reviewers must apply the one tofive rating to several categories in order to be posted by mostsites, including checking in, location, hotel staff, maintenance,room cleanliness, dining options and whether the stay was worth theprice.

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Yes, Varhol says, chains and independents alike howl aboutnegative postings. "We hear from major chains all the time, and notjust about negative reviews. One anecdote comes to mind from along-time member's review of a Doubletree Hotel in Austin (TX), shehad a great experience, and the property manger messaged thanks andpromised she'd get the VIP experience (free)'' on her nextvisit.

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Reviews aren't being used just to wage complaint wars or lumppraise on hotels. Traveler demographics require different hotelexperiences, and the websites are letting them know whether thatoceanfront hotel in South Miami Beach is more likely loaded withSpring Break clientele, or is instead a great place for young kids.Corporate travelers booking their own flights also use the enginesto ensure the hotel is conducive to their needs, particularlyregarding location. A potential guest might not want the airporthotel by the freeway, or the well-known brand high-rise on theseedier side to town.

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Hoteliers are also using the reviews to better their operations.More importantly, Varhol says operators and owners are coming toTravelocity and its competitors to "see what different (hotel)segments appreciate about their properties and where theiropportunities are."

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