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“Not friendly or helpful,” says Rene of Rochester, NY of one Downtown Denver hotel. “Room was just OK. Second night a group of people were talking outside our room. I called the front desk and the clerk said they’d received other complaints. They kept us up until 6 a.m. We checked out and they charged us for this terrible night.”Or, a trendy New Orleans boutique’s reviews available through Orbitz, comments that both slap and praise. Anonymous from Honolulu, HI on Jan. 8, writes, “Being that we were there for the Sugar Bowl, the location was convenient. I would have liked to stay on Canal Street but for the value it worked. No restaurant, though. Hotel was adequate and clean. But the street car stopped right in front. Would recommend to a friend.”The same hotel also has two other postings: “Staff unfriendly.” Two scrolls down: “Staff very friendly.”The maturation of online reviews by hotel guests – a phenomena soaring since travel search and booking Internet engines such as Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia are now embedded in the travelers’ vernacular – is steering consumers away from some hotels and toward others. It’s also causing hotel owners and operators to jump into the internet fray, responding at digital speed to negative reviews and changing operations to preserve a properties’ reputation — and ultimately its bottom line.

In 2006, Travelocity bought the 8-year-old IgoUgo.com consumer review site. Unlike reviews and capabilities posted on most travel search sites, IgoUgo’s is restricted to consumer reviews and has a bevy of steady contributors with screen names and column-like travelogues from across the world. Some have standing reviews with his or her own following. They contain warnings, blessings and information regarding the hotel-stay experience, plus additional information on location and nearby amenities, both good and bad.

Cameron Siewart, content and community manager at IgoUgo, says the review site is launching a hotel owner/operator-response page to address issues raised in consumer reviews. Do hoteliers take negative reviews seriously? She tells GlobeSt.com that “we do hear from properties on a regular basis asking for negative reviews to be taken down, which we do not do unless reviews clearly violate our terms or conditions” of use.What are the three major sins to block a posting? “It can’t be slanderous or contain offensive language and it can’t be written by hotel managers,” Siewart says.

Siewart’s staff vets each review entry, and yes, general managers have attempted to post fake reviews. “We’ve had hotel managers 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 recognize market-speak.”

IgoUgo has 350,000 contributing members across the globe, Siewart points out. “There are several motivations” for contributing content. The biggest one is that users have been helped before” by online reviews. And those reviews are heavily relied upon. “Definitely, people who come to IgoUgo are coming for firsthand information from those who have stayed there before, and it is a big factor on where they’ll decide to stay, based on price, convenience…it’s a powerful driver or deterrent” steering consumers, she says.

Travelocity director of descriptive and visual content Jeff Varhol, based in New York City, says the 12-year-old company has seen a surge on dependence by travelers on property reviews that pop up when searching for a flight or hotel. “I think all along some folks really paid attention to the reviews, and are now getting more and more engaged” in using them, Varhol says.

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

Yes, Varhol says, chains and independents alike howl about negative postings. “We hear from major chains all the time, and not just about negative reviews. One anecdote comes to mind from a long-time member’s review of a Doubletree Hotel in Austin (TX), she had a great experience, and the property manger messaged thanks and promised she’d get the VIP experience (free)” on her next visit.

Reviews aren’t being used just to wage complaint wars or lump praise on hotels. Traveler demographics require different hotel experiences, and the websites are letting them know whether that oceanfront hotel in South Miami Beach is more likely loaded with Spring Break clientele, or is instead a great place for young kids. Corporate travelers booking their own flights also use the engines to ensure the hotel is conducive to their needs, particularly regarding location. A potential guest might not want the airport hotel by the freeway, or the well-known brand high-rise on the seedier side to town.

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

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