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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
Wine tour operator, wine writer and lapsed physiotherapist. "Nature abhors a vacuum. I personally hate dusting."


Monday, January 28, 2013

The Rise and Rise of TripAdvisor - Ignore It At Your Peril

Eleven years ago when I started my wine tourism company, it was a wide open field.  There was only one other wine tour company in Auckland. And that one had been operating for just 12 months.

Now it’s as crowded as all hell, with 13 tour companies offering wine tours around greater Auckland.  Some of these offer wine tours a side-line to their other tour options and are less of a threat, but there remain about 6 serious operators with small one man band companies like mine.

Back in the old days, clients would find me via a brochure (displayed free in major hotel lobbies, or a paid brochure pocket at an tourist  info centre), via one of the many search engines (Google was just one of a crowd then), via word of mouth from a concierge, or by searching a travel guide such as Lonely Planet, Frommers or Rough Guides.  The travel guides based their ratings on a ‘mystery shopper’ concept where a staff writer would anonymously take a tour and then post feedback in the Auckland section of their book.

Today, rightly or wrongly, TripAdvisor has risen exponentially to be the Bible for most internet savvy international travellers.  Accommodation providers, attractions and tour companies stand or fall, depending on the sheer volume and quality of their TripAdvisor reviews.  By and large, it does work and a canny researcher is able to sort the good from the bad by searching TripAdvisor reviews.  However, there are false negatives and false positives.  A recent BBC documentary exposed the phenomenon of serial nit picking complainers who had an obsession with scrutinizing everything they could find and then posting their damning opinions online.  One of these was a man who had been bullied as a child and now relished the chance to take control and wield power over others.  On the other hand, some businesses have been known to offer incentives and discounts in return for a favourable review.
And on the erm, third hand … there are those who blackmail a business with a bad review - unless they get a discount.

To be fair, TripAdvisor has a very rigorous fraud policy and seems to have excellent analytics to detect self-reviewing, or negative reviews posted by competitors. Having said all that – it’s not fool proof.  If I had a number of overseas friends I could theoretically get them to post glowing reviews on tours which never occurred.  Or a  competitor could get a friend to take a tour  with me and then post bad feedback. 

My feeling is that unless Lonely Planet, Frommers and Rough Guides start an interactive website with a customer feedback section, they will get steam rollered by the TripAdvisor juggernaut and be an obsolete paper based guide.  Which is a shame, as I believe the value of the anonymous review carries more weight than a punter with an agenda.

Meanwhile, I honestly feel slightly embarrassed to constantly have to ask my client s to post a TripAdvisor review.  I mean – they paid the money, I delivered the tour.  They’re happy.  I’m happy.  Should be end of story - and everyone lived happily ever after.
But now it’s all about  hounding your clients for feedback after the tour.  I’d rather not – but my competitors are getting business by being frequently rated on TripAdvisor.  Maybe one day TripAdvisor will be supplanted by The Next Big Thing in tourism guides, but meantime – tour operators are at the mercy of their clients' reviews.


  1. Totally agree with you Phil - I've had a friend who had a really bad review posted on Trip Advisor for her farm-stay (which is a great place by the way) and was devastated by it and it's ongoing result.
    I'm reluctant to use Trip Advisor (I own an accommodation business) and also don't like to hound my guests to post reviews.
    It's another example of modern (in)conveniences that aren't so great at times and a huge elephant sitting in the room which I realise needs addressed addressed - be in it or suffer the consequences...

  2. Yes - it's not like we can opt out and leave ourselves to the market.
    You either go with TripAdvisor or you fall off the radar.