The internet is a wonderful thing. It has completely changed the way we live and work and many would admit that they cannot live without it. However, as we all know, the Internet is also a force to be reckoned with – a pool of information from which you cannot retract information – once it’s out there, it belongs to the public.
Today, I would like to talk to you about Trip Advisor.
For those of you who do not know what it is, Trip Advisor is an online platform that allows people to rate and review restaurants, hotels, days out, clubs, bars and pretty much anything you can imagine. There are reviews on TripAdvisor for businesses in every country in the world. I think that it is a wonderful thing and I have used it myself. When I plan a holiday, of course I double check the review of the hotel I am staying in and one thing that I have noticed is that I will, without fail, look at the one and two star reviews. Maybe it’s the part of me that needs to know the worst case scenario. And what is always strange is that someone can give a place 5 stars and someone else, on the same day can give the same business 1 star. Perhaps some people are generally more positive than others, perhaps its a question of standards or maybe it is even something as simple as personal taste.
According to a Telegraph article, the majority of Trip Advisor reviews are positive with most people just wanting to share about a lovely experience. This does give me a lot of faith in humanity and I have had customers say to me that they were going to go home and go out of their way to write a positive review. This may not matter to a Hilton hotel – their brand almost speaks for itself. For a small business like The Llama Park, however, those comments and that effort means the world. Trust me when I say that. Whatever people may believe, we work ourselves into the ground every day and our Park is a true labour of love. I will take this moment to say a huge and humble thank you to all the customers who support our business. You make it all worthwhile and we thank you!
What I want to discuss today, however, could be described as the injustice of Trip Advisor. The dark side of big data. My wonderful father is almost famous for his management responses to reviews. He makes certain to thank those who have been kind and to apologise to those who have complained. What he is probably more well-known for is his straight talking attitude to those who have been unfair. Yes, the customer may always be right – but what about when they lie? In October, one particular customer wrote a very bizarre review, criticising our Christmas grotto. Either this review was 10 months late (which seems strange in itself), or a complete falsification because indeed, there was no grotto to visit!
My father submitted a response which Trip Advisor refused to publish, citing that it was irrelevant. He then submitted the one below:
(For privacy purposes, the reviewer shall be listed as Scrooge)
Some weeks ago I wrote a response to Scrooge, the person that wrote this comment who I do not know and to the best of my knowledge has never set foot in the Llama Park. This response was rejected by the Moderating Board of TripAdvisor as it did not meet their so-called “standards”.
So my comment is that if it is OK for people to tell lies about us on TripAdvisor, people we do not know, who you the readers of TripAdvisor reviews do not know, and upon which reviews you might very well base your judgement about whether to visit The Llama Park or not, why is it not OK for us, the people being lied about to respond aggressively when what has been said by the reviewer is a downright lie and might adversely affect the prosperity of our businesses.
Is this fair? No of course it is not.
We cannot get the Review removed, as TripAdvisor refused to remove it, and we cannot get someone from TripAdvisor to investigate and check out the review and the lies contained therein. I commented that He, or She, was rude and told lies in the review and maybe I used a four letter word or two and said that Scrooge probably tells a lot of Porky Pies and said that it sounds to me like he or she probably got off on the wrong side of Teddy, our rogue Llama, and maybe got spat at by him.
Humorous stuff and a bit more.
However the crux of what I had to say was this. Our Grotto is not even open till November 26th this year so comments about the Grotto made on October 6th have to be false unless she was talking about last year. You cannot make comments about Xmas 2016 in October when the grotto has not even been built. However, if Scrooge is talking about last year – why wait till October to come out with a review – we had Father Christmas in a centrally heated indoor building and the main complaint from customers was that it was too hot. Scrooge said we held the Grotto in a “hut”. We did not.
So why has Tripadvisor allowed this statement to be published on line when it is blatantly an “untruth”? I can supply TripAdvisor with the e-mail addresses of over 1,000 families who passed through the doors of The Llama Park Xmas Grotto 2015 who can confirm that it was held in an indoor building which was centrally heated and not a “freezing hut”. But Scrooge can make that statement and we cannot defend ourselves and get that “lie” removed from the TripAdvisor website, nor can we get an apology published to acknowledge that an untruthful review has been propagated on their website that could damage the main event of the year for us, our Father Christmas Grotto.
He then received yet again the same response:
Dear TripAdvisor Listing Owner,
Thank you for taking the time to write a management response on TripAdvisor. Unfortunately, we cannot publish your response because it does not meet the following guideline(s):
*Relevant to all TripAdvisor users
Please do not post responses that include content irrelevant to the review in question. No personal insults or irrelevant comments of a personal nature. Management responses may not threaten or coerce a reviewer or attempt to suppress reviewer contributions on our site. No accusations of review fraud. No responses directed to TripAdvisor staff or commenting about TripAdvisor policies. Owner responses must be based on first-hand experiences of management or their staff members.
Please consider resubmitting a response which meets our posting criteria using the management response form on our site.
Why, if we feel that a review is fraudulent, should we not be allowed to say so? If a customer complains about a wait for food, we acknowledge our culpability – no problem. The point of me writing this post today is not to hide away from any and all criticism. We know as well as the next person that improvement is key and we accept comments and advice from people on a regular basis. Some of our regulars think they own the bloody place and we love it. Because when they make comments, they are working with us to build our business.
How on earth does Trip Advisor perceive my father’s comments to be irrelevant? Companies should be allowed to stand up for themselves.
Referring back to one of my original points. Some families last Christmas called us magical, genuine and wonderful, with the Real Father Christmas. How on earth can some people be so thrilled with what we offer and others so desperately unhappy? Again, it must be a matter of standards, personal taste and dare I sat it, outlook on life.
Even though I am 24 and a ‘millenial’, I feel disheartened about the keyboard warriors who sit behind their computers and criticise, maybe even lie sometimes, without thinking of the repercussions of their actions. We would rather hear the criticism in person – please – we welcome it. I do not mean to whinge or whine but like our reviewers, I am human and sometimes you cannot just smile and sit back. This is our business, our home, our livelihood and most importantly, our family. And we are no normal business and definitely no normal family.
We soldier on. Like I said, our customers, our regulars, our lovely staff and our beautiful animals all make it worthwhile. I wrote this today because social media and the internet allows people to comment and bully anonymously, without opening up the necessary dialogue that actually encourages positive change. I will not write exactly what the original Scrooge said, but she was downright nasty. I will not be nasty but I sure as hell won’t sit there and do nothing.
I hope that you all have a lovely day and as Stephen Fry always says, be kind to each other.