How do Yelp filter out the bad reviews? [video]

You may remember I recently posted an interview with a friend who is working for Yelp, and we discussed their review product and how hoteliers can manage their online reputation.  This got me thinking – it’s a big claim when any review site tells you that their reviews are genuine.  But how do companies filter out the bad or potentially fake ones?

The team at Yelp pointed me in the direction of this video, which explains what their own technology does to keep their reviews as honest as possible.  Yelp uses sophisticated software to sift through the more than 42 million reviews contributed to date to find the most reliable and helpful ones.  They also go as far as identifying those reviews that they believe are being added by businesses themselves and automatically filter them out.

Think Travel with Google – video conference clips [video]

I stumbled upon these two videos uploaded to YouTube over the last few days from a travel/internet conference in South America “Think Travel with Google”.  The first has a speaker, Lothaire Ruellan from Google discussing analytics and data for travel, the second on where Google fits into travel by the CEO of The Futures Agency.  Really interesting viewpoints and information.

1. Lothaire Ruellan discussing Google analytics with a slant on RailEurope

2. Gerd Leonhard discussing where travel fits into the Google world

The world of distribution…. through the eyes of Pegasus [video]

As you probably noticed, I haven’t been uploading many blog posts this year, but I still receive many emails from hoteliers who are confused by how they can distribute their hotel in an ever growing and complex network of travel channels.  In fact, over the last two weeks, I counted 26 individual questions posed to me via Twitter and email on this very topic.  What each query had in common, started as a very simple question, with an often complex answer.  How does distribution work, and how can I get my hotel into as many channels as possible, yet still control my rates and reputation.  

It’s a good question and there are many distribution companies and services out there to help you.  But to deal with the first question, you need to understand the various channels and possibilities.  For instance, for a hotelier it is not just a case of building a great brand.com website and sitting back for the bookings to flood in.  Sure, you want to get as much business direct and if things are going well, this channel will make up a high proportion of your bookings.  But hoteliers more and more need to have their property seen on online travel agency websites, metasearch sites such as Kayak, and through the travel agency channel reached via the GDS companies.

I saw a press release this morning from one such distribution expert, Pegasus Solutions, who were launching their brand new website.  I happened to stumble across a new video they have posted, which explains distribution channels and what they offer hotels.  I do not promote companies via my blog, so apologies for the rather ‘Pegasus is amazing’ style video, but I wanted to share with you in any case, as it will help visually explain distribution channels and what a company like Pegasus could do to help you.

I hope you find it useful.

Mercure: 40 years, 40 days of surprises

logo-mercureNice idea this (although maybe a little lost amongst the fantastic social marketing campaign all over the internet today from British Airways – see #racetheplane) – to celebrate the brand’s 40th anniversary, Mercure hotels have planned 40 days of festive, exclusive, unexpected and locally inspired celebratory events that will “enchant their guests, both young and old alike”.

All the countries where Mercure operates in are getting ready to celebrate, from Rio to Moscow, in Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle East.  In the UK, the leading midscale hotel brand is reviving classic retro dishes with a modern twist for guests to enjoy. The limited edition £19.73 set menu and ’40 Minute Happy Hour’ drinks which include 1970s-inspired cocktails will launch on 24th September and is available in select hotels across the Mercure UK network.

The trip down gastronomic memory lane includes Prawn Cocktail, parma ham with melon and mushroom vol-au-vents are followed tournedos rossini of filet mignon, brioche crouon, served with pan-fried foie gras, truffle and madeira reduction, or duck a l’orange, and finished off with tempting desserts including Black Forest Gateau served with cherries jubilee and popping candy and the classic Arctic Roll served with a jelly macaroon and lemon sherbert are just some of the quintessential dishes appearing on the limited edition menu. The 1973-inspired menu and happy 40-minute cocktail offer are available at participating hotels for up to 40 days from 16th September until 25th October.

Surprises will be different in each country.  For example, at the Mercure Abu Dhabi, a special anniversary menu will be on offer so guests can sample a local specialty, Camel Blanquette. In Brazil, all the Mercure hotels will be offering an exclusive 40% discount during the celebratory period.  A guidebook presenting the 40 best locations in Latin America will also be published and given to customers on the occasion, encouraging them to discover the region and its treasures. In Germany, hotels will serve a special menu comprising traditional German beer and a huge open-top sandwich for €4,40. In China, over 40 days, the Mercure Chengdu will offer all guests born in 1973 a free dinner.

Let me know if you sample any of the surprises!

Inside Yelp – how should hoteliers manage their online reputation? [interview]

Yelp LogoA few weeks ago I learnt that someone I’ve had the pleasure of knowing over the last few years through EyeForTravel, has moved roles and joined a company that’s always intrigued me – Yelp.  Rosie Akenhead had a key role in organising many of the EyeForTravel events, including the fantastic Travel Distribution Summit, from which so many stories have been derived for my blog.  I was keen to talk to Rosie about her new role and get an insiders view of Yelp to see what I could learn from the experts about how hoteliers should be working with Yelp and managing their online reputation.

I’m sure you have already heard of, or even use, Yelp.  But by way of background, Yelp is one of the biggest consumer review and recommendation sites on the internet, with an average of 108 Million unique monthly visitors and a total of 42 million local reviews contributed as of the end of Q2 2013.  Founded in 2004 in San Francisco to help people find great local businesses, Yelp provides a platform on which to share what’s, good, great and not-so great about local businesses – from hotels, restaurants, shops and local services to spas, mechanics, pet groomers and health professionals. The following transcript is an interview with Rosie Akenhead, Manager of Local Business Outreach, UK,  who shares with us some key tips for hoteliers looking to navigate the online world of reviews

Q: Tell us more about Yelp

A: Yelp, in a nutshell, is a site and mobile application that connects people with great local businesses – anything from hotels, restaurants, bars and spas to dog groomers, mechanics, even dentists!

The Yelp community is made up of engaged locals who connect online and off, to share their opinions about local businesses, and have written more than 42 million rich, local reviews to date. With an average of 108 million monthly unique visitors in Q2 2013, Yelp is the leading local guide for word-of-mouth recommendations.

This video from the owners of Avo Hotel in Dalston, London, helps explain how businesses fit into the mix at Yelp:

Q: Tell us about your new role, and what your objectives are as you begin working for the company.

A: I’m the Manager of Local Business Outreach for Yelp here in the UK and Ireland.  In plain English, that means I help educate local businesses, including hotels, about how to use the free suite of tools Yelp provides business owners, and how to manage their reputation online.

Yelp ImageQ:Did you use Yelp before you started your role, if so, what were your primary uses?

A: I did indeed.  Before Yelp, I was working for a travel trade publication, so I was always using it as a resource for good local businesses to test out when I was in a place I didn’t know so well. What’s different now? I use it all the time to wow friends and family with my great choice of cool hangouts and suggestions of places to check out right in my backyard!  It hasn’t let me down yet.

Even before I took the job at Yelp, I mainly posted reviews where I had an ‘average’ to ‘great’ experience and wanted to share it with others. I think that feeling must resonate with other reviewers, since nearly 80% of our reviews are three stars or above on a five star scale (a fact which certainly surprises most hoteliers).

Q: How strong and how widely used is Yelp in the UK?  Strongest markets?

A: Yelp was born and bred in San Francisco, USA.  We now have people working for Yelp in over 100 cities in 22 countries across the world.  We have Community Managers in 7 cities in the UK and Ireland (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin) whose role it is to interact with Yelp users and business owners in that city, and provide opportunities to connect them to each other.

With the acquisition of our European competitor, Qype, last year, Yelp’s presence on this side of the pond is going from strength to strength as we move forward with integrating the two companies to create a single platform under the Yelp brand. We’re seeing consistent growth in all our European communities.

Q: Hotels are forever being told they have to manage online reputation – how does this fit with Yelp?

A: Having worked in travel and hospitality for four years prior to my time at Yelp, I know for certain that hoteliers already know that that they need to manage their online reputation. That’s obvious. Most have made efforts to better monitor their presence online in one way or another. Yelp is a key place for hoteliers to have a presence, and this can be done relatively quickly and free of charge.

The guidelines that we set out for businesses are to a) make sure you claim your listing, b) fill out your profile and c) make sure you take the time to respond to reviews either privately or publicly.

Managing your reputation online starts with ensuring consumers can find the right information about you, wherever they look. The conversations you then have with those consumers helps build their trust and awareness of your hotel. Consumers are already looking for local businesses on Yelp, and research has shown that the information they find drives them to a purchase decision, so hoteliers need to make sure they are a viable option when they are searching in their hotel’s area by claiming their page and making sure the information is up to date, correct and complete.

I’d say one of the best steps for hoteliers to make is to respond to reviews (which you can do privately or publicly on Yelp) and start conversations with customers past, present and future.

Q: What steps should a hotelier take to have visibility of their content on Yelp, and how should they go about managing their reputation?  Are there costs?

A: As mentioned previously, the first step really should be claiming their business page on Yelp. It only takes a few minutes to claim the page and set up an account and is completely free (honestly, it is, no catches).

I always say to people, you need to claim your Yelp listing! All it means is you are optimising a channel whereby a different set of educated, affluent customers can find you and do business with you directly. Having a listing with photos, full contact information including your website and telephone number, is an easy way to improve the number of people doing business with you.

Yelp Image 2Q: Is a hotel automatically included in search results of Yelp, or does the hotel need to add themselves to your service?

A: Most hotels are already listed on Yelp, and if a hotel is not listed, it is a very simple and quick process to add the business from the Yelp mobile app or the website. To check, simply type in your business name and location at www.yelp.co.uk. Once created, the place to claim and set-up your business account is here: www.biz.yelp.co.uk

Most people are quite surprised to find that their business is already listed, has reviews and that people are viewing that page every day.

Q: Can you give us some stats please?

A: On top of the 108 Million unique visitors to Yelp every month and the 42 Million reviews submitted to date, it is also worth noting that our mobile app is used on 10.4 million unique mobile devices every month, and every second a consumer generates directions to or calls a local business from the Yelp app.

Also, 59% of all searches on Yelp came from mobile web or our mobile app combined, highlighting further just how many people are searching for information whilst on the move. What does this mean for hoteliers? People are looking for instant information, instant resources and a place to stay and spend money.  if they can’t find it, they’ll turn somewhere else.

Q: Will Yelp look at becoming a hotel booking application in the future?

A: I think it’s important to initially state that Yelp is, first and foremost, always about the customer’’s experience.  We seek to show them authentic, honestly reviewed local businesses which they can trust, and that remains core to Yelp’s DNA.

We do have an API facility available for hoteliers.  This can be implemented in a number of ways from within your own website or mobile app to help highlight the great local businesses in the vicinity of your hotel, whether that be restaurants, shopping districts, services or the nearest theatre box office.

We’re always looking to improve the consumer experience and make Yelp as helpful as possible, so keep an eye out for future updates!

Many thanks to Rosie for sharing with us just how hoteliers can manage their online reputation with Yelp and some great stats.

If you have any questions or comments, please do leave them at the end of this post.

Accor UK hotels get free Wi-Fi [victory for the traveller!]

accor-sa-logoJust the kind of news I like to see hitting my inbox, after all, you know how much I hate paying for Wi-Fi in hotels.  Accor, the name behind brands such as Ibis, Mercure and Novotel, have announced that they are to offer free Wi-Fi across 194 properties in the UK.

Accor will be officially rolling out free Wi-Fi in all Ibis budget, Ibis, Ibis Styles, Novotel, Mercure, Pullman and MGallery hotels in the UK, most importantly incorporating all bedrooms and public areas.  When I saw the announcement I did wonder if it would include bedrooms (as so many chains have led with similar PR exercises, but only provided coverage in reception) so this is good to see.

The service will provide visitors at Accor hotels, including 59 Ibis hotels, 76 Mercure hotels and 31 Novotel branded hotels, with access to free, high quality Wi-Fi throughout their stay, with many hotels offering the fibre optic Wi-Fi to guarantee the best possible service.  Guests will be able to access free Wi-Fi in bedrooms, meeting rooms and all public areas of the hotel.

Accor go on to say that this initiative is in-line with their wider commitment to emphasising guest satisfaction for both business and leisure customers and follows industry research from the BDRC highlighting the significance of free Wi-Fi for hotel guests (they could have just asked me).  Recent figures revealed that free Wi-Fi throughout hotels is the most important factor for business travellers when choosing where to stay. Demand for high quality, free Wi-Fi has been boosted in recent years by the increased use of connected devices such as tablets.

Thomas Dubaere, Managing Director of Accor UK & Ireland explains, “Free Wi-Fi has become the norm at many coffee houses or bars but in the past with hotel groups it can vary from property to property, and differ between the public areas to bedrooms. We recognise that guests expect to have free Wi-Fi wherever they are in the hotel and for it to be a quick, high quality connection.

This is why we invested across all our brands in the UK in super, fibre-optic Wi-Fi so that guests can use smartphones, tablets, laptops – whatever technology device – at ease, anywhere in the hotel and for no charge.”

Now the small print (but in line with what you’d expect) – the hotels will offer free Wi-Fi to 512k, which allows guest to browse the Internet and check emails at an efficient speed.  Premium high speed Wi-Fi is available to buy in many properties using fibre optic Internet, ideal for data streaming.

Will the other global chains now follow suit?