Let's see: What's more interesting? TripAdvisor's Certificate of Excellence awards or its now-abandoned dirtiest hotels list? We like the dirt.
Local tourism businesses are promoting their prowess on TripAdvisor, the popular travel site that was an early pioneer of online consumer reviews.
Specifically, The Pier Shops at Caesars in Atlantic City and Antoinette’s Apartments & Suites in Cape May are flaunting their Certificate of Excellence awards, a promotional scheme TripAdvisor started in 2011.
The certificate allows a business to say it is in the top 10 percent of businesses listed on the service, and that its average consumer rating is at least four out of five.
Because anyone can submit a review, getting a high rating might seem easy, but TripAdvisor says it has 100 people working on finding and eliminating fraudulent reviews. Still, a brief trip through the reviews of familiar attractions and businesses usually turns up some highly dubious ones.
One sure thing is that TripAdvisor is well-established and used by a lot of people.
The publicly traded company claims to have 200 million unique monthly visitors and more than 100 million reviews and opinions. The online info firm comScore put the figure at 53 million unique visitors a month last year.
To give you an idea of the nature of the consumer ratings, here are TripAdvisor’s five highest rated attractions in Atlantic City:
1. The Legends in Concert show at Bally’s.
2. The IMAX Theater at Tropicana.
3. The Absecon Lighthouse.
4. Kozak the Magician at the Tropicana.
5. The Quarter at Tropicana.
No wonder some people still think the Boardwalk washed away.
Cape May, New Jersey
Here’s the list for Victorian Cape May:
1. The Cape May Lighthouse.
2. The Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum.
3. Cape May State Professional Equity Theater.
4. The Nature Center of Cape May.
5. The Emlen Physick Estate.
All of these are fine attractions, but most people who know these two popular tourist destinations would consider these rankings rather eccentric.
There’s no arguing, though, with the money TripAdvisor makes from getting people’s opinions for nothing and then selling advertising and travel bookings with them.
In the first quarter, TripAdvisor had earnings of $84 million on revenue of $230 million, for an incredible profit margin of about 37 percent. No wonder it has spawned so many imitators.
The company’s stock price has more than doubled since the start of last year.
The Certificate of Excellence program is yet another marketing service for businesses, presumably a reasonably priced one since the certificates aren’t prominently promoted on the site and the press releases are standardized with only minor customizing.
In the release for the Pier Shops at Caesars, Harry Geety, general manager, says, “We strive to offer our customers a memorable shopping, dining and entertainment experience, and this accolade is evidence that our hard work is translating into positive reviews.”
In the Antoinette’s release, owner Deanna Brown says, “We strive to offer our customers a memorable experience, and this award is real proof that our 22 years of hard work is translating into positive feedback on TripAdvisor.”
The TripAdvisor certificate program is just another drop in the surging sea of digital marketing.
A lot of digital marketing was effective because it was novel and there wasn’t much competition.
Both of those conditions are quickly disappearing.
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Photo credit: TripAdvisor users picked Kozak the Magician at the Tropicana as the fourth best attraction in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Bogdan Migulski / Kozak the Magician