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Critics who blast the negativity of reviews on TripAdvisor may be surprised that the average review rating is 4.12 out of 5. But some hoteliers say a property's ranking in the pecking order in any given city is even more important.

There’s so much chatter about negative reviews on TripAdvisor, but it turns out that the average review on TripAdvisor sites globally is 4.12 out of 5 rating, according to the company’s internal data.

With some 150 million reviews and opinions on TripAdvisor sites, it turns out that reviewers rate their stays overwhelmingly positively at 4.12, which was the average mark through January 2014.

What does it mean, and does this number say anything about the state of the hotel industry?

A Cornell University study of online hotel reviews in 2013 found that hotels with relatively few reviews tended to have lower ratings, and that by the time properties collected 101 or more reviews, their review-rating average increased to between 3.5 to 3.9.

There are several ways you can interpret those findings. Among them, guests tend to trust lots of reviews as a more reliable take on a property than fewer reviews, and then the momentum builds toward stays at hotels that are piling up positive reviews.

On the other hand, critics may argue that large hotels are gaming the system with positive reviews, but that becomes more difficult when a property has hundreds or even thousands of reviews.

Another argument supporting the positivity trend is that perhaps hotels that attracted negative reviews are paying more attention to them these days, and are addressing guests’ concerns.

An Upward Trend

Michelle Wohl, vice president of marketing at Revinate, which provides reputation management services for hotels, says she isn’t surprised at TripAdvisor’s 4.12 mark, and in fact Revinate data show that the average figure across all review and online travel agency sites is 4.01.

“The average is going up and I surmise that it’s because hotels are becoming more focused on their online reviews,” Wohl says. “They’re reading them, learning from them, and responding to them. They’re taking the feedback to heart and making improvements that guests care about.”

The hotel industry is enormous, and one would like to think, at least, that hotels are paying more attention to user reviews, and are heeding the feedback.

After all, some major chains, such as Four Seasons and Wyndham, for example, have reached an accommodation with TripAdvisor over the years, and now include TripAdvisor ratings on their own websites.

TripAdvisor reviews can be particularly important to smaller properties, says Meryl Davis, director of marketing at the Inns of Aurora in New York’s Finger Lakes region.

Davis says she’s surprised that TripAdvisor generates an average 4.12 review rating across the board.

The Inns or Aurora will have 27 rooms when a third property opens May 1, Davis says, adding that guests “don’t just stumble upon our properties” because their rural location tends to rule that out.

But guests may seek out the Inns of Aurora because they’ve seen positive reviews on TripAdvisor, Davis says.

The Aurora Inn in Aurora, New York, has a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor, for example.

The Inns of Auroraalso has a few area restaurants, and Davis says her sense is that TripAdvisor reviewers tend to be older and their reviews seem to skew more positive than younger and more negative reviewers on Yelp.

Yelp doesn’t release an average review rating across its sites, but 67% of its reviews were 4 or 5 stars in the fourth quarter of 2013, the company states.

Ratings Vs. Rankings

Michelle Catin, social media manager at Palace Resorts, which has seven properties in Mexico, says she’s surprised about TripAdvisor’s 4.12 mark since “many studies show that consumers are likely to share negative experiences before positive ones.”

“At Palace Resorts, this is not the index that keeps us up at night,” Catin says. “What we care most about is our ranking.”

For example, its Le Blanc Spa Resort is currently ranked #1 on TripAdvisor of 175 hotels in Cancun while its Cozumel Palace places #3 of 57 properties in Cozumel.

“For us it’s top priority to maintain these rankings, so we’ve made a commitment to deliver service and amenities that exceed our guests’ expectations,” Caitin says.

As in just about anything online, the higher the placement, the better the prospects.

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Tags: reputation management, reviews, tripadvisor, ugc

Photo credit: The average review on TripAdvisor now is above average. PlaceIt by Breezi

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