Even with the looming specter of negative reviews, sites such as TripAdvisor and its competitors have tour operators looking for a platform to show off their reviews in a holistic way, which they say doesn’t exist yet.
“With our recent acquisition of Viator, we are focused even more on the tours and attractions space as that category is a critical piece to planning the perfect trip,” said Desiree Fish, a TripAdvisor spokesperson. “We are constantly testing and iterating on the site in order to surface the most helpful and relevant travel information for our community of millions of travelers.”
Fish said she can’t comment on any future plans involving Viator or tour operator reviews on TripAdvisor, leaving operators questioning how long they’ll wait for such a product.
“While it’s too early to say what the specifics of reviews would include or how a third party forum would roll-out, our members certainly see the value in unsolicited and shareable testimonials of their products online,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA).
Tour operators seem to have a vision of what their ideal reviews platform would look like, however.
“A vacation with Trafalgar is multi-faceted, it is essential that a guest has the opportunity to reference all these aspects, from the experiences they have to the guides, accommodation and transport,” said Trafalgar CEO Gavin Tollman.
“In addition, for an entire trip series, there should be the opportunity for total average star ratings representing the sum of its parts. It is also important to have items like date of the rating, as well as individual ratings on both “Service” and “Overall Trip.”
These platforms should also include review capacities for: itinerary (pace/inclusions), tour director, local guides, driver, optional excursions, special features, meals, accommodations (location/quality), transfers, tour routes, and getting a sense of how experienced the traveler is, said Jeff Russell, a spokesperson for Globus.
Some operators signaled they’re not waiting for TripAdvisor to catch up, instead showcasing reviews on their sites using third party providers.
“To enable the Trafalgar brand to turn the camera lens onto our guests, we went with a third party provider, Feefo, whose content is now built into our website,” said Tollman. “This is an important distinction, as it builds confidence in readers that the reviews are reliable.”
Travelers trust the TripAdvisor brand because they expect both positive and negative comments will show up, given the site’s neutrality. Credibility likely decreases in travelers’ minds as reviews move further away from neutral ground. Trafalgar claims Feefo, which the company started using this fall, actually adds to their credibility.
“The only real issues are more so administrative ones,” said Tollman. “Real-time response is critical to credibility. So, we have shifted business resources to collecting and individually addressing higher volumes of reviews.”
To compensate for a lack of review sites travelers feel comfortable with, they often turn to social media to vent the good and the ugly about their tour experiences. Globus embraces this, as they debate whether or not a TripAdvisor product would work for operators.
“They’re giving us a chance to address their experience – good or less-than-great – first-hand on social media,” said Russell. “On third party sites, travelers could be more likely to complain about negative experiences. Third party reviews also make it harder for tour operators to review and/or respond directly because the review is hard to find and/or difficult to reply to.”
TripAdvisor does allow tour operator reviews, although there are no distinct categories to review operators on.