Response to SweetiePie and Comments about PAII

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Well-known member
Jun 11, 2008
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Sorry, Swirt. I started a new thread. It's a different topic, and I figured if I posted this as a reply to the other thread, it would be very hard to read, as the boxes were getting too narrow for long posts.
Sweetie Pie et al…
Just because a company is “involved” with PAII doesn’t mean there is an inherent conflict of interest that would prevent us from pursuing grievances on behalf of our members or the industry. In fact, if they are an endorsed partner of ours, as NPC has been, it provides MORE motivation for us to seek a resolution on behalf of innkeepers. Now I can’t speak for what happened years ago before I was here, but why on earth would I protect the interest of one vendor partner over hundreds or thousands of inns that have demonstrated a collective problem with the vendor? This might be a little revisionist history (again, I wasn’t here, but I was told the story once) that NPC was purchased by a large multi-national corporation (Bank of America, I believe), and when there was a legitimate grievance by innkeepers, NPC didn’t move or didn’t move quickly enough to the liking or satisfaction of innkeepers. NPC and Bank of America parted ways after a while and now are back on their own, and every time we have approached them in the recent past when one single member had a complaint, they (to our knowledge) have responded quickly and resolved the matter. Because they have such a public partnership with us, they too have motivation to resolve matters quickly for PAII members.
Now, let’s talk about TripAdvisor. They are a dues-paying vendor member, which amounts to about $300 per year. Do you really think that the PAII leadership is going to sit on our heels about important grievances to protect $300 in dues? Let’s think of our pursuit for change like lobbying Congress or the White House for changes to certain laws or policies…or even for major reform, because that’s sort of what it is like. But, there is one important difference…because we have an inherent right in this country to petition the government for change, they have an inherent obligation to listen. TripAdvisor, as a company within a company (Expedia) doesn’t even have to open their doors to me or respond to any of my phone calls or emails. They can run their web site however they feel is appropriate and in the best interest of the stock holders and leadership of Expedia and not listen for one minute to “little ole PAII.” But they have been willing participants in every conversation I’ve had with them, which has so far meant three meetings at their headquarters in Massachusetts. I give them credit for always being available to listen, which is the first step in any change that we hope for the B&B market. While they certainly have an obligation to the lodging market, since without the lodging market they’d have no success, but their far-and-away primary concern is the traveler. It’s the travelers’ eyeballs that lead to their revenue. So, when innkeepers DEMAND certain things on behalf of the B&B or lodging industry, they have to keep that in mind. It’s apparently an easily-forgettable little fact. And to boot, TripAdvisor really doesn’t make very much money at all off the B&B industry. All the paid sponsor links on B&B pages (the PPC link notwithstanding) are mostly hotels and resorts, so the typical B&B traveler isn’t clicking all over the place at sponsored links on B&B pages. They’re interested in B&Bs, not the Hilton being advertised on your site. Back to the point in this paragraph, TripAdvisor has always been available to meet with me and discuss the grievances and suggestions I bring to the table, and they’ve spoken at the last three conferences. They have shown interest in our industry and our issues in many ways. If I came to them with guns blazing about the issues we have, I would no doubt meet a stone wall and would be able to do nothing but bang my head against it. There are all kinds of ways to affect change, Sweetie Pie, and my preferred approach is to use reason, logic and persistence.
Now, there are innkeepers who think PAII should just get incensed and mad enough to make demands of TripAdvisor and go with guns blazing, but there is a little federal law that protects sites like TripAdvisor with regard to content that gets posted on their site by web site visitors. I interviewed an attorney about this, who is well-versed in cyber-law. If you haven’t already, spend a few minutes listening to it: I did this interview for the benefit of innkeepers like you, Sweetie Pie, who seem to have been burned by a review and expect TripAdvisor to act in a way that might satisfy your grievance. If the consumer-generated content (aka reviews) on their site is truly authored by consumers, they have little or no legal obligation to touch that content. That content is what drives eyeballs to the site. They MIGHT remove a negative review if they believe it is fraudulent…not necessarily false. (I’m not saying that is right, because I would highly prefer a verification system in which only guests who have been verified can leave positive and negative reviews.) In fact, the hunt for negative reviews or the absence of negative reviews is what makes review sites so popular. I’ll bet a lot of innkeepers on this forum have used review sites (even if with a grain of salt) in your due diligence process for purchasing or researching something online. You want to possibly rule out products or services that are laced with bad reviews. Even though federal law protects them in many ways, I still continue to lobby for changes that involve the reviews. I think there is the law…and then there is right and wrong, some sometimes the “rarely the twain shall meet.” And, there is just what I think is good business, and I lobby for what I think both aides our industry AND would be good business for TripAdvisor.
You might not like the speed at which things are taking place. Well, welcome to the world of lobbying for change and remember the issues we are up against mentioned above. If we at PAII abandoned everything else we are working in the name of fighting for change at TripAdvisor, I believe we would not be much farther down the path than we are right now, and we would have abandoned some other pretty important matters…not to mention we would have abandoned the innkeepers who DON’T share your opinions about attacking TripAdvisor, and there are plenty of them.
TripAdvisor surely is the Goliath we have been meeting with, but there are others that deserve some of our attention too. Take the case of Yelp!, another review site that has gained a lot of momentum in many cities. Now, I’m not going to say that I played a big role in this, but when I learned that Yelp! didn’t allow innkeepers to leave management responses to reviews (and their CEO was practically boasting about it in a New York Times article), I went public on my blog about it. Within 8 hours, I heard from Yelp!’s CEO. I shared my serious concerns with that business decision of theirs in back-and-forth emails with him. In a matter of a month or so, another major news source announced that Yelp! was going to allow management responses after all. Again, I can’t officially claim credit for that, but I spent time lobbying for change on behalf of innkeepers. Now Yahoo Travel is on our radar screen. Only a few innkeepers have asked us to do something about their review site, probably because the traffic they get is small compared to the traffic and impact of TripAdvisor. But, there are issues there, and we are going look into matters, like management responses. I was told that innkeepers can’t leave management responses on Yahoo Travel, and getting any response out of their staff is worse than TripAdvisor.
There have been a few other changes than the one you site above, which actually wasn’t the work of PAII. The new pay-per-click links on B&B pages to their listings are there due to the work of Innkeepers have cited pros and cons to those links on the PAII forums, but currently those sponsored links really are the only commercial exposure on TripAdvisor for B&Bs other than your listing and the reviews. There was something on B&B pages that I felt was a bait-and-switch feature and just not right. It wasn’t a MAJOR issue, but it was an issue. Read about it here. That change certainly came about only due to PAII’s conversations with them. They allow reviews to be posted up to 3 years prior to your date of stay; it used to be 5 years. I’ve been lobbying for 1 year. I can confidently state that the move to 3 years was due to my conversations with them. I will keep pressing. I think someone’s ability to give a quality review greatly diminishes after being away from the property for more than a year. Our intervention in some individual cases have resulted in satisfaction for innkeepers, but of course not all the time, although sometimes this is the most difficult thing for us to do. We should spend our time on seeking change and reform at the source, rather than lobbying individual cases. It’s a better use of our time. But we do like to raise individual grievances as examples of need for wider change, and they listen. Sometimes they act; sometimes they don’t. The average price that shows up on a B&B page isn’t always accurate. I’m constantly lobbying TripAdvisor to allow innkeepers to control that, as it is in their best interest to make sure it is accurate. Posting inaccurate prices would only come back to bite them when someone tried making a reservation and encountered prices very different from what showed on their TripAdvisor page. They agree, mostly because they’re staff is spending too much time having to change those average rates when they are inaccurate. Their team tells me they want to give more control (not necessarily total control) to the property owners. I’m not going to detail every single issue here, but there are other changes they have made and I hope will continue to make on account of my meeting with them. You can go here to read about the issues I continue to bring up with them.
It appears so far that the changes they are willing to make after listening to me have more to do with features on their site than the issue of conflict resolution with regard to the reviews. Some might discount this as change not that important, but I disagree. Nearly every innkeeper I talk to agrees that their guests are frequenting TripAdvisor, so what those guests see and experience on TripAdvisor even before making a reservation is VITALLY important to innkeepers. And, I’ve been working with them on a potentially very big change – as you know, currently there is no direct hyperlink to your web site. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a link directly to your web site on your TripAdvisor page? You’d be able to track the traffic coming from TripAdvisor, and you might be able to more quickly capture a booking by someone who likes what they see on your TripAdvisor page. Their leadership (including their CEO) is indicating to me they expect sooner than later to offer those links. I believe it may happen as a link exchange, so innkeepers would be required to have links back to TripAdvisor on your web sites. I don’t have all the details, but at this time things look promising. This would be HUGE, but not as appreciated I’m sure as sweeping reform on the issue of reviews and conflict resolution. Nevertheless, I feel it’s important for us to focus on matters other than just the reviews.
If innkeepers strongly feel that sites like TripAdvisor should be more balanced with regards to verifying the veracity of content posted on their site by the general public, perhaps PAII should lobby the federal government for changes in the law. To my knowledge, not even the American Hotel & Lodging Association (which has exponentially greater resources than PAII) has felt the need to lobby for change in law. I’m going to Washington in September as part of the US Travel Association’s “Travel Leadership Summit” to let the powers-that-be in DC know the importance of travel and tourism in the US. Maybe I’ll try to meet with officials who have some involvement in the law or policy that holds companies like TripAdvisor relatively harmless vis-à-vis online content. I will look into what particular change to the policy or law that would be fair and represent the interests of the B&B industry.
I seriously doubt that any board member simply said, “We like TripAdvisor, so we’re not going to do anything.” That is just plain ridiculous and I think an oversimplification on your part. The sentiment of our board, which every one of them would agree, is that we’re not going to go into Boston with guns blazing. Our decision to not be belligerent does not mean we’re not doing anything, but I’m sure there are innkeepers out there who believe that because we are not being belligerent, we are not doing anything…or that because the change you want hasn’t come, that we’re not doing anything. A little more education on the matter might help innkeepers think in a more balanced way about the issue.
Also, we’re pretty sure there aren’t 25,000 B&Bs out there. We believe it’s closer to 17,000. Nevertheless, if TripAdvisor felt we were unimportant because we only currently have 2,000 members, they wouldn’t spend a minute on us…their own CEO wouldn’t leave comments on my blog…and their CEO wouldn’t have agreed to be a speaker at our upcoming New England Innkeeping Show. Our voice is bigger than our membership.
You really need to get your facts straight before throwing rocks, SweetiePie. You know innkeeping… and I know innkeeping and association management. If you have first done your research on all sides of the issue and then want to suggest a more effective way to bring change, please do make some public suggestions rather than just public criticism. I know how deeply these matters can hurt, and while I am passionate about this matter, blinded emotion shouldn't be the driver of my thinking and efforts.
My apologies to everyone for departing from my normally even, dispassionate tone and for the length of this post.. I’ve spent a great deal of time on this matter on behalf of the entire industry (not just PAII members), and apparently I get easily out-of-sorts when our efforts or results are publicly question or criticized. But, thanks to SweetiePie, I’ve spent some time explaining things, so now I have a URL I can point people towards if they have the same questions or criticisms.
Thanks so much Jay for your In depth explanation. We appreciate your time in doing so. I believe you are doing an outstanding job with this situation. Innkeepers need to realize there is only so much that can be done. They have to take responsibility for themselves as well. A negative review is not the end of the world. And I don't know why some feel it should be YOUR cause to make this right. We appreciate the fact that you have done as much as you have. Thank you!
Jay, Thank you for taking the time to explain a lot of different things. The "catch more fies with honey than vinegar" approach usually does work best. Confrontation usually ends up with just a lot of angry people - and no one happy.
I, for one, have been greatly impressed with the "new" PAII. Quite frankly, having heard the "old PAII", I would not have wasted my time responding to them. And as much as I understand the finances involved with what you do, are doing, and plan to do, my finances will not stretch to do what I would like and attend a Conference. I am a believer in Conferences and the networking and energizing effect of them.
Thanks Jay...we were aspiring members of PAII for a couple of years before we opened our Inn, and then dropped them after being open for a couple of years. Your postings make me reconsider a PAII membership.
Your thoughtful comments are very much appreciated!
I rejoined PAII because of the positive steps Jay has taken on several fronts, and am happy that he chooses to post on this forum. I think it's time for me to bookmark your innkeeping blog.
Thanks Jay for taking the time to bring us up to date. It seems like you are doing a lot more than it appeared.
As far as research, the figure I found was 25,000 B&Bs and 3,000 PAII members; perhaps you have more up to date information. Just for the record, that was a direct quote from a board member. I don't make things like that up.
I'm glad you are planning on doing something on the Federal level. Whether you support them or not, this administration seems bent on change - so it just might have a positive effect.
How wonderful is it that a CEO & President of an organization takes the time to post on this forum? I appreciate the detailed information and cool headed response that you have given here. Thanks to you and the PAII Board for all your efforts for our industry!
Sorry, Swirt. I started a new thread. It's a different topic, and I figured if I posted this as a reply to the other thread, it would be very hard to read, as the boxes were getting too narrow for long posts.
You don't need to apologise for good thinking. And thanks for taking the time to write all that.

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