In defence of TripAdvisor ratings

It seems government officials in the Malaysian state of Melaka have got very upset over two of its hotels – the Mahkota Hotel and the Seri Costa Hotel – being included in TripAdvisor's 'Dirtiest Hotels in Asia 2010' listing.

A story in The Star today commenced:

“State tourism authorities have brushed off traveller's reviews in TripAdvisor, which ranked two hotels (in Melaka) as among the top 10 dirtiest hotels in Asia.

It was not an accurate representation of the situation here and was carried out without a proper rating system, said state Tourism, Culture and Heritage Committee chairman Datuk See Har Cheow”.

With all due respect to Datuk See Har Cheow, let me enlighten him about something: Regular travellers trust TripAdvisor's ratings far more than any 'official' ratings system. Why? Because they are written by REAL travellers who have experienced first hand the services and conditions of the hotel.

I guess that what Datuk See Har Cheow is thinking about when he refers to a “proper” ratings system is one where government officials visit a hotel and give it a rating after ticking off a check-list of items.

First of all, in most south-east Asian countries, such a system would be open to graft and corruption. Nothing new about that. And even if there was no money changing hands, it would be unlikely that such inspections could take place without advance notice being given. But even if government inspectors could conduct inspections unannounced, and were given the budget to stay several nights at the hotel (because that would be the only way they could properly experience the service of the hotel), a single stay is not going to be sufficient to 'properly' rate a hotel.

That's the great thing about TripAdvisor ratings – they are based on feedback from many visitors (over 30 million in fact) over a number of years.

For example, the Mahkota Hotel has (as of today) 63 reviews. Of those, 6 rated it as Excellent, 7 as Very Good, 10 as Average, 12 as Poor, and 28 as Terrible. That in itself illustrates the different perceptions that people have staying at different times, in different rooms and interacting with different staff. For a government officer to make an objective rating based on a single visit (or even two or three visits) would be near impossible because of the obviously variable service and experiences that travellers have experienced at that hotel.

Overall 76% of people who wrote reviews did not recommend the Mahkota Hotel. Instead of complaining about TripAdvisor's ratings, the state government should be chiding the hotel for not doing enough to improve its service. TripAdvisor's reviewers provide independent and objective feedback that hotels should be grateful to receive to lift their game.

As is well illustrated by the fact that the Mahkota Hotel has received ratings from 'Excellent' to 'Terrible', different travellers have different perceptions of what makes a good hotel, but by reading the reviews you can get a good feel of what is right and what is wrong with a hotel.

I have come across a few hotels on TripAdvisor where they have had 50+ reviews and nothing below 'Excellent' or 'Very Good' (and I've stayed in a few of them too and rated them likewise). When hotels get ratings like that it shows that they have worked hard to deserve the top ratings. As a result they achieve high occupancies, but then they have to work even harder to maintain those ratings because people staying there based on the TripAdvisor ratings have high expectations.

So, Datuk See Har Cheow, rather than complaining about TripAdvisor's ratings not being “proper”, you should be using them to identify those hotels in your state that need to pull their socks up.

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