Under New Management And Under A Black Cloud – Hotels and User Reviews

Google maps image of hotel review

Have you noticed this interesting little change in Google Maps’ top level interface? They are now including user review snippets for many businesses right there at the top. Localhound Tim and I both noticed this change but weren’t sure when exactly it had happened. Leave it to Mr. Blumenthal to provide a citation of it on Google’s LatLong Blog. Apparently this is part of an effort to enrich the Maps’ user experience.

Being a sucker for reviews – good ones are like short stories – I’m liking this change. I feel an urge to click deeper to read the rest of the review, especially if the snippet is strongly worded, either for good or ill. I do set great store by the experiences average folks have when they turn to a local business for goods or services. Even if reviews aren’t a strong ranking factor at this point, their power to instill trust or mistrust in a new customer is considerable.

And this is why I’d advise anyone planning to buy an existing business and take over the management of it to cast a good long glance at the review history of the entity. I feel this is especially crucial in the hospitality industry. It’s not uncommon for hotels, inns, B&Bs, etc. to change ownership while keeping their original names. Doubtless, this tactic is employed for branding purposes – if the hotel has already made a name for itself, the new owners may keep old customers and save marketing dollars by sticking with an already established brand.

But what if the change of ownership or management comes about because the hotel has been a dismal failure? Allow me to draw your attention to a most alarming set of user reviews for an unhappy establishment in Inverness, California – The Holly Tree Inn. Look at some of the review titles:

The Holly Tree Neglect-a-thon and Mold -Growing Laboratory

Past its prime

Very disappointing

Lack of Cleanliness Unforgivable In Paid Lodgings

Here is an excerpt of a review a potential guest will find in researching this lodging:

We stayed in the “Cabin in the Woods.” The place was neglected and MOLDY beyond belief, the “Innkeeper” was cold and grouchy on the phone, which is the only place I ever encountered anyone from the place, though we stayed two miserable days. Crappy towels, crappy soap, crappy coffee, super-crappy atmosphere. HUGE rip-off. The only good part was the old kitty, but he was also quite neglected, smelly and had a hole in his neck, the poor guy. An apt reflection of the general vibe of the place.

Nightmarish, isn’t it? More than one of the reviewers is suggesting that the business close its doors or sell out to an owner who can afford to totally renovate this failing inn.

In the face of reviews like this, if I were a business adviser, I’d be strongly recommending that the new owner rechristen the hotel and do all they could to obliterate any connection with the history of the place. It’s not good press to be associated with a cat with a hole in its neck.

Over the past few years, I’ve researched a number of lodgings which seemed to have undergone a big change either for the better or worse. Once in awhile, a guest kindly leaves a review someplace like TripAdvisor or Yelp saying, “don’t look at the old reviews. This place is under new management and is really great now.” But you can’t count on your clientele to do this, so my recommendation is to take review history seriously if you’re taking over a business – a testament to the continued and growing power of user reviews.

11 Responses to “Under New Management And Under A Black Cloud – Hotels and User Reviews”

  1. on 18 Jun 2008 at 3:18 pm David Mihm

    Miriam, what an insightful post. Sort of the reverse of what most SEOs do when they buy old websites–they WANT the old links and the old reputation. But Local is a completely different ballgame…I wonder if before long we’ll see “average Google/TripAdvisor/Yahoo rating ” and “number of reviews” enter the business valuation process… :)

  2. on 18 Jun 2008 at 5:56 pm Tim Flint

    When selling a business owners often want to charge a premium for the intangibles such as goodwill and others. But, doing your research you can find out whether those intangibles are worth what they are asking. Great post.

    Just a not, your link to LocalHound brings up an error. It is simply a matter of fixing the URL.

    Thanks again for the insightful information.

  3. on 18 Jun 2008 at 6:15 pm admin

    Hi David,
    You know, a combined rating would be neat! For Internet savvy business owners and purchasers, that would be cool. Nice suggestion.

    I continue to be amazed by how few good websites I’ve ever seen in the hospitality industry. With the website playing such a crucial role in the first impression made on the guest, you’d think hoteliers would invest some serious effort and budget into their websites, but such is seldom the case in my experience. Perhaps the growing power of user reviews will bring these reticent folks more into the web scene and they’ll start to think harder about the different ways in which one favorably impresses a guest.

    Hi Tim –
    Ooops! Thank you so much for catching that. All fixed. I’m glad you liked the post. Local is FUN!

  4. on 19 Jun 2008 at 11:30 am Mike Blumenthal

    Yelp has a feature that you can look at review averages over time to see if they are declining or improving…now if Maps just had some traffic and the reviews were updated with something like a regular frequency.

    Mike (aka Mr. Blumenthal)

    PS Since my father is still alive (89 and still ornery), he actually holds the Mr. Blumenthal title for a while :)

  5. on 19 Jun 2008 at 12:35 pm Miriam

    Hi Mike!

    You get to be Mr. Blumenthal along with your father. You’re too old to be Master Blumenthal at this point (that’s reserved for little boys).

    Now, if you were an unmarried woman in a family of unmarried ladies, your title would be different. If you were the oldest sibling, you would be Miss Blumenthal, while your younger sisters would be Miss Eugenia, Miss Wisteria, Miss Pansy and Miss Hortensia. Only the eldest sister gets to carry the family name.

    Something to explain to your children!

    I had not noticed that feature on Yelp. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Regards to your father!

  6. on 19 Jun 2008 at 8:57 pm Michael Jensen

    At least for the hotel and restaurant industries, why not make a way for businesses to mark in their local business listing new ownership or remodeling, and put a “marker” of sorts in the list of reviews after the old reviews and before the new ones?

  7. on 20 Jun 2008 at 12:36 pm admin

    Hi Michael,
    Nice to see you here!

    I have had that same thought, and it would be a very helpful feature. We need 2 things to see something like this coming about.

    1) Business owners need to become aware of their listings. So many still aren’t and unclaimed listings are rife.

    2) Google needs to get into conversation with local business owners to find out what their needs truly are. Your suggestion would certainly be a need that would be voiced in such a conversation.


  8. on 21 Jun 2008 at 10:32 am swainzy

    “And this is why I’d advise anyone planning to buy an existing business and take over the management of it to cast a good long glance at the review history of the entity.”

    Miriam, good point. I am going to digress from “when did this new listing process happen at google” to “how this affects your business”. Bear with my rant.

    Bad reviews are difinetly going to cut into the worth of a business for sale! So let’s hope proprietors DO know about those reviews. But can they do anything about it?
    As a former b&b owner -one unhappy guest’s review and I wouldn’t sleep at night. Some of my past guest’s were basically unhappy people anyway and for them to have a platform to be miserable at my expense is scary.
    What if the guest/reviewer isn’t telling the truth. What if they just feel like exaggerating their bad experience? Or as I mentioned previously, they are just unhappy people? Or. . . you’re a competing establishment and you want to foil your competitors reputation because you have no ethics.

    This really affects small business’ not large hotel chains.

    This would have made me nervous, as our reputation was everything to us, when we were in business. While I know future guests might like this process, it’s really like being indicted and you have no recourse to protect yourself.

    There are unbiased establishment reviewers and that is where, I beliee, the reviews belong.

  9. on 21 Jun 2008 at 12:06 pm admin

    Hi Donna –
    It’s terrific to have your input on this subject, considering your professional experience in the hospitality industry.

    I fully agree with you regarding the potential for totally unfair reviews left by cranky people. These have the ability to put, without cause, the business owner’s reputation in jeopardy.

    My hope would be that review readers would look over a batch of reviews and that one or two bad ones wouldn’t hold much water in the midst of many positive reviews.

    On the other hand, if a big percentage of the reviews are citing really unsatisfactory or bad business practices, chances are, there is truth in them.

    As a business owner, myself, I know that if people were reviewing my company, we’d get about a 98% satisfaction rating from the great businesses we’ve served. I know we’re good at what we do and make every effort to over-deliver on our contracts. But we’ve had cranky clients, too, who simply would not be satisfied even with the world’s best website, top rankings and oodles of traffic. For grumps, something is always negative, and I’d say the truth of this spans all businesses.

    The traditional source of business reviews written by professional reviewers are, doubtless, less prone to simple crankiness…but times have changed, and I do believe layperson reviews are here to stay.

    And, I do think they can provide tremendous value. They fascinate me, because they are like little psychology scenarios. I try to get to the heart of what went right or wrong in a customer’s experience of a business. While there is a margin for potential injustice, there is also potential for user reviews to inform a business owner of the impression they are making on the public, and can be a useful learning tool for improving service.

    Thank you so much for weighing in on this, Donna. Your opinion is greatly valued!

  10. on 22 Jun 2008 at 5:10 pm Heidi Richards Mooney

    Dear Miriam,

    I recently discoverd your blog and wanted to say how much I am enjoying the tour! You have an excellent, content-rich resource for women and I am excited to have found you.

    In fact, I just listed your blog in my summer review of Women bloggers to watch for 2008 at http://virtualwomansday.blogspot.com/. Feel free to stop by and leave a comment.

    Many thanks…keep up the great work!

    Heidi Richards Mooney, Founder & CEO, Women’s eCommerce Association – http://www.wecai.org

  11. on 23 Jun 2008 at 11:59 am Miriam

    Dear Heidi,
    I just sent you an email, but also want to thank you here for including me in your list of top women bloggers. I really appreciate that. It’s an honor!


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