Grand Resort Hotel in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee had the umpleasant honor to be declared by TripAdvisor as the dirtiest hotel in America, according to users reviews. Public release of top 10 hotels in this negative list was announced in January 2011. The content is still available at TripAdvisor site.
The approach is clearly shocking. Knowing that TripAdvisor site receives some 40 million visits per months of interested travelers, it can be assumed that appearing in the Top Worst 10 list implies devastating reputation implications.
Nine months after appearing in the list, Grand Resort owner has decided to sue TripAdvisor, contending that it “acted irresponsibly by creating and publishing such a list without validating or investigating whether such a claim is truly warranted” (Press Release) .
“Greeneville, TN attorney John T. Milburn Rogers announced the filing of a $10 million lawsuit against TripAdvisor.com for awarding the Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, TN as the dirtiest hotel in America in January of 2011″, for compensatory and punitive damages.
Roger’s stated “his client’s business has been undermined by multiple reviews on TripAdvisor and by being labeled the “Dirtiest Hotel in America” by the consumer review website” (Press Release).
Kenneth Seaton, Grand Resort owner, accuses TripAdvisor of “maliciously and wrongfully contriving, designing and intending to cause respected customers to lose confidence. The dirtiest ranking, he says, caused “great injury and irreparable damage” after focusing the attention of national media including CNN and NBC on the hotel’s alleged failings. (The Telegraph, 21 oct 2011)
“(TripAdvisor) published its allegations combining and confederating together with others by maliciously and wrongfully contriving, designing and intending to cause respected customers to lose confidence in the (Grand Resort) and to cause the public to cease and refrain from doing business with the (Grand) and to cause great injury and irreparable damage to and to destroy the (Grand’s) business and reputation by false and misleading means,” reads a portion of the lawsuit (The Mountain Press, 18 Oct 2011, local newspaper from Pigeon Forge).
This position is in sharp contrast with initial reaction by Grand management to TripAdvisor list, nine month ago, as it appears in the local newspaper:
“The hotel’s management group, Grand Resort Hotel Group, issued a response to the ranking after TripAdvisor offered a preview of the list Monday and prompted stories by media outlets.
‘We (The Grand Resort Hotel Group) acknowledge and accept full responsibility for the current situation and would like to state that this issue is being taken very seriously,’
the statement reads.” (The Mountain Press, 25 Jan 2011).
This is a very interesting case to analyse, as it creates a double reputation crisis. This first one, evident, suffered by Grand Resort Hotel due to TripAdvisor reviews, and the second one, suffered by TripAdvisor as being accused by Grand Resort Hotel of flawed and malicious practices in the elaboration of the worst hotels list.
In this post we want to analyze the reputation crisis suffered by Grand Resort Hotel. We will eventually discuss later the possible reputation effects suffered by TripAdvisor.
We will study in this post some of the critics raised by the attorney defending Grand Resort interests.
Like in all our posts in this blog, we develop our analysis based in empirical data. Here, instead of analyzing news content, we choose social media content analysis. We select the most obvious source, at the origin of this reputation crisis: the reviews published by TripAdvisor users about their experience at Grand Resort Hotel. According to public disclosed figures in TripAdvisor site, there are 283 users’ reviews published between August 2003 and 21 Oct 2011.
We have analysed all 283 reviews and translated qualitative content into quantitative results, that we present here.
First result concerns the timeline intensity of the reviews made since 2003.
Data refers to number of reviews published during the precedent 12 months, with monthly measurements (12 months moving average).
We find that reviews till mid 2007 were about 20 per year. It has increased to 30-40 per year between 2007 and 2010. The intensity of reviewing is increasing since TripAdvisor list was launched, at the beginning of year 2011. Anual rate is currently at some 75 reviews.
First result is then that the publication of the list has had a direct impact in the number of reactions by Grand Resort Hotel clients. This upward evolution may nevertheless probably not be considered explosive and devastating by itself.
Additional relevant information is needed.
One crucial issue in this crisis is to evaluate to which extent the publication of the list has negatively influenced perceptions of Grand Resort actual clients. If true, besides the increase of reviews, we should observe a substantial drop in the ratings given to the Hotel after the publication of the list.
The time evolution since 2003 of the ratings given by TripAdvisor is shown in the next figure.
Data for every month is calculated by the average rating during the last 12 months. Rating scale at TripAdvisor is 1-5:
1. Terrible; 2. Poor; 3. Average; 4. Very Good; 5. Excellent
Initial records by 2004 (calculated with 2003 ratings) show values around 1.5. This is an overall value close to a global consensus of TripAdvisor reviewers on maximum disatisfaction. It even dropped at the beginning of 2005 to a minimum of 1.3 points. Initial reaction to Grand Resort costumers was thus clearly negative. Grand Resort experienced a relative recovery during 2006 as it reached its maximum in the series: 2.7 points in may 2006. Still, this is a global rating between Poor and Average. From these heights it suffered a continued depreciation in year 2007, reaching a bottom of 1.4 points in July 2007.
New manager was appointed by March 2008. Ratings improved slighly to a new peak of 2.1 in November 2008. From that moment, there is a continuous loss of reputation according to TripArvisor ratings. By January 2011, when the shameful list was released, average rating reached 1.5 points. Since then, overall perception has worsened, moving around 1.3 points, with a sligh recovery in the end of the series.
Many things can be learnt from the timeline evolution of TripAdvisors reviewers. The first one is that Grand Resort suffered from a clear negative reputation among travelers contributing in TripAdvisor publishing their experience during their stay at Pigeon Forge, already since 2003. This situation was well known by Grand Resort management, was their representatives reacted several times to negative comments given explanations during year 2008.
In this sense, is it possible to argue that ‘the Dirtiest’ list has unduly destroyed Grand Resort Hotel reputation, as claimed by attorney Roger?
to cease and refrain from doing business with the (Grand) and to cause great injury and irreparable damage to and to destroy the (Grand’s) business and reputation by false and misleading means.
The answer is no if we refer solely to Grand Resort Hotel clients referring their experience in TripAdvisor site. Barely nothing has changed before and after the release of the list, as their overall perception was definitely negative. This assertion can be confirmed by showing global rating results before and after January 2011. We do it in the following figures.
There are 176 reviews about Grand Resort between August 2003 and 24 January 2011. 68% of them rate Grand as a terrible experience. Another 11% consider it as poor. In the other extreme, 6% consider Grand Resort experience as excellent, and another 8% consider it as good.
As for reviews after being named the ‘Top Dirtiest Hotel in the United States 2011′, ratings considering Grand stay as terrible increase to 76%. In the other side, some 13% consider it as excellent. The main impact is that reviews tend to polarize, but the global picture remains quite similar.
This is confirmed when we compare global average rating before and after the ‘Dirtiest list’. Global average rating between August 2003 and January 2011 was 1.75. The rating between Feb and Oct 2011 is 1.70 which is barely the same.
Thus, we cannot conclude that TripAdvisor has devastated Grand Resort reputation, as it was as poor before than after.
One of the main arguments presented by the attorney is that the ‘dirtiest list’ is based in reviews reviews ‘that they cannot authenticate’. Furthermore, Rogers consider that many reviews can be fake or manipulated by solliciting companies:
Rogers stated that due to the large amount of negative reviews as well as fake 5-star positive ratings provided by soliciting companies, the attention is now focused on the actions and negative effects of companies such as TripAdvisor.
The lawsuit alleges that growing negative practices and the role of TripAdvisor and other online websites are creating false images of businesses across the globe and giving false pretenses about good businesses. These websites and companies now make it possible to post positive reviews for one’s own business as well as negative for the competition.
With the results that we provide it is probably a hard task to state that TripAdvisor reviews are globally false and misleading, as overall results are based in a sufficient number of different advices (283 reviewers) and that negative perception is quite stable in time. It is really hard to assume that Grand Resort has suffered from a sustained reputation attack by competitors since 2003.
This is not to say that TripAdvisor reviews are representative of average clients perception of Grand Resort stay. Probably other sources provide a different picture and probably internal surveys conducted by Grand Resort Hotel management provide a different and eventually more balanced perception.
But all this does not invalidate the relevance and usefulness of contributions and reputation-making by TripAdvisor reviews. We also consider that other alternative ratings from other sources showing a better Grand profile will not suffice to label TripAdvisor ratings as ‘misleading’.
The main issue in this affaire is to be labelled as “the dirtiest hotel in United States”. So, besides global ratings, we need to analyze also reviews concerning cleanliness. TripAdvisor started operations by allowing comments concerning the hotel experience, plus a global assessment with the mentionned scale 1-5. To know why a client gave a rating it was required to read the content and reach a conclusion from a qualitative analysis. By 2005 TripAdvisor included the possibility to evaluate numerically also relevant aspects of the hotel experience. Some elements of the ‘survey’ have been altered during the time, but the question concerning “cleanliness” has been present always since 2005. This additional information is at the source of the “Dirtiest Hotels” list.
Now we show the evolution of Grand Resort rating on ‘cleanliness’ and we compare it with global ratings.
The analysis show a strong relation between global rating and cleanliness perception. Till mid 2009 cleanliness ratings tended to be slighly better than global rating, but since then they follow the same path.
We learn from this figure also that bad reputation of Grand Resort on cleanliness is not produced by appearing in the ‘Dirtiest list’, as ratings were below 2 points mark (Poor) since mid 2009. As ratings reached almost absolute minimum (1 point, Terrible) by year 2010, appearing in the list could not worsen the bad reputation at least among TripAdvisor reviewers. What TripAdvisor has made is to let know people from outside the web site what TripAdvisor reviewers perceptions are.
In the following figure we present the same data about cleanliness data, but presenting yearly data.
If we exclude data from year 2008, when new management was put in place, there has been a continuous decrease on reputation about cleanliness since year 2005. It has moved from 2.2 points in year 2005 to a mere 1.27 rating by 2010. This extremely poor performance made Grand Resort lead the ‘worst list’ 2011. Our data tells us that reviewing perceptions are consistently negative as for cleanliness during all the period (2008 excepted). As pointed out before, it is really difficult to argue that this result correspond to misleading practices organized by competitors.
Ratings are not that much different in present year 2011. Up to this date, 2011 cleanliness rating is 1.59. The situation is somewhat better than the precedent fatal year. Even if it reflects a poor reputation, it would suffice to avoid topping next year ‘dirtiest list’. Still in the current year 74% of all reviewers judge cleanliness as terrible (1 point), while it reached 84% of all cases a year ago. The main difference is that in year 2010 the maximim rating in cleanliness was 3 out of 5. In year 2011, 8 reviewers have given a 4 or 5 rating. This probable reflect a reaction movement among some Grand Resort guest to TripAdvisor list. For instance, 2 of the positive ratings where published the day after the list pas published.
Social Media: from Enemy to Ally
Continued in the second post of this series: Dealing with negative social media reputation