Hotel Excellence

This is an interesting piece from Mr. Larry Mogelonsky – CHA on HotelInteractive
Abigail’s Hotel (above) is a not-so-hidden gem coming at you from Canada’s prime real estate along the west coast. It’s likely not on many consumers’ bucket lists or hoteliers’ ‘leaders to watch’ catalogues. After all, the property is not affiliated with a major chain or a representation firm such as Leading Hotels of the World, Preferred Hotels & Resorts or Relais & Chateaux. Yet, with Abigail’s near perpetual ranking as the top property on TripAdvisor for Victoria, British Columbia (out of a total of 57 listed hotels), I decided that a further inspection was warranted.

Victoria is the capital of British Columbia – Canada’s westernmost province – with a population of 330,000. Located off the mainland on Vancouver Island, Victoria is considered a haven for Canadian retirees and my quick survey of the tourist scene confirmed this. The downtown waterfront district is dominated by Fairmont’s majestic Empress Hotel, with other major chain properties located snugly around the rejuvenated port area.

Abigail’s Hotel is about five minutes by car (ten minutes walking) from the center of town. I was encouraged to walk, but not knowing our way, felt more comfortable driving – a trip we did several times each day as parking was just a few dollars a day and free in the evening.

The heritage property houses 23 rooms and was built in 1930, having been converted from an apartment building in the 80s. Comprising two separate buildings wrapped around a small motor court, the property’s Tudor style façade is quaint and inviting. My room comprised a well-decorated, modest-sized bedroom with fireplace and a somewhat triangular-shaped bathroom. Well equipped, comfortable for sure, but certainly not fully up to the modern standards one would expect in a luxury property.

The well-appointed common rooms comprised a reception room flanked on either side by a living room to the right and a breakfast room to the left. Walk straight ahead and you are in a small but very pleasant courtyard. With no elevator, this property would not meet any accessibility requirements. Regardless, it was an exceptional experience.

What I just described in the past few paragraphs would have you scratching your head as to how Abigail’s has achieved its top TripAdvisor rating. It certainly isn’t the physical attributes or amenities of the property that delivered these accolades.

What drives the excellent rating is the service: personalized and professional. With a small but dedicated staff, Abigail’s has found the expert balance between helping and being overly obtrusive. Breakfasts are made to order by a chef and supported by efficient and happy waitstaff. A complimentary happy hour provided excellent snacks in the pre-dinner hour. Free wireless was also on tap. Throughout the stay, it was impossible to find fault. This level of service would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in a property of 200-plus rooms without enormous (and not affordable) staffing levels. This supports my hypotheses on achieving high TripAdvisor ratings.

1. Service is more important than physical structure.

 2. Guests do not like to pay for extras and your ratings may suffer as you add costs. The final bill at Abigail’s had two lines: room and tax.

 3. Positive staff attitude trumps any fancy new room features. This is something to keep in mind as you seek to add items: the guest benefit might not be there!

4. Creating a relationship between staff and guests is paramount.


Trip Advisor Certificate Of Excellence 2013

As reported earlier in the week, we were delighted to receive a Certificate Of  Excellence for 2013 (pictured) for Chanters Lodge. We would like to take this chance on the blog to say thank you to all the Guests who took time to review our operation during the year, particularly those who gave us ‘5 Stars’, but also those who pointed out where we could improve. Guests see the operation so clearly and their advice is invaluable.

On a personal note I would like to thank each and every one of the eleven workers at the lodge for their contribution – almost every Guest checking out of the lodge compliments us on the care and courtesy of the workers. They are a very hard working team led by Annastasia, Susan and Melinda but each and every one has played their part. They are also now a long serving and loyal work force!

There is fierce competition in Livingstone these days in the ‘lodge business’ – there is, most of the time more supply than demand brought about by the resurgence of Zimbabwe as a destination as well as the mushrooming of small lodges and guest houses in Livingstone. We regard good reviews on Trip Advisor as ‘money in the bank’ in terms of marketing and once again we say a big thank you to all the Guests who have contributed their thoughts.


Reviews And Ratings

This from HotelInteractive hit close to home and is well worth a read.

Do you remember in high school how jealous you felt when you got a B on your English test while your friend got an A-?  Now that we are all grown up, hopefully, we can safely look back at how insignificant that one trivial grade was in the grand scheme of things.  Well, apparently the lesson hasn’t been fully learned.  A few of us are still using this transient comparison other behavior for their online hotel review aggregates.

Statistical Methods Need to Be Recognized

Is it really important if your property rating on a review website goes from 4.5 to 4.6 within a two-week span?  Why are people micromanaging these tiny fluctuations?  It’s statistically irrelevant.  In school, real performance changes were denoted by evaluating your report card handed out at the end of each semester.  Much the same way, you can’t judge your hotel on a review-by-review basis but rather from a quarter to quarter appraisal.

A caveat of obligatory mentioning would be significant jump in rating aggregates.  The MBA student in me reasons that a shift of /- 0.6% or greater would be deemed statistically worthy of note.  But often does a variation like this occur within a two week or even month-long span?  Ratings typically move a tenth of a percent at a time and you’d be mistaken to fret over a drop of this size.  In my mind, numerical micromanagement represents another risk of the Internet as we are confounded with more metrics than we know how to handle.

It’s a double-edged sword though.  The solution is not to study the numbers with closer scrutiny but what the guests are saying.  Alas, this isn’t baseball.  Embrace the chatter and respond to deficiencies, rather than worrying about rating points.

Ratings Revealed for Their True Worth

One of the beauties of online review sites is they give guests an anonymous platform to be honest, rather than just silently dismiss your property for return visits.  Word of mouth may be a powerful behind-the-scenes motivator, but word of mouse is open to the public, available for you to study and hopefully learn from.  These websites are your opportunity to gain unbiased insight and constructive criticism about your operations.  Replying to individual commentators is a great way to broadcast the fact that you are willing to accept outside advice, but all your response efforts will be negligible if you don’t take their suggestions to hear and develop a plan of action to correct said mistakes.

You have to evaluate the quality of your hotel based on qualitative data.  So, you better grab a pad then start reading each and every commentary, taking notes along the way.  After a couple dozen of them, you may start to notice some trends.  What are the common criticisms?  Was the front desk staff regarded as friendly and cooperative?  Housekeeping issues?  Room service?  Was restaurant food beyond what was expected or just adequate? How does the customer perceive your value equation?

Outliers: What to Do?

Now, from my experience, I’ve found that a small number of reviews may be written from a very hurtful slant.  Don’t be frazzled, or worse, obstinate.  Every critique is an opportunity to learn, even if that wasn’t the intent when posted.  Furthermore, when you assess such negative remarks against the average and the long-run of things, you’ll find that they are much like that one D you got on a math test back in grade nine.  Within a week, the pain is gone and forgotten.  The same goes any direct assaults against your property.  Do not discredit the entire online community based on a few rotten eggs.  For the most part, they are here to help, but only if you can listen.

So my emphasis is on the long-term versus the short-term.  But the comparison other technique can still applied in two valuable ways.  Read reviews, group commonalities, then develop your own quarterly scorecard for measuring qualitative performance over the past three months.  Then put this scorecard up against previous metric surveys or past critiques.  Is the situation improving?  Are specific complaints less prominent or absent all together in the latest series of posts?  The benefit of using scorecards is to keep track of particulars over a broad period of time; enough breadth for trends to change in a statistically significant manner.

Going Beyond Your Reviews

The other crucial tactic is to glance over the reviews of your key competitive set, keeping a lookout for occurrences where they are praised relative to where you are shammed.  If their restaurant’s food presentation is lauded while yours is just pedestrian, then you best have a meeting with your F&B Director and Executive Chef to address this discrepancy.

To draw upon personal experiences again, I’ve noticed that most explicit qualms found in online assessments arise from gaps in guest service.  Most individuals arrive at your hotel with given expectations set by what they see on your illustrious website homepage and what’s said on the web.  Such people will be more obliged to give you a highly positive grade if you meet or slightly exceed their standards.  However, it’s when you slip that your reviews will also fall.  That is, your staff jumbled a restaurant reservation, front desk was near oblivious to a guest’s needs, or individual requests were never fulfilled, to name a few.  Maybe you need to heighten internal communications channels to make sure everyone is on the same page.  The point is, take advantage of your hotel reviews to investigate and hone your guest service abilities.

The Bottom Line

I am a heavy proponent that improving your overall rating aggregate is more dependent on guest service than on large-scale issues that require significant capital investment.

Do yourself a favor, read through the Internet review chatter. Address the guest’s issues, not the rating.  You’ll know when you succeed because the problem will disappear from the latest commentary; or better yet, a recurring customer might even praise you for these improvements.  Regardless, hotel review sites are here to stay. The sooner you start paying attention to what people are writing, the sooner you will see improvement to your ratings.


TripAdvisor ‘Myth Busting’

Here’s something interesting from TripAdvisor via TNooz. As so much of our business at Chanters Lodge is generated through TripAdvisor I’m always interested….

The following list details some of the more common myths about TripAdvisor, and the facts:

Myth 1: Reviews on TripAdvisor are usually negative.
In fact, the majority of reviews on the site are positive. Three-quarters of all TripAdvisor reviews are rated “very good” or “excellent”, and the average rating on TripAdvisor is just over four out of a possible five. It’s also important to note that – according to this traveler survey – the number one reason travelers cite for writing a hotel review is to “share a good experience with other travelers”.

Myth 2: I have no control over my property’s listing on TripAdvisor.
Through the Management Center, you can immediately begin taking control of your business’ page — including adding a property description, photos, videos and more. We also encourage you to monitor what travelers are saying about you on the site, post management responses and keep track of where your visitors are coming from so that you can tailor your marketing approach accordingly.

Myth 3: Businesses can’t share their side of the story on TripAdvisor.
Just as we value traveler options, we value the insights of business owners — and strongly encourage you to post responses reviews about your property. These responses not only show guests and the TripAdvisor community that you take their feedback seriously, but also give you the last word. When an owner responds promptly and professionally to both positive and negative reviews – thanking reviewers for kind words or addressing any specific concerns – a management response can be very effective.

In fact, research shows that management responses to good reviews makes 78% of survey respondents think more highly of the property, while management responses to bad reviews reassure 79% of travelers.

Myth 4: It’s against TripAdvisor rules to ask guests to write a review.
While it’s against TripAdvisor rules to offer incentives in exchange for reviews, we strongly encourage you to ask your guests to write a review. We offer tools that you can use to encourage guests to write reviews following their stay.

These include links that you can add to an email, which will send guests directly to your property page on TripAdvisor; cards and flyers that you can print and hand out to guests; and widgets that you can embed in your own website to remind travelers to write reviews.


There you are then!

PS. When I originally read this I lodged a complaint in the comments section that one establishment in Livingstone is wrongly categorized as a B&B when it is, in fact, a lodge on the river. TripAdvisor chose to take no notice, so perhaps some of the myths are true!


Bad Reviews

I’m always interested in all things review or TripAdvisor so this tnooz piece caught my eye.

“Most of the stuff you read about negative reviews tends to be advice from marketing agencies on how to listen, react and turn dissenters into ‘brand advocates’ blah blah. But, social commerce specialist Reevoo recently looked at the real impact of negative reviews on business with the results presented via a white paper.

Findings include:

Consumers spend four times as long on a site when they interact with bad reviews, trust what they are reading more and are more likely to convert.

68% say they trust good reviews more when they see a mixed bag of opinions and scores
95% suspect fake reviews or censorship when they don’t see anything negative

The research also shows negative reviews are driving up engagement and have become one of the most popular features of websites, with double the amount of people actively seeking them out as those looking for positive comments. Those looking for negative reviews spend more than 17 minutes on a site compared with normal consumers, who spend just over three minutes, and they view almost four times as many pages.

And, the good news, when they do come across a product or service with a bad review, they tend to move on to the next one with less than 1% leaving the website.

The company says consumers are using bad reviews to get a full and balanced picture, see where others differ to them (single traveller hates noisy hotel versus family wanting lively property) and feel they can trust the product or service.

Reevoo concludes bad reviews are one of the most effective conversion tools with a 67% increase in conversion rates from those who have sought out negative feedback.”


Guest Reviews

As you probably know I have an intense interest in all things TripAdvisor, so no surprise that this caught my eye and as usual tnooz has the latest:

“Just a day before CEO Steve Kaufer fronted TripAdvisor’s first public listing on the NASDAQ, Expedia started telling a number of its global markets about the launch of its new hotel review system. Known now as Expedia Verified Reviews, only guests that stayed at a property can submit a review, by way of a form emailed to the customer after a trip. Expedia says the Verified Reviews platform has yet to be officially launched in the US and most of its other large markets, but consumers in Australia and New Zealand are already using a new feedback system and site visitors are being reassured about the authenticity of the reviews.

The review form is said to have been streamlined but allows guests to submit information which, when included in new filters on the site, will let visitors browse reviews based on proximity to amenities and attractions. Users will also be able to submit photos of the property. Expedia’s tie-in with TripAdvisor isn’t completely over – each hotel page on Expedia has an icon displaying the aggregated score on TripAdvisor of a property. A user will still be able to click on the TripAdvisor logo and be directed to the corresponding hotel page on TripAdvisor.

The relationship between Expedia and TripAdvisor at this level has often been slightly curious given that the former was once the parent company of the user review giant. TripAdvisor waited for many years in the UK, for example, before seeing its reviews appear on the Expedia site, whereas visitors to the Australia and Canadian versions saw content appear very early on in the review site’s rapid expansion around the global.

While the idea of having verified reviews is nothing new elsewhere, or indeed on Expedia, some will note the remarkable timing of the announcement and relaunch of the guest feedback platform, especially as TripAdvisor is currently embroiled in one of the regular periods when it appears to take a beating from many in the industry.”

So we’ll see what we see with guest reviews on the internet.


Andrew Deane & Marion Gibson Experience ‘The Experience’!

Meet Andrew Deane and Marion Gibson (above) from High Wycombe in UK – guests on the most recent edition of The Chanters Lodge Experience with the Milli Jam Ingredient, featuring George da Soulchild. ‘The Experience’ is the weekly radio show we sponsor on Zambezi Radio 107.7 fm, Livingstone’s leading local radio station. Our programme airs from 20.30-21.30 hrs every Sunday night and is a great mixture of local and international music as well as lively chat. 107.7 fm streams live on the internet and you can find the link on their site or ours. (Links are above).
Andrew and Marion told listeners they’d been in Livingstone for the past few days staying at Chanters Lodge, although they’d been so busy with activities they hadn’t spent much time there! They’d already been on a one day safari to Chobe National Park in Botswana and the very day of the show they’d been white water rafting on the Zambezi. They described both experiences as ‘amazing’! Marion particularly liked Chobe due to her love of elephants – Chobe NP has the highest concentration of that particular animal in the whole world – Andrew loved the rafting.

Andrew explained that he’d been a police officer with Thames Valley Police in UK for the past 13 years. “It’s true” said Milli Jam, “I’ve even seen and touched his badge!” “Stop sweating and shaking!” I advised George who looked apprehensive. Marion told listeners that she’d spent a large part of her career as a social worker but had been laid off a while ago as a result of recent budget cuts in England. Luckily she’d quickly found another job with APH Mortgages, which she loved. This engaging and lively couple told listeners they been in love for the past 6 years and although they had no children together, Andrew had a 12 year old son Joshua from a previous relationship.
The music on the show was great. We featured ‘Fireball’ by Willow Smith ft Nicki Minaj back to back with ‘We Found Love’ by Rihanna ft Calvin Harris – number one in the UK actually! George featured ‘Man Dem’ by Zone-Fam ft Cactus Agony & Macky 2 – taken from Zone-Fam’s brand new album. He coupled this with Exile’s ‘So Lucky’. Milli Jam dropped Ne-Yo’s ‘Break Up To Make Up’ and Sean Paul’s ‘She Doesn’t Mind’. Oldie Of The Week was Johnny Clegg Savuka’s ‘Scatterlings Of Africa’. Silence, no-one knew the artist until almost the end of the track when Angela texted the right answer and won the dinner for 2 with drinks at the lodge!
Andrew told listeners that he’s an Arsenal supporter – we were happy about this especially as they’d won that afternoon. Marion supports Wycombe Wanderers, her local team. They both love Take That and Robbie Williams. They were looking forward to breakfast on Livingstone Island the next morning with a swim in Devil’s Pool and had scheduled a sunset cruise on the Lady Livingstone for the afternoon. Marion told listeners she’d first visited Victoria Falls some years ago and had liked it so much she’d determined to bring Andrew to see it for himself. They’d chosen Chanters Lodge after reading the reviews on TripAdvisor.

Milli Jam asked Andrew and Marion which of the many countries they’d visited they loved the most. Marion said Bermuda, Andrew replied USA, explaining that he and Marion both loved rollercoasters and in their opionion the USA had the best in the world. Asked what they’d like to be doing and where they’d like to be in 10 years’ time – Andrew said he thought he’d still be working, Marion wanted to be retired and they both wanted to still be together and travelling. Nice couple! Nice show!


Chilli Pickle, Brighton

Our vacations in UK are usually spent, for the most part in Brighton, where my son Ed is based – a fair amount of eating out is usually involved! So, this piece on HotelChatter caught my eye – the name too – chilli pickle happens to be brilliantly made in Zambia by Rivonia and was the subject of a previous blog post. Can’t wait to try the restaurant next time we’re in Brighton.

“The ever-burgeoning London hotel scene may have most of our attention at the moment, but we’re far from immune to the charms of Brighton, especially with the news that one of our favorite fun hotels there, myhotel Brighton, has just opened a restaurant devoted to one of our favorite foods: curry.

Not just any restaurant, either – it’s the new site for The Chilli Pickle, which won the prize for most innovative restaurant at last year’s British Curry Awards, and received two AA rosettes and a Michelin BiB Gourmand thing too. The restaurant got all its plaudits (and rave TripAdvisor reviews) in its old location in Meetings House Lane but it’s now upped sticks to the hotel, and opened its doors Monday.

It’s owned by the same team and will have the same menu as before, as well as introducing some new dishes from a recent trip to India.

Prices are really reasonable, too: vegetable dishes from £3.50, mains from £6.95 and thalis for £9.95 for lunch and from £12.95 for dinner. The one to go for? The new Mutton Laal Mans – pieces of mutton in hot red chilli gravy from Rajasthan, courtesy of their latest trip.


Wonderful Review!

We get very excited with good reviews on TripAdvisor and here’s one of the latest!

We loved staying at Chanters! Richard personally picked us up from the airport (and waited around for us while we withdrew the wrong amounts of local currency and tried to change it into US dollars!) which was very kind. On our first evening of staying at the lodge, he asked us if we would like to appear on his local radio show, Zambezi FM! We were surprised but of course flattered!

Our room was spacious and cool, which was exactly what we needed. We didn’t worry about leaving our belongings lying around, nor did we fret about breaking any rules as Richard told us there were no rules, just to make ourselves at home! Every member of staff was so welcoming and hospitable, they just couldn’t do enough for you! We began our holiday at Chanters and didn’t want to move on. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone I know and I hope that at some time in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have the pleasure of returning.

There’s a nice photo of the girls in the 107.7 fm Zambezi Radio studio as well!



Anything to do with TripAdvisor automatically catches my attention seeing that so many Guests find us through that site. This piece from Kevin May’s brilliant TNooz is worth reproducing.

“The annual interview with TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer at the PhoCusWright conference touched briefly on the various elephants in the room. First up was Facebook – the ubiquitous social network which TripAdvisor integrated with in June 2010 to create its Trip Friends tool.

But despite such collaborative efforts, Facebook is launching new features at an astonishing pace, including Facebook Places, Facebook Deals, Facebook Questions and the new messaging service, all within the space of the past six months, raising questions as to where it might head next.

Some kind of stronger presence or tools in travel? Open reviewing systems? Kaufer thinks for a moment, then says slowly: “We are not PARTICULARLY worried about Facebook.” It sounds like a very careful response.

But on Google, the other elephant stomping loudly around the fringes of the industry, Kaufer is far more direct. Google, he says, has the power to completely alter the marketplace and its recent moves should be monitored closely. Now, TripAdvisor (along with its parent company Expedia) is a member of the FairSearch coalition against the acquisition of ITA Software by Google.

But, as one delegate mutters: “There was a site about eight years ago which completely altered the hotel marketplace – but I guess that kind of disruption is okay?”

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