If I had only one application to use on my road trip it would be tripadvisor. Having said that it wasn’t enough on my road trip although I spent more time using this app than any other. I put a lot of planning into the trip before hand and contacted US State Tourism organisations asking for information. Only Tennessee came back to me with a booklet including useful maps of the whole state and things to do, places to see, which was great. I filled it with post it flags.
All tourist organisations have material like this book, but they don’t make it easy to access and they don’t appear to collaborate interstate. This is a major negative for a traveller on a road trip that regional tourist operators in New Zealand and Australia should also think about. I managed to get a similar book for Louisiana when I arrived in New Orleans, which looked like it was designed by the same company. I was lucky that the property we stayed in had one in the room. Otherwise you need to find an Information Centre, but of course these aere widely spread out and you need info to find one.
The biggest problem was that these books were segmented by town or county and not well linked to the main map. They were designed more for people who are looking at locating themselves in a town for a holiday and exploring from there. Also the maps for each state ended strictly on the state line, so if there was something worth enjoying on the other side, it wasn’t going to be on the map. This makes it really difficult to plan a multi state holiday. It would be far better for State and Regional Tourism Operators to work together to mutual benefit. I’m going to cross the line whether you make it easy for me or not.
So back to tripadvisor. If you install it on your mobile or iPad it will help you find Accommodation, Restaurants, Flights and Things To Do, sometimes. What I found was that they worked pretty well in cities, which was the same case with apps such as Foursquare and others, but when you go to rural USA, which was my plan for 3 weeks, the information tends to be more limited to accommodation and sparse when it comes to the many interesting attractions that people have put huge effort into but leave most people blissfuly unaware of them.
My main use for tripadvisor was accommodation and this was really interesting. When you travel through rural America there is a huge variety of accommodation options from very cheap to very expensive. The great thing about it is that it is full of reviews from people who have stayed at those properties. Reviews is something that scare the hell out of tourism industry publishers who charge people to list on their publications, websites, reservation engines etc and in New Zealand some property operators have complained about competitors giving them bad reviews, therefore saying the systems don’t work.
My message to them is that I trust my peers more than I trust advertising, especially those who have stayed at the properties. When you do advertise, make sure you are honest and deliver on your promise. When you say you have high speed WiFi Access throughout the property, make sure you do because this could be the deciding factor as to why someone books and stays with you and the one negative if it doesn’t work, that they will tell the world about.
For the app user:
- Read many reviews. Look at the dates they were posted and read them carefully. Often there are unique stories where the person had unique needs or expectations that were not met. The more reviews you read, the more you will get the real big picture. Some people are unreasonable or feel that if they are doing a review they have to find fault. Do other people contradict their comments or are there common threads?
- Think about what your needs and time frames are. For example I got a cheap hotel for one night in New Orleans as we were arriving at 1AM and leaving again first thing in the morning. The review said it was clean and tidy but the air conditioning was noisy. They were right, but we knew we were going to be so tired after 30 hours of traveling that it wouldn’t keep us awake and the price and location was good.
- We ended up rating properties based on the things we were looking for and canceling out any that looked dodgy, for example several had complaints about bed bugs.
- We were able to ‘star’ the ones we thought were ok for a re-look.
- We also looked for situations where people had complained and the manager of the property came back and offered solutions and responses. In some cases there were managers who responded to every comment good and bad.
- The problem is that there are many options and when you are doing a road trip and trying to find attractions etc, you can easily waste hours of what should be relaxation time on your trip, but this is one of the costs of being a FIT.
- Tripadvisor offers many choices of reservation engines and price checks. I quickly found that once I had found a property I liked, a phone call to their front desk not only got me a cheaper price than all of the reservation sites, but also cooperation on a better room. Many properties will put you in a crappy room next to the laundry, the road or the busy swimming pool when you get a cheap online booking. If someone recommends a room number and their review sounds like what you are looking for, ask for that room.
Tips for the Tourist Operator:
- Your property is likely to end up in tripadvisor whether you submit it or not.
- People will talk about your property whether you like it or not. Most of them will be bona-fide guests who benefited from the application and are therefore sharing their experience.
- Put yourselves in their shoes. Your business is about hospitality and for your guest it is totally personal. Treat them as you would your family.
- When people make a comment about your business, good or bad, acknowledge and respond to it.
- If you sell rooms cheap on reservation engines don’t automatically give them the crappy room that you never sell if there are better rooms that are going to stay empty. I had a property in Auckland, Sebel Suites, do that to me early this year. They said they could only give me a room with a view of the carpark, because I had booked
on a cheap promotion. The thing was that they didn’t sell many of the nice rooms overlooking the beautiful Auckland Viaduct Basin that night (I followed up the next morning), but if they had, it wouldn’t have been fair to the people who paid full price. So here’s my advice to them, which the Duty Manager didn’t want to hear. I live on the outskirts of Auckland. I have the choice to go home, but sometimes my wife and I like to go to a show, or out for a night, have a few drinks and not have to worry about driving home. We have stayed in many properties in Auckland. We have told all of our friends and tripadvisor which ones we liked and which ones we felt let us down. We will never again go to the Sebel Suites, we will go back to hotels like the Sky City Grand which has some great promotions on their site. As I said, it travel and tourism is personal.
- Make sure your business is on sites and apps like TripAdvisor.
Bottom line, I almost hated tripadvisor by the end of my holiday because we became almost fanatic about reading the reviews. We found the star ratings didn’t help much and whilst there was a function to save the ones we wanted to revisit, we couldn’t also flag the ones to avoid. We spent a huge amount of time on the site, BUT in every location we found exactly what we expected. We knew which rooms to avoid, and quickly learned to read between the lines.
For developers, this is an excellent site / application to learn from, not perfect but very good, even using your location on your mobile to help you find locations. For users, do give back. If you value crowd sourced feedback and make decisions based on it, you need to give back as well. If you are in New Zealand or Australia, talk to us at GeoSmart. We can help you with practical experience as both frequent travellers and users of apps and a mapping company that cares very strongly about the quality of our location-based data, maps, Points of Interest and the success of applications developed using it. We are local and keen to help. If you are here, but aiming for the world, we can help you get a start based on what we know about the industry and our experience as travelers. We want to help grow New Zealand international success stories.
Planning a road trip somewhere or know somene who is? The may be interested in this series of blogs, which they can find at http://luigicappel.wordpress.com Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think may benefit from it. I wish I had been given a lot of this advice before I left for my trip.
I will follow this up with some ideas as to what would have made tripadvisor a better app for the road tripper, which may be of interest to people looking at developing apps for travel and tourism and am happy to discuss my ideas and experience.