Friday, October 21, 2011

Starwood Hotels to Publish Guest Reviews

USA Today: Starwood later today will launch a first-ever online review function - a first-ever move by a U.S. global hotel company that gives its customers a high-profile voice and potential influence with other guests.

The new function will let Sheraton, Westin, W and other Starwood-brand hotel customers write their assessment of their recent hotel stay directly on Starwood websites, senior Starwood executive Chris Holdren tells Hotel Check-In. Anyone will be able to read the reviews and share them via social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter. Starwood hopes that by giving customers the chance to write reviews, they'll be more engaged with the company and more likely to book repeat stays.

Risky move?
So far, none of Starwood's biggest rivals such as Marriott and Hilton have attempted to post customer reviews. Doing so, after all, could be risky if reviewers expose weak points, such as a nasty hotel staffer, broken air conditioning unit or inadequate Wi-Fi connection. But Holdren says that's not a big concern.

"We are confident in our hotels," Holdren, the senior vice president who runs the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, tells me.

Reviews will lead to hotel ratings
Once enough reviews have been written about a hotel, Starwood will use the data to give the hotel a rating that ranges from "1" being the worst to "5" being the best.

To make the process uniform, Starwood created "rating categories" for the following areas: "Overall Rating," "Room Comfort," "Staff Met My Needs," "Room Cleanliness" and "SPG Recognition."

Guests will be able to filter content by "Star Rating," "Purpose of Travel," "Frequency of Travel," "SPG Level," "Above/Met Expectations" and "Below Expectations."

Since some reviews will clearly emphasize negative experiences, Starwood has bolstered its system to follow up complaints with individual hotels, he says. Starwood, like other hotel giants, already had a system in place to perform a similar function as it relates to negative comments on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Will you trust reviews on Starwood.com?
Millions of travelers rely on TripAdvisor reviews because they're independent. But Holdren thinks many travelers will come to trust Starwood customer reviews for two reasons:

Experienced writers: Holdren thinks that Starwood's most loyal customers - those who know their hotels best - will submit reviews most often. "Anyone can make a review, but our research shows that our SPG members will be delivering a lot of reviews on the site," he says. "They are very valuable. In some cases, they stay with us more than 50 nights per year."

Unique information: Some people question some TripAdvisor reviews (did a rival hotelier disparage his competitor to gain a business edge?). Under Starwood's system, Holdren says reviews will only be published after a writer's stay has been validated with a reservation confirmation number. "When you see a review on SPG.com, you'll know that a guest stayed at that hotel," Holdren says.

Will Starwood publish everything?
Like TripAdvisor, Starwood will first check reviews for profanity before publishing. And then Starwood will take the added step of confirming the reviewer's stay. The process could take two or even three days.

But ultimately, once a review has been vetted and confirmed, Starwood will publish it - no matter whether good, bad or ugly, he says.

The function is being launched at about noon EST, and Starwood will begin sending emails to SPG members about it next week.

Expect to see the first reviews appear for some of Starwood's largest and busiest hotels, such the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, the Westin New York at Times Square and the W New York in Times Square.

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