REPORT FROM THE U.S.—It was exactly two years ago Wednesday when the hotel formerly known as the Waikiki Edition abruptly switched management overnight, with little warning.
The 353-room hotel—the first of a new brand partnership between Marriott International and Ian Schrager—was severely underperforming, according to its owners, who consequently opted to end their franchise agreement and become an independent hotel.
Suffice to say, the hotel’s public image took a hit, particularly online. New management* was able to work with TripAdvisor to eliminate all previous guest reviews and start over with a clean slate as the Modern Honolulu, according to Nicholas Barger, director of rooms at the Modern Honolulu, who appeared on a webinar Tuesday titled "Climbing TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index," presented by ReKnown, ReviewPro and TripAdvisor.
(Note: While many hoteliers similarly wish to wipe their TripAdvisor records clean, there are tough stipulations to do so. According to Brian Payea, head of industry relations at TripAdvisor, the conditions for starting fresh require a change in ownership, a change in brand or a substantial renovation, he said during the webinar.)
Starting over as an independent property with a tumultuous background wasn’t easy. At one point the hotel was ranked in the 50s, according to TripAdvisor’s popularity index, which is a proprietary algorithm that ranks hotels within a market.
But in December of last year, management decided to put extra emphasis on guest satisfaction and online reputation management to see what it could really do on TripAdvisor.
“There’s not one silver bullet to it,” said Nicholas Barger, director of rooms at the Modern Honolulu. “You can’t talk your way to the top on TripAdvisor; you have to offer great service and focus on the guest experience.”
Staff at the Modern Honolulu took a hard look at what the guests were saying and where the hotel needed to improve.
They also focused on getting more reviews by prompting satisfied guests to leave TripAdvisor feedback through three different touch points: First, as the guest departed, the front-desk clerk would hand out a TripAdvisor card; then, in a follow-up email, a link was provided from the internal guest satisfaction survey to the hotel’s TripAdvisor page; and finally, the GM of the hotel would personally email satisfied guests and prompt them to leave feedback on TripAdvisor.
Today, the hotel ranks No. 6 out of 83 hotels in Honolulu.
“The popularity index is an important part of travelers’ decision-making process,” Payea said. “Certainly everyone wants to see their hotel move up so they can be seen by more potential guests.”
Payea and TripAdvisor remain tight-lipped about the exact algorithm that determines popularity index. However, he did offer three key factors that help determine the ranking: the “recency” of reviews, the quality of reviews and the quantity of reviews.
“These are all things you have a very direct impact on,” he told the webinar audience.
To get more reviews—fresh and positive ones, in particular—the Modern Honolulu made “quite a bit” of operational adjustments, Barger said. First, it attempted to dissipate late-night noise outside the property by using security to keep patrons who were leaving the property’s restaurants and bars moving along.
Management also empowered line-level staff to engage with guests and ensure they are truly happy before they leave the property. “It’s hard to recover (from a bad guest impression) once the guest has left the property,” Barger said.
Taking guest satisfaction empowerment a step further, management empowers anyone on the hotel staff to comp up to 100% of any guest’s bill.
“It sounds scary, and it rarely happens, but it really helps employees resolve guest property issues,” Barger said.
Beyond improving guest service, obtaining more reviews is the best way to move up TripAdvisor’s popularity index.
Payea suggested hoteliers not be afraid to ask guests to leave feedback. The average score for a hotel on TripAdvisor is 4.08, he said, suggesting most reviews are positive (77%).
“Asking for reviews is not something that’s inherently risky,” he said.
However, according to TripAdvisor’s rules and regulations, hotels are not allowed to incentivize guests to leave reviews.
“Property owners are welcome to encourage their guests to submit user reviews upon their return home, but they are not allowed to offer incentives, discounts, upgrades or special treatment on current or future stays in exchange for reviews,” according to the site’s Review Moderation and Fraud Detection page.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story mis-identified the company currently operating the Modern Honolulu.