Hotels vs. TripAdvisor: A Losing Battle

The Leland Hotel, Detroit, MI, can't begin to compete against its sorry ratings on TripAdvisor.com.
The Leland Hotel, Detroit, MI, can’t begin to compete against its sorry ratings on TripAdvisor.com.

A new market research survey on the hospitality industry conducted by Synovate finds that a large portion of U.S. consumers relies on review sites like TripAdvisor to help them find and select hotels.

While nearly half of the Americans surveyed use hotels’ own web sites, nearly one-fourth go to third-party review sites for the “real skinny.”

What this means is that even the most compelling marketing effort by a hotel can be undone by a few less-than-stellar reviews from fellow travelers who feel strongly enough to take the time to write up their experiences.

Of course, there are many laudatory comments … but the negative reviews are the ones that are often the most memorable — and the most influential.

I had this experience last month when deciding which hotel to choose when staying in downtown Detroit with my family. Several historic hotel properties have been renovated and reopened downtown in just the past year, and they provided several great options to consider.

But there was also the Leland Hotel, the one historic downtown hotel property that has remained open throughout the entire time of Detroit’s turbulent recent history. And while the publicity photos of the hotel appear to show what is a perfectly acceptable alternative, the reviews on TripAdvisor tell a completely different story. There were so many “low” ratings I lost count. And some of the reviews were so descriptive and riveting, I felt like I had already been a guest there!

Here’s one such example, posted in September 2008 on TripAdvisor, reprinted almost in its entirety (I have corrected only a few misspelled words). It is priceless:

Four friends and I (all mid-20s) stayed here for the Lions vs. Packers game and found the location to be great as it is a short walk to the stadium. Unfortunately, the downtown area is so depressed there was nothing happening on a Saturday night, except the lobby bar at the Holiday Inn Express down the road. I suppose we could have gone to the industrial Goth club in the basement of the Leland Hotel, but we had not packed our leather and artificial fangs.

Allow me to walk you through my experience. We arrived in the midst of a rainstorm, which had flooded roads on our route from Chicago. So why would I expect this property to be any different? I waded through a pool of water in the entryway and found my way up the steps to the lobby. My first impression was, “Wow, this place must have been really nice … 80 years ago.” Everything was run-down and poorly updated in the lobby. Even the counter at reception had a crack and large pieces missing.

After waiting for a few minutes for some riff-raff to cash their paychecks, I was greeted with a friendly smile and, “Hi, we don’t have any water.” My immediate reaction was humor. “Well, that’s kind of a perk at most hotels…” She said they were working on fixing it, so I did not worry too much. She gave me a parking pass to the secured lot in back, and I and my party made our way in.

As we approached the elevators, we heard a booming, bass-driven sound coming from just around the corner. We later discovered this was the “famous” City Club located in a former ballroom in the basement of the building. As we waited several minutes for the elevator (only 1 of 6 actually worked), there were people dressed in black with heavy make-up shuffling past … guess where they were going?

Our room was on the 10th floor, but for some reason the elevator stopped at the 4th to reveal a dingy hallway with no carpet, and paint-splattered walls in a dimly lit hall. This vision brought on a mixed reaction of laughter, and concern. Our floor was not in this poor of a condition. Still rundown and smelly, but carpeted with covered walls. We found our room and the electronic key worked the first time! How often do you need to get a new key because it does not work the first time? It’s commonplace for me. However, no problems here.

The room was nothing special in the least. Two double beds, a dresser, a nightstand with lamp and radio, flimsy top table with two chairs and a TV that got only one channel with no way to adjust the volume (no remote). The bathroom was clean enough, just old with outdated fixtures. My shower was inexplicably scalding hot, but I was the only one who had this problem. I was a bit concerned with the splatter of blood on the wall, but it became a subject for discussion and was later dismissed.

We spent some time in the room enjoying some adult beverages and then decided later to hit the town (see first paragraph). Our wait for the elevator this time was much longer than the last, so we decided to take the stairs … If you have a weak heart or are easily spooked, I DO NOT recommend taking the stairs.

Graffiti-tagged walls and dimly lit wells made this an experience in itself. At every floor there was a 50-gallon drum garbage can overflowing with trash of dirty diapers and biohazard-level waste. Pitch-black corridors at each floor led to a filthy window where God knows what would be found if a light was shined upon it. Oh, and the floors weren’t marked, and in our confused (and slightly intoxicated) state we had no idea where we were. We began trying to open doors at each floor, but none would open. We came across one that was propped open but the floor had no lights … so we pressed on.

Eventually, we ran out of stairs and found ourselves in the basement. It was then that we decided to break off into pairs and try to find our way out. My buddy and I entered a chasm of a room with no lights filled with old furniture, drapes and large machines. On the far side of the room, we could see a lit room and heard what sounded like big band music. We slowly made our way towards the doorway, thinking perhaps this led to an exit. Our trip was cut short when my friend caught his reflection in a free-standing mirror and we bolted out the way we came.

Anyone ever seen Scooby-Doo? Well, I was feeling a lot like Shaggy at this point.

We finally found our way to the lobby and literally ran into our other friends. Needless to say, we waited for the elevator upon our return for the night.

Two of us slept on the floor (on camping mats) and two in the beds. This arrangement was not disputed and worked out well, but almost killed one of us …

I awoke in the morning to a loud discussion about how someone could have died. It was then that I looked to the floor just above where my friend’s head was resting and saw the several large broken pieces of plaster, which had hours earlier been a 3 x 1-foot section of the archway to the door.

That is right. My friend’s head was nearly crushed while he slept by a piece of the ceiling that had chosen that particular night to collapse.

Scary.

With reviews like that, it’s no wonder hotels can’t compete against the power of social media!

3 thoughts on “Hotels vs. TripAdvisor: A Losing Battle

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