With the integrity of consumer-written hotel reviews under fire, Star Service Online, a sister company of Travel Weekly, introduced what it said was a unique solution: reviews written by and for travel agents.
Companies have approached the review-integrity issue with a variety of solutions. As reported, TripAdvisor began posting notices online of suspected review-manipulation next to listings of the properties in question; Oyster.com launched a website featuring hotel reviews from journalists under its employ; and Expedia and Priceline accept reviews only from travelers who booked the hotel on their respective websites.
Star Service Online, which touts its database of about 10,000 professionally written hotel reviews, last month introduced Agent 2 Agent reviews that enable agents to assign an overall rating to a property ranging from 1 (horrible) to 5 (excellent).
Agent 2 Agent reviews also use the same numerical system to evaluate how the property pays commissions and incentives; whether the client got a good deal; how easy or difficult it was to book the property; and whether clients were happy with the accommodations.
Star Service Online sees the value in agents being able to access these rankings from other agents and views consumer-written reviews with disdain.
"Travel agents should not trust consumer reviews, and, as professionals, they should not use the same sources that are available to consumers," stated Ned Tobey, director of sales and marketing for Star Service Online. "They should use professional tools designed specifically for travel agents rather than putting their businesses at risk with the use of untrustworthy consumer comments."
All review systems have their strengths and weaknesses, and one wonders if agent-written reviews, too, might be susceptible to various influences. Is it possible that an agent, for example, would give a subpar overall rating to a property if it didn't pay incentives at all or was habitually late in paying commissions? And neither TripAdvisor nor Star Service Online requires proof that the traveler or agency client, respectively, actually stayed at the property.
A Star Service Online spokeswoman said the strength of the agent reviews, which are based on both the agent's and client's experience with the property, is that they contain information relevant to agents, and all reviews are monitored by Star Service Online staff before they are posted.
The spokeswoman added that the response to the new feature has been good, with about 60 reviews having been written since the product launched about a week ago.