TripAdvisor Asks Us For Help
Posted by Tony & Cheri on March 16, 2011
We received the following message from TripAdvisor this morning. Our response to them follows.
We hope all is going well with you and your role as a destination expert. Due to some recent disruptions in the Playa del Carmen forums, we are contacting you with a friendly reminder that we expect all of our experts to adhere to our forum posting guidelines and to embody our Community Mission:
If you find any inappropriate posts made by other members, we would ask you to please refrain from responding to them and instead bring the specific posts to our attention so that we may investigate, track any members who are repeatedly in violation and take any necessary action.
Please let me know if you have any questions about our policies. We appreciate all of your contributions and your dedication to the TripAdvisor forums, and we thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Here is our response:
We’d be glad to offer you some suggestions as to how you can “restore a friendly and pleasant atmosphere” to the Playa del Carmen forum. Our first and foremost suggestion is that TripAdvisor adheres to its own guidelines. This may require some retraining or replacement in your personnel that moderate the forums. But so far in our opinion the moderation of the Playa del Carmen forum has been laughably poor.
We’ll offer you an example. Recently, a forum member started a thread asking for directions to our bar. They stated that they had tried to find it in the past but were unable to do so. We responded by giving them directions, both via taxicab and on foot. We did not promote an event, promote our business, or make any statement which could be construed as advertising, i.e., we’re the best bar in town, etc. We answered a specific question from a forum member on how to locate our business.
This type of posting by a business owner is clearly allowed by TripAdvisor’s guidelines. TripAdvisor’s guidelines (a link to which you very kindly sent us) clearly state that a business owner can respond to comments or questions about their own business as long as they clearly identify themselves as the business owner and provide relevant information which is not promotion or advertising. It very specifically says that “contact” (i.e., how to find us) information can be given if it is requested.
Our response clearly fit into that category. By the way, please note that whenever we have posted on the forums, we have always identified ourselves in signature as the owners of a local business. We have never once posted and not done so.
Yet, despite clearly obeying TripAdvisor’s guidelines, our post was deleted. This is not the first time that has happened. Why did it happen? There has been for some time now a small group of people on the Playa del Carmen forum who have stated—often angrily and sometimes with insults—that business owners should not be allowed to post on the forums in any circumstances. We ourselves have been the target of substantial comments which have gone beyond rude, simply because we are business owners.
We suspect that one or more of such individuals marked our posting as inappropriate. The ball was then in TripAdvisor’s court. The moderator should have looked at our post and realized that it was well within TripAdvisor’s guidelines. Instead, he or she automatically deleted it. We suspect that this reflects an anti-business owner attitude among TripAdvisor moderators.
In the same vein, TripAdvisor could have done much to help “restore a friendly and pleasant atmosphere in the forums” by making an official pronouncement clarifying the guidelines and the role of local businesses in terms of posting. Instead it has allowed a small group to hijack the forum and use it to enforce personal views and sometimes personal vendettas.
Therefore, we find it somewhat amusing that you ask us to restore a friendly atmosphere on the forums when TripAdvisor feels it doesn’t even have to follow its own guidelines when deciding to delete our posts.
In the same vein, we have to note that at one point a poster from New York consistently made postings praising a certain hotel in Playa del Carmen. He did so under several different forum names. The problem with those postings is that he was the owner of the hotel. He never identified himself as the owner and instead acted as if he were just another vacationer who had discovered a great place. We repeatedly complained to TripAdvisor about this violation of rules. The moderators took no action for several months. Again, our suggestion is if you want people to follow the TripAdvisor guidelines, you follow them yourselves.
We also have to note that this letter either reflects a certain ineptitude on the part of TripAdvisor or certain rudeness. If this letter was sent out as a form message to all destination experts, then it is a simply a reflection of ineptitude. It is not relevant to our specific role or actions on TripAdvisor and should not have been forwarded to us in such a manner. If in fact it was specifically sent to us, it is outright insulting. Reminding us not to engage in self-promotion is an insult if it is specifically directed to us. Review the postings we have done over the past five years. We challenge you to provide us with specific examples of an attempt at self-promotion or advertising. We have NEVER talked about our hotel except in direct response to questions raised by other forum members. And we have always identified ourselves when giving such answers.
We also find your admonition that we “refrain from engaging in …any personal gossip about other members by private message” to be not only rude but shocking. First of all, we do not engage in such activities either on the forum or in private messages. Our private messages are almost exclusively giving answers to forum members who have contacted us about specific issues in Playa del Carmen (almost none of them related to our business). However, the second point is more important: How can TripAdvisor see itself as the moderator of “private” messages? The nature of a private message system is that it remains private between the people who are exchanging the messages. Certainly if someone is using that system to harass or attack another person or make unwanted intrusions into their account on TripAdvisor, they have every right to ask TripAdvisor to step in. But blanket warnings not to gossip indicates that TripAdvisor deems itself the moderators of exchanges between people who believe their communications to be private when in fact it appears they are not. We must conclude from your comments that TripAdvisor reads private messages. If that is the case, we suggest you change the term to “public messages.”
Lastly, we will admit to a single violation of TripAdvisor policies. Our last post on the Playa del Carmen forum (which has now been deleted by TripAdvisor) set forth our complaints regarding our unfair treatment simply because of our status as local business owners. We indicated at that time we found it impossible to offer people assistance in planning their visits to Playa del Carmen in such an atmosphere and suggested that if they wished to contact us with their questions they could do so via our blog or our Facebook page, the URLs for which were given by us. However, in all honesty, we did not do so to generate more business but because we wanted the other members of the forum community to understand why we would not be attempting to assist them with their questions on TripAdvisor in the immediate future. We wanted to offer our assistance in a friendlier atmosphere if people wanted to call upon us for help. In almost five years of posting on TripAdvisor’s Playa del Carmen forum, this was the first time we ever knowingly violated one of your rules. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for TripAdvisor itself.
Let’s be blunt here. TripAdvisor’s forums are a carefully controlled tool to bring people to the TripAdvisor website which in turn generates profits for the company. We don’t have a problem with that. We do however have a problem with maintaining a supposedly public forum where moderation is inconsistent, guidelines are enforced or not upon the whim of a particular moderator and where locals who own businesses are discriminated against and pushed out even when they strictly adhere to your policies. If you want to make the forum a more “friendly” place, we suggest you address those problems.
We have been staunch public supporters of TripAdvisor and have served the forum well as “Destination Experts.” And while exposure of our business via the forum, i.e., our signature on postings, can generally be considered beneficial, the effort, time and negative exposure resulting from personal attacks and a lack of support by TripAdvisor have made it an overall unpleasant experience.
At this time, we are the only Destination Experts who actually live in Playa del Carmen. The attempts by TripAdvisor to silence us leave its Playa del Carmen forum members without a single local voice to answer their questions. We fail to see how this serves the forum community.
We hope that you will give serious consideration to our comments. The issue here is actually larger than just TripAdvisor or the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar. The last two years have seen a dramatic drop in tourism in this part of the world. Media hysteria over dangers that actually have never touched Mexico’s Caribbean coast has caused many people to forego visiting this beautiful area. As a travel industry leader, TripAdvisor has an obligation to help set the record straight. Your forums are one of the opportunities to do that. However, that opportunity will be lost unless you operate them with a sense of fairness and an understanding of your own duty in such operation.
Please feel free to contact us in the future if you’d like to discuss this further.
Tony & Cheri
Luna Blue Hotel & Bar
|Final update: After we publicly announced we were withdrawing from Tripadvisor because of their treatment of us, we had a couple of surprises. First, people on the TripAdvisor forum began to speak out on our behalf. Thread after thread was started with many, many posts from people letting TripAdvisor know they did not agree with their censorship policy. Then, the biggest surprise…TripAdvisor sent us a message of apology. They said they were sorry for the “misunderstanding,” thanked us for our participation and support in TripAdvisor’s Playa del Carmen forum and re-published our deleted posts.
We decided that based upon this we would return to posting on the TA forum. We thank TA for taking the unusual step of actually reconsidering the situation and being willing to admit an error on their part. However our greatest thanks is for the many people (most of whom we’ve never met nor corresponded with) who spoke on our behalf and said so many nice things about us. That really meant a lot to us. So in the future you can continue to find us on the TripAdvisor forum offering information about Playa del Carmen and this beautiful part of the world.
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