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Posts Tagged ‘tripadvisor’

The Nightmare with Expedia Continues

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 22, 2013

Quite a bit has happened since we wrote a blog last month detailing our difficulties with travel industry giant Expedia, Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel, mostly due to the power of social media.

Tony & Cheri, Owners of the Luna Blue HotelFor starters, our story seemed to touch a lot of folks. In fact so many people liked what we had to say and shared it with others, that our blog eventually went viral. Thousands of people have read our story and many have e-mailed Expedia to complain about how we were treated.

The blog was first shared on various Facebook pages and then by internet news networks Hacker News and Reddit.com. Adrianne Jeffries of The Verge online news service interviewed us and wrote an excellent article about the situation: One Small Hotel’s Long Nightmare with Expedia.  Next came the The Daily Mail, London’s second largest newspaper, which posted an online story about Expedia’s bad behavior towards us.  And it just kept going.  Blog after blog picked up our story and shared it; people throughout the world tweeted and retweeted our story on Twitter, and it was spread all around Facebook.  Most recently we were interviewed on Blogtalk Radio by Canadian Travel Expert Deanna Byrne: David vs Goliath. Small Independent Hotel Battles Expedia.

We are overwhelmed by this amazing response and moved beyond words by the avalanche of support we have received.  To everyone who passed our story along, commented on it, and e-mailed or messaged us words of support or suggestions on how to handle this situation, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Expedia Finally Responds

As a result of this internet activity Expedia finally responded to our situation…kind of.

One common reaction to our blog was a bit of healthy skepticism.  Many people said ‘That’s terrible, but it’s only one side of the story. I want to hear from Expedia.’  So did we.  We had been waiting for a response from Expedia for months.  We never got one.  However it seems that while Expedia could and did ignore all of our e-mails and phone calls, they were less able to withstand the power of social media and the press.  Expedia finally broke its silence on our situation when contacted by Adrianne Jeffries for her story on The Verge. Of course they didn’t have much to say.

The Expedia spokesman refused to comment on our allegations and would only say that: “Expedia … can confirm Luna Blue Hotel and Expedia are no longer working together.

So Expedia says it isn’t doing business with us.  That’s great; it’s what we have been asking for for several months.  But we have just one more question:

Expedia: If we are no longer working together, WHY ARE WE LISTED ON YOUR AFFILIATE BOOKING SITES ACROSS THE INTERNET AS A PARTNER HOTEL AND WHY ARE YOU STILL TELLING PEOPLE WE HAVE NO ROOMS AVAILABLE AT ANY TIME?

Expedia still hasn’t answered that question.

Expedia by Any Other Name is Still Expedia

Photo by Tim SmithShortly after our story appeared on The Verge, and after causing several long months of damage to us, Expedia finally disabled the Luna Blue Hotel pages on the Expedia website.  At least people going to Expedia’s main pages would no longer be told we had no rooms available.  Unfortunately this is a tiny step with little consequence given the size of Expedia’s reach. Expedia STILL continues to list us on dozens of their affiliate sites throughout the internet. The on-line booking site Venere is a perfect example.

Venere is a subsidiary of Expedia.  Like Hotels.com, Hotwire and many other travel sites, it is wholly owned by Expedia and acts a booking site using Expedia’s database.

We have never contracted with Venere and never given it permission to list our property.  Yet Venere/Expedia claims it is a booking agent for our hotel.  When anyone uses Venere to check for availability they are linked back to Expedia which says we have no rooms to rent ever… and then they are directed to other more expensive hotels!  And we continue to be listed, with no availability showing,  on many sites linking to Venere/Expedia such as travelyahoo.com, cleartrip, holidaywatchdog.com, travelpod.com, tingo, reservetravel.com and many others. 

The biggest and most important site to link to Expedia/Venere’s false information is TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel website. It maintains pages about nearly every hotel in an area, including ours, upon which people can post reviews. Also on these hotel pages, TA sells space for advertisers and vendors like Expedia, Venere, Hotels.com, etc.  On our TripAdvisor page Expedia/Venere places a link or tick box which says you can check with them for availability and “best rates” at our hotel. There are two problems with that… 1.) we aren’t doing business with Expedia/Venere and 2.) when you click the link, Expedia once again falsely says we have no availability ever.

Photo by Tim SmithIn other words, anyone looking at our hotel on the largest travel website in the world will be directed to Venere/Expedia and told, falsely, that we have no rooms to rent!   And yet…Expedia says it’s no longer working with us.  To Expedia, we guess “no longer working together ” doesn’t mean that they won’t use our name to fraudulently lure people to other hotels on their site.

We recently asked TripAdvisor to remove this link, which they have temporarily done.  However they removed this link in the past at our request only to have it return shortly thereafter.  Unfortunately TA tells us they really have no control over the space they sell to Expedia. Each month Expedia resubmits its designated links to TA for posting on its pages. Although Expedia/Venere is saying they don’t do business with us, they have been continuing to advertise our hotel each month on TripAdvisor, claiming to be our booking agent.  We will see what February brings. For now, Expedia’s war on small hotels continues.

We Aren’t the Only Victims of Expedia

So as you can see, Expedia’s tiny gesture of removing us from the Expedia page does little to stop the continuing damage they are doing to us. And frankly we are not surprised by this.  Because along with the well wishes and messages of support we have received in response to our first blog, we have also been swamped with people–both consumers and those in the travel business–telling their horror stories concerning Expedia.  For some examples just take a look at the comments people have posted on our previous blog post.  Many of them relate their own nightmares with Expedia and are quite enlightening.

Photo by Tim SmithThe stories we have heard range from horrible customer service to stories similar to ours… i.e. hotels being listed as having no availability on Expedia when there are plenty of rooms open. However the one that struck us as the most outrageous was the story of Columbus, Georgia. It seems that this small town had a dispute with Expedia, demanding that Expedia pay certain taxes which were required of anyone booking hotel rooms. Expedia refused, and the city of Columbus brought a lawsuit against them.  However, Expedia wanted more than a court decision. It wanted to punish this little town and anyone who did business there. So Expedia wiped Columbus off the map by removing EVERY hotel in the town from all of its affiliated travel sites, as if the town didn’t even exist.  If you went to Expedia and looked for a hotel in the town of Columbus, you were told there weren’t any, and directed to hotels in the next town!  To embarrass the city government and bring pressure on it, Expedia attacked every hotel in that town not because the hotels had done something wrong, but because they were being used as pawns in Expedia’s ever widening attempt to control all travel bookings.  Expedia continued to hide every hotel in Columbus, Georgia from every one of its websites for over five years, until the case was finally settled.

In our opinion this example clearly shows Expedia’s corporate goal is not mere financial success but it is instead to seek complete and improper control of the travel industry market…and woe to anyone who protests or stands in its way.

What to Do?

So people continue to ask: what can be done about this? The answer is we aren’t sure. A lot of people have written and urged us to lead some sort of campaign against Expedia. But that is not our role here.  We work full time to make our hotel a success. It is a 7 day a week/24 hours a day job. We jokingly say that we are the whitest people in the Caribbean. Everyone has a better tan than we do as we never seem to have time to get to the beach. So we are not in a position to lead a crusade.  All we can do is speak out to tell people the truth about what was done to us by Expedia and help educate others about travel companies such as Expedia and its affiliates.

Photo by Tim SmithThe simplest response to Expedia’s misconduct is …don’t use them or their affiliates: Venere.com, Egencia.com, eLong.com, Hotwire.com, Hotels.com, Localexpert.com or any of the websites listed above.   Don’t book your vacation though a nameless, faceless data bank but instead talk to people who actually know about the places you want to visit.  Call the hotel or restaurant or tour operator directly.  Or call a travel agent who specializes in the type of travel or destinations you want.  We don’t suggest this just because we feel that Expedia harms small businesses such as ours.  We suggest it also because you are better off making your own decisions about your vacation than leaving them in the hands of large corporations who do not act as your advocate.

Remember: the claim that Expedia offers lower rates is not generally true.  Expedia may at times buy blocks of rooms from large hotels or hotel chains and offer them at a discounted rate.  However those hotels are unlikely to offer additional amenities or benefits as they have already tremendously discounted the rate to Expedia.  On the other hand, you may get a better deal by contacting the hotel directly.  In dealing with guests directly, hotels–particularly independent and small hotels–may be much more willing to offer discounts, upgrades, specials or promotions if you book directly.  Remember, Expedia has no ability to negotiate with you for hotel prices, special requests or amenities.  The hotel does.  Call them directly.

Don’t Start Your Research on Expedia or Related Sites

Some people say they use Expedia just to get an overview of available hotels before booking directly.  The problem with this is that Expedia ONLY lists hotels it has chosen to promote.   There will be many other fine accommodations which you will miss if you limit your search to Expedia.  If you want to do your own research, which we strongly suggest you do, check out Tripadvisor, which will list nearly every hotel available in an area, since hotels do not pay to be on those pages, and read their reviews.  Or have a reputable travel agent give you options. A travel agent will act as your advocate, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, ultimately leading to a better vacation–which is what it’s all about.

Always remember it is your vacation and your money…don’t let somebody else tell you how or where to spend it. Don’t let some mega-corporation limit your travel choices.

Some Good News

We continue to receive not only messages of support, but bookings as well. The word is getting out and people are finding they can reserve at our hotel by contacting us directly via our website, e-mail or Facebook.  2013 Travelers' Choice Award Winner - Luna Blue Hotel - Best Bargain MexicoAnd we have been contacted by several quality travel agents with whom we have begun working.  Sadly, we we are still getting way too many messages that say “I heard about the problem with Expedia too late. I booked another hotel because I thought you were full.”  So we are keeping up our efforts to tell travelers around the world…we are open and we have availability.

We are also very excited, as this week were were awarded a 2013 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for being one of the best Bargain Hotels in Mexico!  TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards have been given each year for the last 11 years to the world’s top properties.  This is the second time we have won this award, and we are very proud about that.  According to TripAdvisor, “Unlike any other hotel honors, TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice winners are based on millions of valuable reviews and opinions covering more than 650,000 hotels and collected in a single year from travelers around the world.”  Thank you to all of our guests who wrote such great reviews about us on TripAdvisor’s Luna Blue page. We remain committed to offering our guests the same high level of service and accommodations which have earned us this award. 

In closing, once again, we would like to say thank you to all who offered support and helped spread the word. We deeply appreciate it.  Now…come join us in paradise.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , | 24 Comments »

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.

Hi LunaBlue,

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:

tripadvisor.com/help/what_are_the_guidelines_for_…
We’d like to ask for your cooperation in helping us to restore a friendly and pleasant atmosphere in the forums. In particular, we’d ask you to please refrain from engaging in any personal confrontations in the forums or any personal gossip about other members by private message. Additionally, we’d like to remind you to completely refrain from posting any remarks that could be construed as self-promotion, such as announcing special events that take place at your property, suggesting your business when people ask for recommendations, or providing your Facebook contact information.

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.

Best regards,
TA_MikeW
TripAdvisor Support Team

Here is our response:

Hi, Mike,

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.

   

“Like” the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar on Facebook to keep up with the latest news of Playa del Carmen, life in paradise & our version of “living the dream.”

   

Posted in Living the Dream, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Tripadvisor Punishes Local Playa del Carmen Businesses

Posted by Tony & Cheri on March 14, 2011

We posted the following this evening on the Tripadvisor Playa del Carmen forum. We think it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Where is the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar? We know, but we aren’t allowed to tell you.

We have been posting here on the TA Playa Del Carmen forum ever since we moved to Playa almost six years ago. After a couple of years of posting we were made “Destination Experts” for this forum. There are a lot of “Destination Experts” for Playa, but we are the only ones who currently live here. We think that gives us a knowledge that can’t be obtained simply by vacationing here occasionally.

From the very beginning we’ve done our best to offer as much information about Playa as we could and to obey TA’s rules for postings by a local business. We always signed our name as business owners so there would never be any question about it. We never started threads about our business. We never responded to questions about where to stay or which is the best hotel. We never offered opinions about the value, quality etc. of our business or competing businesses.

Mostly we have answered questions about Playa from people who needed information. If you want to see what kind of posts we made and what kind of information we have offered just click on our avatar at the left of this post. Go to our profile and look at the list of our postings.

We think most people will agree that we have regularly answered questions about Playa that had no connection to our business. And we have answered questions regularly from people who clearly were staying at large resorts and would never consider coming to a small hotel like ours.

Of course we realize that exposure on a forum like TA is generally good for business. But the reality is that the TA Playa forum is overwhelmingly populated by people who prefer the AI experience. We have NEVER had a guest tell us that they picked our hotel after seeing us on the TA forum. We have always felt that we had a unique knowledge and experience and wanted to share it.

However some other people saw it differently. An increasingly vocal group on this forum has started a drumbeat against local business owners posting here. We have never understood why. As long as people know it is a business they can judge the weight of the opinion accordingly. Readers can ignore such posts, accept them or take them with a grain of salt.

In the end, our attitude has been that locals—those who live and work here—have more information to share than those who occasionally visit some large resort on the Riviera Maya once or twice a year. We think many people are interested in what we locals think and know. However a small group of forum posters acting as self-appointed censors saw it differently. This group has made a real effort to drive locals from this board.

Because we are local business owners, we have been called shills for the tourist trade and representatives of the whole Mexican hotel industry, accused of blatant self promotion and even personally attacked. One person who publicly said we had no place on TA went on a TA forum and said our hotel was a front for an escort service! We have dealt with this stupidity as best we could over the years, continuing to post in the belief that we were actually helping some people discover the wonders of this part of the world.

However today was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Someone started a thread asking where our bar was. We posted our address and directions (both via cab and walking). No promotion, no advertising, no “we are the best bar…” etc. Just directions, no more. Someone complained it was self promotion and TA removed our post.

In short we aren’t allowed to even say where we are located without being attacked by those members of this forum who have decided they and they alone can decide what others will post. We find this unfair, and we think TA’s willingness to allow this sort of bullying to take place is equally wrong.

For us the stupidity and pettiness of certain members of this forum have reached a point where we no longer find it worth our time or effort to share our knowledge of Playa on this board.

We are still more than happy to share what we know of Playa…just not here. If any reader here has questions about Playa and think we might be able to help, please feel free to contact us at our blog (www.playazone.wordpress.com), our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/lunabluehotel) or through our website (www.lunabluehotel.com). Or you can even just by stop by our hotel and ask your questions in person. We’ll do our best to help.

We love our adopted home of Playa Del Carmen. We walk its streets, visit its beaches and experience its people EVERY DAY…not a couple of times a year, but EVERY DAY. If we can help others discover the pleasures of life here we are happy to do it. But we are not willing to be attacked for offering people this help.

Yes this post will quickly be removed. As soon as one of the self-designated forum police sees it and reports it, TA will remove it. But we are going to post it on our Facebook page and on our blog. We think forum readers should know how Tripadvisor has allowed a few people to restrict information on this forum.

We wish the readers of the TA Playa del Carmen forum good travels. Please come to Playa and see for yourself how sweet, laid back, and beautiful life down here can be.

Now we are going to return to our life here in paradise. We will see you on the beach.

Tony & Cheri
Luna Blue Hotel & Bar


Someone at Tripadvisor must have been sleeping last night, as they allowed this post to stay up for almost 14 hours before it was deleted and the thread closed. LOL Thanks to all the nice people who had positive comments.

Posted in Living the Dream, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

 
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