Let’s talk about travel reviews. My wife and I have a regular argument about this one particular topic, and I can confidently say I’m wrong and she’s right.

I’m talking about user reviews and how much they matter.

My wife does not buy anything without first looking at reviews. That applies to everything. If we want to watch a movie online? She looks at user reviews, not just what the critics are saying. As for me, I just don’t care to look for most products, but if I’m spending a little more money, or buying something related to one of my hobbies, I will look at lots of reviews. I want to feel confident that I’m making the right decision, and these days online reviews are as good as personal recommendations. (In fact, 88% of consumers find them as good according to the Ivesp Marketing Agency)

If you are a business in the tours and attractions space, you already know how important reviews are to your success, and likely work hard to ensure you get those Tripadvisor reviews because it drives business.

So while I’m preaching to the choir—we all know reviews matter—I’m here to say times are changing: Local travellers are not using OTAs like Tripadvisor as much as they were, and local search is actually the sweet spot. Think of it this way: How often do you search “near me” on your mobile device?

The future of search and user reviews

According to Google, 76% of people who search for something nearby on their smartphone visit a business related to that search within a day, and 28% of those searches result in a purchase. Let’s take that one step further when we are talking about tours and activities. In another Google report, you’ll find that “things to do/activities coupled this near me increased by 6 times between 2016 and 2018“. As of now Tripadvisor, the pioneer of online review platforms, doesn’t have the capabilities to easily connect you to local businesses based on your location.

And all of this was already happening before we were stuck at home because of the pandemic.

So what does this all mean for your business?

5 things a tour operator should to do right now to improve reviews

1. Get your Google My Business up to date.  We’ve talked about how 50% of all searches are local and 80% are category-based. Google My Business gives you the tools to be visible for these searches.

2. Move the focus from Tripadvisor to Google. Tripadvisor’s review algorithms are not set up to attract local travellers.  Google cares about search relevance, distance and prominence (how well-known a business is offline). Google only wants to send their customers to the most relevant businesses, and what better way to boost your credibility, and your visibility, than collecting positive reviews via Google.

3. Ask for reviews at every opportunity. Do it more than once in your email marketing. Be sure your guides encourage it at the end of a tour or activity. Just remember to be persistent, not pushy, in the post-purchase cycle. While reviews are most important to establishing your credibility as a business, customers are also giving you invaluable insights to help you refine, or even jumpstart, your marketing strategy. Businesses that don’t have reviews may be missing an opportunity to grow their business.

4. Make it easy for customers to give you a review. Potential customers crave knowledge from firsthand experiences, and making it simple and quick to leave a review can lead to some impressive results. The Speigel Research Centre found that products with reviews are 270% more likely to be bought than a product without. That likelihood increased to 380% on a higher priced product.

5. Respond to all of your reviews. Show that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave about your business, whether it’s good or bad. BrightLocal reported in a 2019 survey that “97% of review readers take in businesses’ responses to reviews,” and that is up 89% from 2018 to include nearly every person that has read reviews for local businesses. This is part of the new norm for reading reviews online. Google is also encouraging businesses to respond to all reviews in order to improve visibility into your business for local SEO.