Thursday, April 12, 2007

Combating travel bloggers with silence

[UPDATE: post ammended followed the discovery that the original complaint on the Travel-Rants blog was made in error]

Some blogs and message boards will happily act as unofficial watchdogs for travel consumers.

Indeed word-of-mouth communication about how awful a brand might be has been replaced by the ability to distribute polemics easily across the internet.

But is being fair and balanced necessary by this new breed of online commentators? One would assume it is important to organisations like a business media brand like Travolution, where getting all sides to a story - especially when that story is rather controversial - is critical.

So we came across a post on Travel-Rants yesterday, where its editor Darren Cronian takes on a North of England-based online travel provider known as, after his uncle had a bad experience with it.

Our reaction was to ask what response the company had given when offered the opportunity to comment.

Cronian reported back that he had been unable to reach them at the time of writing his piece.

Some of the comments that have been made against his post have been reasonably strong and negative. Links provided to a forum thread elsewhere about the company reveal even more apparent problems with its customer service.

As far as Travolution is concerned, forum posters and bloggers in particular have an increasingly strong position to influence consumers by building or destroying the reputation of a travel brand.

Whether they should ensure they contact the companies to get their side of the story is an interesting one - and a debate for the multitude of blogs out there that blog about blogging. Ugh.

[UPDATE: Travel Rants has since admitted it made a mistake in identifying On The Beach. Its public apology]

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

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Darren Cronian said...
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Joe Buhler said...

That's exactly the wrong attitude to take as a company in this day and age. Hide behind obfuscation and refuse to communicate openly and you're getting into more trouble.

Of course, individual blog posts are biased, they are expressing personal opinions but I'm sure that if a company opens channels of communications they can either avoid negative commentary by explaining their position or correct them by responding on the blogs that write about them.

Instead of spending money on old fashioned PR and one way communications, why not hire someone to follow the blogosphere and track what's written about your company and join in the conversation.

You can't control what is said about you but at least you can try and positively influence it. Shutting up and hide behind corporate walls is the last thing to do.

Darren Cronian said...

I agree with you Joe, and there's nothing wrong with forums and blogs posting their opinions on companies, but as a company the last thing you should do is hide behind it.

One one post this week Kev posted
a quote from some where.

"I am not worried about press coverage anymore. Just send people to my website."

In other words, sod what people think of us, I just want people on the site generating me revenue.

Travolution Blogger said...
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Darren Cronian said...

"It is now very easy for bloggers and people on forums to air their grievances."

I agree.

Do you think that it's right for forums and blogs to voice their grievances? Or do you think consumers should take these grievances direct with the companies.

Paul Goodison said...

Darren - I'd suggest that someone should take up a complaint with the company in the first instance but if you don't get satisfaction why shouldn't you post something on a blog?

Some of the most famous blogging cases like Jeff Jarvis with Dell actually saw Dell change their whole customer service ethos. So why shouldn't you try?

If a company can't be bothered to respond doesn't that actually tell you more about whether people would want to deal with the comapny?

Nathan said...
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Darren Cronian said...
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Nathan said...
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Anonymous said...

The following is a copy of my post on the travel-rants site:

I apologise it has taken me so long to respond to the initial comments placed above. We do of course care about all press, good and bad.

We operate an online holiday booking system which we believe to be one of the best on the internet. The website in its current form went live in January 2006 and having booked 150,000 passengers in its first year looks set to book approx 400,000 passengers this year. In line with this we have expanded our admin department so that there are now 4 times the number of admin staff as 12 months ago. We also provide separate direct dial telephone numbers for finance, administration, customer service and operations separately.

In order to provide our customers with the very best service and lowest prices we do most things through our website or via email. Whilst we advise that it may take up to 48 hours to answer an email, we do answer almost all emails within 24 hours. The fact that our admin department is in first instance email only means that we can also operate from 0900 - 2000 (unlike most admin departments which operate until 1700 only) and on Saturdays and Sundays and bank holidays (when almost all travel admin departments are closed).

Our website also offers our customers the facility to make additions and changes to their holidays. These may necessarily take several days to process. We are after all a travel agency and prior to recontacting customers have to rely on answers from the tour operators supplying the holidays, with regards availability and pricing for such requests as an add passenger.

I am unfortunately unable to comment on the individual case of your the customer above as I am unaware of the details that would allow me to locate his booking, but if you would like to email this to me (Kevin has my email address) I would happily look into this for you, at which time I would be able to provide a more detailed post on this site with regards to why a delay occurred in the process of his adding a passenger to his holiday.

Yours sincerely

Simon Cooper

We have no reason to hide from the press. We would always try to provide the very best customer experience prior to, during and after the booking process and also the holiday.

We do believe that the speed at which we have expanded is testament to the usability of our site combined with the competitive prices which it offers.

It is not uncommon to find negative comments on the internet about any company, particularly a travel agent who to a certain extent has little control over prices, operational changes and extra charges (these of course are set by the tour operators). Whilst we do our best to avoid any negative publicity, and On the Beach is a young(ish) addition to a well established company, we also believe that these comments are in proportion to the number of holidaymakers that we currently help to book their beach holidays.

You can no doubt find some negative comments on the internet about On the Beach Holidays. It may even appear that there are a lot of negative comments. Please however bear in mind that as a company that operates solely on the internet (and whose users have easy access to review sites) and who books 1000+ people per day.

We have spent a great deal of time, effort and money expanding our admin department to cope with the success of our website and hope that the vast majority of our customers are entirely happy with the experience.

Travolution Blogger said...

Simon: Many thanks for taking the time to respond to our post on this matter.

Travolution's interest in this issue has always been to find out how a company like yours might respond to negative comments on the internet.

Little more than a decade ago a company would never have had to deal with this kind of problem.

The internet is, in many respects, both a blessing and a curse. It has allowed an operation like yours to flourish but also created a need for all companies to monitor the immediate impact of their relationship with consumers.

We would be fascinated to learn if you put into place some kind of system to monitor the web closely in the future.

In the last year we have heard of many online travel providers which are now tasking members of the their PR/marketing teams to take an active role in tracking comments made about them on the internet.

Our own advice is to use services like or Google News, which allow users to search for recent blog or news items, for example, which have mentioned a company.

If you wish to discuss this further you can email here.

Anonymous said...

POSTED on the travel-rants site a few minutes ago

I have checked all admin inboxes and also my personal email over the past 48 hours for the name and reference number of your uncles booking. We do not seem to have received the original email sent on the 12/4 in the morning nor have I received the forwarded copy referred to in your reply of the 13/4 at 6.14pm

I think that given that which has been written above you need to provide this for me as soon as possible.

Simon Cooper

I await the reply with interest

Darren Cronian said...

Sorry Simon, been busy working on the 'day job' I blog in my spare time.

I have updated Travel Rants with my comments and forwarded you my initial email which was sent via

I'm off to Latvia tomorrow! Time to relax! :)

Anonymous said...

still no email or name from darren to allow me to respond.

if this is a real complaint at least give me the chance to provide a real answer.

simon cooper

Anonymous said...

It is now the 19th and no name for the uncle about whom the initial article was written.

I begin to wonder

Travolution Blogger said...

Darren: Shed any light?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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Travolution Blogger said...

Simon: thanks for the update and your comments.

We are indeed also waiting with interest for a resolution to this matter.

Travolution's interest was always only to understand how a travel company responds to negative comments on the blogosphere.

I think we have discovered this in the last week.

As far as comments left on this blog are concerned, we will await a resolution between you and Travel Rants.

As there has clearly been a substantial misunderstanding between both organisations, we will happily remove anything that is damaging to either party once there is a resolution.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for your impartial interest in the closing stages of this matter.

What surprises me is that Darren has replied to me 5 separate times by email to tell me he has sent the email, and 3 or 4 times on site (again to tell me he has sent the name).

Why not just respond 'I have sent you this by email and his name is MR XYZ'

I am sure also you will appreciate my frustration. I do hope that he provides the name otherwise my worst fears regarding such rant sites will have been proved true.

Should these fears prove true I would appreciate something from you exposing the lengths such sites will go.

Darren Cronian said...
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Anonymous said...
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Darren Cronian said...
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Darren Cronian said...

Having now come back from my holiday [what a welcome back!] and looking into the issues further I have spoken to On the Beach and posted this public apology.

If you have any questions, then please contact me via the TR Blog. Apologies to OTB and Travolution for my errors and comments.

Anonymous said...


Any comments on the latest developments?

Do you think travolution might be prepared to write a comment clearing all of this up. The comments that lead the blog off are fairly negative about our company and i think this a little unfair given where investigations have left us.

Darren and I have made our peace you will be pleased to know!

Travolution Blogger said...

Simon, Darren: We have removed some of the comments left here over the course of the last week.