August 23, 2014
INFORMATION CAN EVEN SCHOOL THE FRENCH:
The Ratings Revolution (Carlo Ratti & Matthew Claudel, 8/21/14, Project Syndicate)
Posted by Orrin Judd at August 23, 2014 7:54 AM"Bonjour Monsieur, comment pourrais-je vous aider?" asks the obsequious concierge at my Paris hotel. I immediately wonder what happened to the city's infamous haughtiness - especially toward American tourists. If the French capital is no longer Europe's rudest city, we can perhaps thank the growth of online rating tools, such as TripAdvisor.Travel Web sites have been around since the 1990s, when Expedia, Travelocity, and other holiday booking sites were launched, allowing travelers to compare flight and hotel prices with the click of a mouse. With information no longer controlled by travel agents or hidden in business networks, the travel industry was revolutionized, as greater transparency helped slash prices.Today, the industry is in the throes of a new revolution - this time transforming service quality. Online rating platforms - specializing in hotels (TripAdvisor), restaurants (Zagat), apartments (Airbnb), and taxis (Uber) - allow travelers to exchange reviews and experiences for all to see.Hospitality businesses are now ranked, analyzed, and compared not by industry professionals, but by the very people for whom the service is intended - the customer. This has forged a new relationship between buyer and seller. Customers have always voted with their feet; they can now explain their decision to anyone who is interested. As a result, businesses are much more accountable, often in very specific ways, which creates powerful incentives to improve service.Although some readers might not care for gossipy reports of brusque bellboys in Berlin or malfunctioning hotel hairdryers in Houston, the true power of online reviews lies not just in the individual stories, but in the Web sites' capacity to aggregate a large volume of ratings.The impact cannot be overstated. Businesses that attract top ratings can enjoy exponential growth, as new customers are attracted by good overall reviews and subsequently provide yet more (positive) feedback.