Online travel reviews have become a powerful tool for consumers deciding where to travel and stay on their vacations. And the hospitality industry is paying close attention.
Associate Professor Sarah Tanford, in collaboration with colleagues and Ph.D. students, blends theory and practice by using classic social psychology theories to explain how customer reviews influence these choices.
Tanford and her team studied the effects of positive and negative reviews, unanimity, price and pre-existing attitudes on travel purchase decisions for resort vacations in Cancun or Las Vegas.
They use experimental methods in which participants make decisions after reading realistic product descriptions and reviews that vary in terms of the variables of interest. "The benefit of doing it this way," according to Tanford, "is that one can conclude that the variations caused the outcomes because all other aspects of the scenarios remain constant."
So what is the takeaway for hotels and resorts? "So far, we have found that discounting is not effective to counteract negative reviews," Tanford explained, "however, breaking unanimity is critical. Positive reviews, on the other hand, can justify price increases. It is important for companies to provide consistent service quality and respond proactively when service failures lead to negative reviews."
Over the past two years, Tanford and collaborators have produced several publications on their research. Tanford plans to continue exploring new research questions relating to this topic.