GeoVisions Blog

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Volunteer Abroad Organizations And Those Online Reviews

Posted by Randy LeGrant | Oct 27, 2011 9:25:00 AM

I don't know how many of you have a subscription over at Travel Mole.  If you do, you can click the link to see the article I'm Blogging about today.  If you do not have a subscription, I'm pasting the entire post below so you can read it.  I've provided the URL and the author's name.

GeoVisions' view about online reviews is that the current system doesn't work.  We have good ones and bad ones.  Over on GoOverseas we rate a 95%.  On AbroadReviews we rank 7.2 out of 10.  But do online reviews, the way they exist today, really provide unbiased information about a program, from a verified participant?  We don't think so.

It is our feeling that these sites exist mainly to make money.  This is done by creating links to their review sites (today's Internet currency), and by driving traffic to the site so they can charge more for listing services and ads.  And, in one case, AbroadReviews is charging organizations who send volunteers abroad an annual fee of $500 to be able to refute the online reviews.  If GeoVisions pays a fee, we can get the review deleted or we can refute the review.  If we don't pay, it has to stay just the way it is.  It is impossible not to feel "fleeced down" by something like that.

Seriously?  Do you really want to trust those reviews?  If you're wanting information about what program to go on, don't you want something from a real participant that's recent, verified that the reviewer actually participated?

This is a tough process to present to consumers in only one or two posts.  So I'm devoting the next five posts to explain why GeoVisions a hard stand against online reviews as they exist today.  And some of you will think it's because we don't want negative reviews.  You would be right about that.  We want "fair and balanced" reviews where the reviewer is verified to have participated on the program and actually wrote the review.  And that the review is no older than 6 months...because a lot can change at a project in 6 months.

Here is what we consider to be a great review template:

What is your name?

What is your email address?

What company did you go with to vounteer abroad?

What was the specific program/country?

When did you go?
(The reviewer at this point will be told the company they went with will verify they were a participant and that no reviews can be older than six months.  At six months, the review is automatically removed from the site.)

Leave your review of the program.

Is this a sustainable project and does it have a positive impact on the host community?

Then the volunteer abroad company will verify the participant and the review will be automatically posted.

Company note:  This is a spot reserved for the organization to comment.  If the review is bad, it provides an area so the organization can explain what they are doing to do a better job, list the improvements, etc.

CHANGES:  The original reviewer can change the review anytime.  Negative reviews can be changed to a higher review later on, for example.  This encourages both the organization and the volunteer to actually communicate for the good of the whole.

And...do people who trash organizations online really want a resolution to their pain?  Or do they just want to trash a company because they're hurt or disappointed or simply mean-spirited?  Are those the reviews you really want to read just before you shell out thousands of dollars?  Or do you want to read the "real-deal?"  A verified review that is recent and posted to help others make a decision.

Here is the Travel Mole Blog post as it appeared yesterday online.  The New York Times did some research into online reviews, and we are posting the results of that research on Monday.  In the meantime, we think consumers who want to volunteer or teach abroad, and who rely upon reviews would appreciate this post:

Travel Mole HeaderReaction to controversial TripAdvisor reviews: do it ourselves

It’s getting to be “review turnabout time” as more tourist-oriented providers attempt to dilute the influence of TripAdvisor in an effort to take more control of reviews. Two examples:

---Lodging Interactive and Social Media Marketing Agency announced their own “Guest Review System” designed for hotels, restaurants and spas.

---In a move that could be emulated by others, Starwood announced it is launching its own first-ever review site that is in-house.

The Guest Review System enables hospitality companies to manage and display consumer reviews on their own websites and blogs,” says a press release.

Founder and President DJ Vallauri said:

“The time has come for hotels to take control of their guest reviews and to stop sending potential guests to third party review web sites where they may never return or worse, book a competitor’s property.”

He said market research supports the fact that over 75 percent of online travel buyers who consider consumer reviews prior to making an online purchase.

“This trend is not going away and hoteliers have told us they need more control over the guest review process,” he said
Special feature newsThe Guest Review System (www.GuestReviewSystem.com) is a web based review management system that empowers hotels to collect their own guest reviews and post management responses on their web sites, he said.

The system lets consumers post their comments and score their hotel experiences based on service attributes.

Additionally, consumers can share their guest reviews on Facebook and their network of friends. Hotels are notified in real-time of new guest reviews and have the ability to validate guest stay information before reviews are posted on their website, says the new site.

The New York Times recently reported on individuals and offshore companies established to post fake reviews…in some cases negative reviews about competitors, it’s just getting out of hand,” said Vallauri.

The company says its service is low-cost and it offers a free trial.

In the case of Starwood, the chain’s Sheraton, Westin, W and other Starwood properties can assess their stay directly on the chain’s web sites.

Anyone including non-hotel guests will be able to read the reviews and share them via social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter.

None of Starwood's biggest rivals such as Marriott and Hilton have attempted to post customer reviews. “Doing so, after all, could be risky if reviewers expose weak points, such as a nasty hotel staffer, broken air conditioning unit or inadequate Wi-Fi connection,” writes USA Today.

By bypassing the world’s most popular review site, TripAdvisor, Starwood is counting on its repeat customers to be satisfied. Under their review system, ratings will only be published after a writer’s stay has been checked and validated.

A spokesperson says that is no problem because of the chain’s confidence in its product.

He said any complaints will be followed up at individual properties.

By David Wilkening

Written by Randy LeGrant

Randy is the Executive Director of the GeoVisions Foundation. He has spent the last 44 years managing organizations that send people abroad on cultural and educational exchanges.

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