Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

Is this better than Trip Advisor? If so, how? Part 1.

Last week I promised to share a second project that I have found so compelling that I have been neglecting this blog.

We have created what is as far as we know, the first web site for providing travelers like you with unedited, uncensored, trustworthy, traveler feedback from past guests Costa Rica Expeditions and our lodges. (Soon we´ll add pages for other travel suppliers we admire.)

“¿How does it differ from Trip Advisor and other peer review sites?” you ask.

Check it out at http://howasyourvacation.com/ (yes only 1 “w.”) and you tell me by commenting in this blog. I’ll send bags of gourmet Costa Rican Coffee to the people whose comments I find most helpful and post the “winners” in next weeks post.

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                            • At December 22, 2011
                              4:19:55 pm
                              Kristen said:

                              I’ve been actively participating on the TA forums for the last couple of years and I while think there are a few things that Trip Advisor is good (not great) for, my insider’s perspective is that there’s alot of abuse of their website and a considerable amount of self-serving information. The anonymous nature of TA inherently means that just about anybody can be responding to your query, so how can you really trust the answer? And the more time I’ve spent on TA and the more communication I’ve had with some of the community members, the more incestuous I’ve come to believe the advice has become. There are alot of unlicensed operations showing up which makes it even more dubious for me. What kind of filters do they have to sort out legitimate from freelance operators?

                              I’ve seen everything from false reviews, to agents posing as their own clients, to guides pretending to be licensed travel agents, to retired people who’ve used those guide’s services to reserve certain servicess and were disappointed in the results but have been intimidated by the guide in question to publishing a negative report, to other operators who only ask their guests to post on Trip Advisor when they’ve specifically sent in a positive review.

                              None of it ranks with this fantastic new application that Michael’s company has created so that the potential clients of a company can see the feedback of ALL of their guests who’ve taken the time to respond. The good with the bad, the positive with the negative, the glowing alongside the stinking reviews.

                              I’ve said it before, but Natalie’s handling of all of these comments is nothing short of genius. If I were wondering if I should spend my hard-earned vacation dollars/time with a company, the keen interest that’s demonstrated by CRE in their post-trip follow-up surveys would be one of the top reasons to convince me that they are worth their weight in gold. If (despite their best efforts and planning) something goes wrong, this company will try to make it right. This effort to be truly accountable to their customers is what makes CRE stand out from their competitors and it’s admirable.

                              I spoke to Michael about some of my personal experiences with the underhanded tactics of internet forums/complaints sites over a year ago when he first started developing this idea. I’m thrilled that it’s finally come to fruition. I’d personally be much more skeptical of an anonymous review site where customers are selectively directed, or where you can’t be sure if they were even a customer of the company in the first place than this particular proprietary review site. If you read the content, it speaks for itself. The exchanges between Natalie and past CRE customers are inspiring.

                              • At December 21, 2011
                                11:47:57 pm
                                paul shields said:

                                i think it’s redundant and tripadvisor does a great job. I would encourage your clientele to at the very least also post their reviews there.
                                I really have enjoyed all the trips I have done with you guys but am always a bit skeptical of proprietary review sites.

                                • When I returned from Costa Rica I wrote a blog post about CRE. It pretty much says it all: http://authenticluxurytravel.elizabethhansen.net/2010/03/your-bff-in-costa-rica.html

                                • At December 21, 2011
                                  3:54:47 pm
                                  Judy said:

                                  This is very funny! Plus, I think it sets the tone you are looking for!

                                  Want to see what the past guests who really love us have to say? Click on “Raves”. Want to see why guests think we really screwed up and how we respond? Click on “Bitter Complaints”. You can click on the other 3 catagories as well, but they are not nearly as much fun.

                                  I clicked raves, and went through an entry about rafting… both the concerns raised and Natalie’s answers were clear, and her responses addressed the concerns well. Now to reverse myself on the tone: I think the title “Chief Satisfaction officer” implies a spin doctor. I also think it probably sells Natalie short. From somebody who has been a raving fan of CRE since 2006, it seems to me that she is more of a strategic marketing exec than a recent English major who responds to complaints. I think your audiences want to know that they are talking to someone who can make changes in the company, and even though insiders get the big picture, others might envision some cheerleader who replies with platitudes, rather than a heartfelt response with the power to make changes. (VP of guest relations, etc.) Her communications are excellent, and I loved the way she responds to Jette… with calm accountability and explanations, but also with clear history about his requests.
                                  The reader is able to draw his or her own conclusions.

                                  Under photos, was this: Nerissa Mescallado don’t have pictures on this feedback. The grammar needs fixing… if there are gender issues, say something like “there are no photos from this guest.”

                                  If you are trying to compare yourselves with tripadvisor, then you might ask guests to rank experiences in order of 1-5 (or whatever). They would tell you what the BEST parts of the CRE experience was: Trip to Arenal, Tortuguero Turtle Walk, meeting local children, etc. Then a prospective participant in a tour would be able to rank the activities and it would help them plan their trip… Dang, now I am just desperate to get there! Judy

                                  • At December 21, 2011
                                    4:20:42 pm
                                    Michael Kaye replied
                                    to Judy:

                                    Thanks, Judy. Good point about Natalie’s title. Since we do not pay a lot of attention to titles internally, we are often at a loss for what titles to use for external consumption. We thought of marketing, but rejected it because the word has a connotation of manipulation. Since the most important facet of our marketing is guest satisfaction we decided to use Guest Satisfaction Officer when she is in this role. That said, I completely see what you mean.

                                    The best title for Natalie from my point of would be BWCREFOTFYWALOHOOTFMIPITCO (Been With Costa Rica Expeditions For Over Twenty-Five Years Wears A Lot Of Hats One Of The Four Most Influential People In The Company Officer) but it might be a little long.
                                    I’ll respond to you other good points in next weeks posts.