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FlipKey Flips Misses the Point of Fairness.

By Ronald Wallace Lea
Published: 05/24/09 Topics: Comments: 0

Half the challenge of war is knowing who the enemy is. Sometimes he paints himself as your ally. But beware; those who operate opposite to your best interest are always your enemy. Today's newsletter alerts you to a traitor in the midst of the lodging industry.

Over the past months a graphically pleasing new website - (FlipKey.com)FlipKey.com - has been over promoting its services to the vacation rental market. I gave them my ear at the trade association meeting but it sounded like a case of something sounding too good to be true.

And now we know the truth. It was too good to be true.


FlipKey has just announced (or maybe we should say admitted) that (TripAdvisor.com)TripAdvisor.com has made a major investment in FlipKey. It was not announced if TripAdvisor will now control FlipKey but they will re-distribute FlipKey content. Unfortunately TripAdvisor is already one of the most dishonorable services on the web. So that means that two uncontrolled, unedited and therefore free-for-all media will now publish the dribs and drabs of consumers who never car about truth or fair dealing.

The idea that consumer reviews provide an unbiased look at travel is really just the opposite. In fact it is only the biased who take the time to post. An intelligent reader can see through the self-serving reviews but as we all know most consumers are not very discerning fact from fiction in any kind of journalism, let alone what are portrayed as balanced reviews.

So every business in the travel business knows that TripAdvisor makes it very easy for consumers to extort response from business and very difficult for that same business to respond and get an adjudicated answer. Remember TripAdvisor is NOT a place to have the truth found. It is a place for lies to be spread where the targets of the lies can not get them decided by an independent judge.


The FlipKey story, their sales pitch - is that guest reviews are a great way to promote your business. The founders are former employees of (Compete.com)Compete.com and unique service in its own right. They are surely honed on the - Internet can do anything and we intend to get rich doing it - get rich quick scheme.

The FlipKey plan sounds good except for one thing. The people who they will empower to post revues will allow be rebel rousers, liars and cheats. And the reasons they open up their editorial pages to low life is - well because they work for free.

Starting a real media with real journalist and professionals who have been schooled in the art of fair and unbiased reporting would actually cost money. What better way to build a whole bunch of content without having to pay for it. And all to line the pockets of the FlipKey crew. Smart yes. Ethical, well no.


Getting reviews out of satisfied guests is like finding water in the desert. Most happy industrious people are just too busy to take time to compliment vacation rentals no matter how great the accommodations. Ask any owner who sends surveys, plants GuestBooks, send follow-up emails or telephone after stays to get feedback.

Querying the vast majority of guests will result in very few responses. Why you could pay them for reviews and still get almost no takers. And when you get answers they sound like this. "Yes it was fine, why are you asking". Or, "Well we paid $5,000 and it was worth it but I would like it better for half the price."


On the other hand, there are guests who will be happy to respond. In fact, even without a chance to blather to FlipKey weirdos will search diligently for a place to spew their venom. And what are they unhappy about. A list would be humorous if it didn't do so much unrepairable harm to property owners.

The FlipKey scam is just another in the long line of scams that consumers fall for. Another example is the Better Business Bureau the grand daddy of all "we're helping consumers scam." The BBB has existed for so long solely because of its highly effective (but inaccurately) named organization. I mean who could argue with something called the Better Business Bureau even if they were, let's say, operated by terrorists.


But the BBB is anything but a valid resolution service. They report on and allow customers to libel and slander businesses. They then publish complaints by category and business name. They DO NOT review the claims to weed out the crazies; instead they just send them on to the business and demand a response. Remember this is with a business with whom the BBB has no relationship (you will already be labeled "Not an accredited business"). And if the business does not satisfy the guest then the business is labeled as "Has an unsatisfactory rating."

Go ahead and respond and the minimum wage BBB clerk will forward your answer back to the customer who will never accept an invitation that does not line their pocket. And when they don't like the answer well then you are labeled "Has an unsatisfactory rating" again. In short, you can't win by cooperating and you can't win by not cooperating.

Oh by the way, soon after a complaint you will get a phone call from a hard-sales BBB rep twisting your arm to join and thereby implying that membership might protect you from the customer scammers. You can even sign up for arbitration or mediation service and, surprise, you get to pay for that too.

FlipKey has packaged their poison pill with some tasty treats. They have a very nice contemporary interface. The site runs fast.


An interesting comparison to consumer reviews is to look at eBay. Sure providing on-line auctions was a great idea. But the secret to Ebay's success was that Buyer and Seller - both - get to rate the other. And the comments are actually posted online for the entire world to see. This causes participants to act reasonably with each other. Buyer's who continually ridicule sellers are quickly figured out as chronic liars.

Better yet, eBay almost requires and greatly pushes both parties to report. When you see a company with 990 good reviews and 10 bad ones you know it’s the consumers who are the problem not the seller.

The secret is that the defendant (business) gets to face his accuser (Consumer) and that is a primary tenant in fair minded courts in all civilized countries. Unfortunately the BBB's, the TripAdvisors and now the FlipKeyers don't offer and don't understand.


So for (FlipKey.com)FlipKey.com the model of disinterested standard bearer is a great strategy. Unfortunately its one built on deceit and rebel rousing that services no one. Not guests and certainly not lodging operators. By the way it could be fixed - all they have to do is require consumers to allow themselves to be criticized in return. Then a prospective visitor could listen to both sides and make an informed decision.

I doubt FlipKey will do this however, because the number of reviews would dwindle to almost nothing. Scoundrel consumers get away with bad behavior by hiding behind anonymity.


So if you have your properties listed on (FlipKey.com)FlipKey.com be warned that you are dancing with the devil. Facilitating third party reviews from guests is one of those great smelling means that tastes awful. We recommend pulling your properties from FlipKey before you get burned and the content because public domain for the rest of your life.

Author: Ronald Wallace Lea, Sunspot Vacation Rentals
Blog #: 0090 – 05/24/09

Comments: 0

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