Today I found out that I have received a Tripadvisor Travellers' Choice award - formerly the Certificate of Excellence - for 2023, based on reviews left by visitors over the last twelve months.
I've been fortunate enough to receive the award for the past seven consecutive years, since 2017 - and I say fortunate because I'm not entirely sure by what means or measures the awards are given. Tripadvisor is pretty secretive about the criteria it uses, but it's believed to be based on a calculation of the number of reviews received in a particular period, and the average rating of those reviews.
Whilst it's always lovely to get accolades such as these - especially when they're (apparently) based on the feedback of visitors - it's frustrating because of the lack of clarity around the process. Each year there are local guides who miss out on the awards, without being able to find out exactly why.
Tripadvisor make it very difficult to get contact from anything other than a chatbot, and getting a response from them on any issue - such as fake reviews being posted - is nigh on impossible.
This is one of the reasons that I stopped using Tripadvisor (and Viator, when they became linked) to sell my tours several years ago. When issues arose with bookings, it was very difficult to get a resolution - as a 'supplier' I wasn't able to contact customers directly, having to use an internal message system that relied on Tripadvisor's emails not going to a junk folder, and putting a significant delay into the communication process (a particular problem in urgent or time sensitive situations).
Tripadvisor's terms of business were pretty inflexible, which frustrated me. I wanted to offer small group tours, limiting public events to just a handful of people, but I couldn't place a cap on the number of tickets that Tripadvisor would sell - their model of selling high numbers of tickets at the cheapest price meant I couldn't guarantee being able to operate the more personal tours that I knew visitors often wanted.
Cashflow became a problem, as tours booked months in advance wouldn't be paid until sometime long after the event itself had taken place, and Tripadvisor's refund policy left me out of pocket when customers cancelled short notice and left me without enough time to resell the spaces on the tours that I had scheduled. All this 'service' for a commission of around 25% from every tour booking!
Feedback from visitors was increasingly that they experienced frustration with the way Tripadvisor or Viator operated, too. Especially the visiors I met, who were wanting to create more personalised, tailored, small-group or private tour options, which didn't fit with the mass market appeal of a global travel site.
So I made the decision to stop listing tours with any third-party sellers, knowing this would impact the exposure and promotion that I could expect. But I have been reassured that visitors who want something more unique or tailored will still find me, and I like to think that having to work a little bit harder to find me means visitors are rewarded with an experience that more closely fits their interests and expectations.
Is it hypocritical of me to still ask for Tripadvisor reviews from visitors on my tours? Possibly! But the travel site's great advantage has always been that (despite the perennial fluctuations to their ranking algorithm, which is as secretive and unpredictable as their criteria for the Travellers' Choice awards) businesses like mine can rank alongside the larger tour companies who dominate the travel sector.
Thanks to the feedback of visitors on my tours, I enjoy being listed alongside companies offering totally different experiences to mine - and to that end Tripadvisor is an interesting 'shop window' of tour products and companies for people researching their trip to Edinburgh. It isn't always easy to find specific tours, and Tripadvisor is now definitely more geared towards selling the tours and acting as agent than to showcasing the variety of tours available, but I am there, and anybody who is prepared to scroll through and do their research can find me.
World travel was badly hit by the pandemic and the years of recovery which we have been through since then, and I know many independent companies and guides, like myself, have struggled to survive. Which is why it's more important than ever to celebrate the recognition that visitor feedback gives guides like me!
I consider myself immensely fortunate that I am still operating, and still enjoying five-star reviews from visitors on my tours, and still able to boast of having a Tripadvisor Travellers' Choice award - not because it's from Tripadvisor, but because it's from the people who have taken my tours, and who have enjoyed their experience sufficiently to take the time and trouble to leave feedback on the world's largest travel site.
So I make no apologies for promoting the widgets and geegaws that Tripadvisor throws my way, and I will always be grateful for people who facilitate those recognitions with their online reviews.
But I will still insist on asking people to book their tours with me directly. Financially it's advantageous (to both me and you, as I don't have to put my prices up to cover Tripadvisor's commission charges) but it also means that you are guaranteed to get the customised, personalised, bespoke service that I think makes a difference to your experience.
I take your tour personally - and that's not something I can do with a third-party like Tripadvisor or Viator or Get Your Guide or any of the other hundred-and-one companies who email me on a regular basis suggesting I might want to list my tours with them.
And even if I'm not the right guide for you, I would encourage you to do your research on Tripadvisor, and then book your tour directly with whichever company or agent catches your eye.
Folks like Andy at Edinburgh Cab Tours or Robert at Historic Edinburgh Tours, or Will at Iconic Tours or Chris at Monarch Tours or Hetty at Hetty's History Walks or Chris at Local Eyes Tours - they're all marvellous people and deserving of your custom - but please, please, PLEASE book with them (or anyone else) directly...
And then go on Tripadvisor and tell everyone else what a fantastic tour you had! It shows your support for local, independent tour guides, and helps other travellers find a quality service that could be the highlight of their trip. :)
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