Is it my imagination, or are travel companies getting pushier?
The come-ons include repeated invitations to return to a hotel or restaurant, high-pressure pitches to "like" a company's Facebook account and urgent requests for positive online reviews. As summer vacations fade into memory, the aggressiveness has never been more obvious.
The unsolicited and often unwelcome overtures are usually delivered in a rapid-fire succession of emails after your trip, but increasingly also in person. There's a reason for that. A recent study by e-commerce company Barilliance suggests the sooner you send an email, the likelier a customer will act on it. The success rate, measured by conversions, drops from 20% for emails sent within an hour of someone abandoning an online shopping cart to 12% for an email sent within a day. Fortunately, you can stop these digital sales calls cold, and you probably should.
Consider what happened to Katherine Kotowski when she visited The Azul Fives by Karisma in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with her husband and three kids.
"We were surprised at the number of waiters and waitresses who wrote down their names on a piece of paper and asked that we mention their names and give positive reviews on TripAdvisor," she remembered.
She told one server at the all-inclusive restaurant's buffet that she'd be delighted to leave a review when she was back in the States.
"He said 'No, it has to be within 24 hours,' " she says. When Kotowski, a food service marketing manager from Arlington Heights, Ill., said she didn't bring her computer on vacation, he responded, “Don’t you have the app on your phone?”
A Karisma representative said company policy doesn't permit employees to request their names be included in reviews or to incentivize guests in any way in exchange for reviews on TripAdvisor.
"We are disappointed to learn that a guest reported any such request was made and will be working through the necessary channels to ensure our policy is always respected," said Anna Pegler, a customer service manager.
Hotels like to hammer their guests with emails. Before I even checked out of a full-service hotel in Portland, Ore., this summer, it had emailed my folio three times. Finally, it sent a form letter asking me for a positive review on social media. "We would certainly appreciate your feedback as well as any staff recognition that you may especially have experienced," it wrote. I clicked the "unsubscribe" button; I had never even opted in to the hotel's list.
That relentless barrage of emails inevitably leads to something called message fatigue, said Aaryn Kobayashi, a marketing manager for Kahuna, a Redwood City, Calif., digital messaging company. "These kinds of emails are typically part of a drip campaign, where someone gets five to seven emails, regardless of whether they interact or engage," she says.
Inma Gregorio books flights, hotels and activities every week, and she's noticed that the level of aggression has increased.
"What's starting to bother me is that many of them do ask for a positive write-up straight away," said Gregorio, a travel blogger and former tour guide. "I am way too busy to answer them, and unless my experience was extremely good or really bad, I don't bother."
Why is this happening? Part of the reason is that social media "likes," tweets and user-generated reviews matter more than ever. Another reason is that these hyper-aggressive campaigns work. Hit someone with half a dozen emails after a hotel stay, and enough people will respond favorably to make all the harassment worthwhile.
The fix is even simpler. If you encounter an eager employee or find yourself on the receiving end of an email barrage, just say "no." Openly refuse to review a hotel you haven't even stayed in and opt out of the next come-on. Only then will the travel industry get the message.
How to end the aggression
• Click the unsubscribe button. Every legitimate email campaign must have one. The sooner you click it, the louder your message to the hotel, tour operator or cruise line that these high-pressure tactics won't be tolerated.
• Say "no" — and say why. Most travel companies will offer a "feedback" option when you opt out of an email campaign. Tell them why you're unsubscribing, especially if the annoyance affects whether you'd do business with them again. Such messages can really affect future marketing efforts. If enough customers are turned off by the campaigns, they will stop.
• Tell the feds. Complain to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if a business is emailing you without consent. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, you have the right to end the seemingly relentless emails. A travel company must include a clear explanation of how you can get off the list, and the FTC spells out punishments for violators. Here's how to contact the FTC: ftccomplaintassistant.gov.