Online reviews crucial, tourist operators warned

THE days of business operators blissfully ignoring disgruntled tourists are over — their complaints go around the world through social media and internet feedback.

With peak summer holidays approaching, Warrnambool’s tourism services manager Peter Abbott has reminded operators to take note of criticism and not bury their heads in the sand. “Ignore it at your peril,” he told The Standard.

“While some operators don’t like seeking negative feedback, it can’t be ignored.

“You’re only as good as your last review.

“You’ve got to keep sharp.”

Mr Abbott monitors the global Trip Advisor site and responds to all posts about Flagstaff Hill, Lake Pertobe, Logans Beach and the two municipal foreshore parks. 

He also watches feedback on accommodation venues and other tourist-related businesses in the district.

“Even if there are bad comments from customers the operators should respond,” he said.

“You don’t get a choice on whether your business is listed — you are in if a customer chooses to comment.”

A survey of comments on Trip Advisor and Bookings.com indicated overwhelming positive feedback on Warrnambool, but there were several scathing customer reviews of service and quality at some operations.

Staff at a popular venue on the Great Ocean Road were criticised for sloppy standards.

One visitor who arrived in Warrnambool during the busy Labour Day long weekend in March noted: “It was nearly impossible to find a hotel and they had all jacked their rates up obscenely”. 

A judge of the national tourism awards who visited Warrnambool last week sent an email to Mr Abbott praising staff and attractions in Warrnambool and Tower Hill.

Mr Abbott has noticed a substantial change in holiday patterns in the past few years with increasing use of online services.

“We live in a Wotif culture where more people wait until the last minute to book,” he said. “They wait until they see the seven-day weather forecast before deciding to travel to a specific destination.

“However, in the Warrn-ambool district we still have a strong return market.

“It’s the discretionary visitors who make a difference between operators having a good summer and a bad summer.”

Strong early bookings have raised hopes of a busy summer tourist season in the south-west, although the strong Aussie dollar continues to make overseas holidays attractive.

“Warrnambool is never full, we can always find a bed for visitors even at peak times,” Mr Abbott said.

This summer’s program will be boosted by more tours to Middle Island to see Maremma dogs guarding the penguin population.

Tours start this month and will continue through January with morning and twilight programs, depending on tides.

Management of the two Maremmas has recently been handed over to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village and corporate sponsorship is being organised for the program to reduce ongoing strain on city council funds.

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