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The Navigator: Hotels connect the dots between guests and online reviews

Both Hurd and Baird, the Jacksonville analyst, say that an overwhelming number of hotels want the information for the right reasons: either to reward a nice review or to reach out to a negative guest to patch things up. And that may be true, for now.

But Hurd says that technology is evolving so fast that in the future, every hotel representative could have a toolbar on his or her computer that reveals everything about a guest at the click of a mouse -- every review, guest preference and even the likelihood that you'll be positively or negatively inclined toward your stay.

There's no telling what hotels could do with that information.

Since the first column I wrote about hotel guest profiles more than a decade ago, I've been deeply concerned about my own privacy as a traveler. Any time a hotel delivers my favorite newspaper (this one, of course) or leaves a fruit basket with apples (Pink Ladies) I get a little suspicious. How did they know?

If they found a way to connect that information with what I write about the hotel industry, I'd probably be reading the Pennysaver and eyeing a fruit basked filled with brown bananas. That hasn't happened yet. But it could be only a matter of time.

O'Boyle's advice works for me, but I'd offer a few additional recommendations. Don't use your real name when you review a hotel, and make sure that your Internet handle doesn't give away anything about your identity. Zero out your geographic location, and wherever possible, don't answer profile questions such as "I travel with" or "My travel style."

And never, ever, include any information that could identify you in the review itself. That's one dot you probably don't want a hotel to connect with another.

Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate. E-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.


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