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    First review, then renovate: Hotels relying on Web forums

    Loews’ executives said they consulted online patron review sites before they renovated the rooms at their Regency hotel in New York.
    Michael Nagle/New York Times
    Loews’ executives said they consulted online patron review sites before they renovated the rooms at their Regency hotel in New York.

    NEW YORK — When it was time for Omni Hotels and Resorts to start a round of renovations, executives made a point of installing more electrical outlets and better bathrooms.

    The impetus for those upgrades? Complaints from travelers on review websites such as TripAdvisor.

    “They certainly are not shy,” Jon Hunter, vice president for operations for Omni Hotels and Resorts, said. “It was obvious we didn’t have enough fixtures in the bedrooms that had electrical outlets.”

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    As hotels in the United States continue on a surge in spending on renovations, an important factor driving this investment is the growing clout of review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp and booking sites such as Hotels.com. Hotel brands are reading what travelers say about them — and their competitors — and planning their investments accordingly.

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    “It’s become a widely understood source of input for capital expenditures,” which are projected to hit a record $6 billion this year, said Bjorn Hanson, a New York University professor.

    That is partly because people are quicker to complain on review sites and on social media, Hanson said. “Rates have gone up, so guests are expecting to see that reflected in the quality.”

    Often, disgruntled guests will not say anything to managers, making the monitoring of websites all the more important, said Hermann Elger, general manager of the St. Regis New York.

    “People use that much more as an avenue to give feedback and let us know when something didn’t go right,” he said.

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    Technology providers work with hotels to sift through thousands of reviews, often using algorithmic software, to find areas of trouble — and weed out complaints that are not genuine. Common complaints often have to do with water pressure in the showers, slow Wi-Fi, dated televisions, and the location.

    Lights are a particular issue.

    “It’s very common for guests to be frustrated about the number of lights and switches they have to turn off,” Elger said. After reading complaints, the St. Regis included a central master light switch in rooms.

    At the Loews Regency in New York, the design team paid a lot of attention to guest complaints about bathroom lighting, among other elements, said Paul Whetsell, chief executive of Loews Hotels.

    “Sometimes designers design our bathrooms to look good but not necessarily be totally functional,” he said.

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    The travelers say a poor review on a site such as Massachusetts-based TripAdvisor sometimes can be the only way to get a manager’s attention.

    Janae Lee, an executive at a technology company, writes reviews often. “I do it for two reasons: to give feedback, and so others like me don’t find themselves in the same situation I found myself,” she said.

    Details about the location and the neighborhood can take on a different tone when described by guests, as opposed to a hotel’s marketing department, said Greg Hartmann, the managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle.

    “The website might say, ‘We’re only four blocks from the convention center,’ as a positive,” he pointed out, but online reviewers would be quick to say if those four blocks are clogged with traffic, hard to navigate, or feel dangerous.

    This feedback is making hotels respond.

    “As an industry, I think when TripAdvisor first started we looked at that as a channel that didn’t have a lot of credibility,” Hunter said. “That has certainly changed.”