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ONE clichés with a dose of truth is the saying that perception is everything. It’s often unfair or irrational, but a poor perception can hurt, damage, distort or even destroy a company, Kelvin King writes.It's a phenomenon that increasingly is being seen in the travel industry as travellers pass judgment on everything from flights to hotels and attractions.When websites first began to offer more mechanisms permitting comments on journeys, the functionality was welcomed by thousands who saw it as an effective way to learn what a hotel, airline, attraction or destination might have in store for them, all drawn from the real-life experiences of fellow travellers.What was at first an almost entirely instructive initiative — including the benefits to any industry operator smart enough to monitor comments and learn from them — now is under a cloud of doubt as the thousands of users grew to millions.In the past year alone, this magazine has been told of several instances of deliberate badmouthing, more than once merely because a client wasn’t given an upgrade or other hoped-for bonus. There have been allegations of organised denigration campaigns. Just as worrying are the services offered by murky specialists to boost site-visitor perceptions with posts of effusive praise.Some of this manipulation can be countered but the perceptions remain.While this might seem to impact more on the more fickle, less-experienced leisure market, indications now are that it is having serious effects in the corporate travel sector and encroaching on conferences, incentives and events.Another manipulation of perception is through seemingly scientific polls and competitions for the best hotel, the airport with most services, the most welcoming destination. Behind the glitzy gala awards ceremonies are, too often, massive lobbying, data ‘massaging’ and other devices that skew the votes. Those voting for such awards need not even have experienced the service or be credibly placed to weigh them against competing product.Then there is the power of television. Japan has suffered a crisis of perception from last year’s earthquake and tsunami. Regions such as Kyoto have, with the help of government funding, undertaken innovative marketing programs to explain they were not affected and that all is cherry blossoms.Our industry isn’t the only victim of mistaken perceptions, of course. In both Australia and New Zealand at present, convoluted political situations revolve as much around public perceptions - largely formed on the basis of a fleeting evening TV news report - as on substance.This isn’t ‘just life’ as some say. Balance and fair play are essential.
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