For those of you coming fresh into the story, it is best to start with Part I.

Everyone else, let’s start where we left off. Reviews. Because that’s where the murmurs of discontent began. Something hotel owners who list their property on ibibo (owned by MakeMyTrip) noticed first.

It will be fair to say that other than price, reviews from users are the actual currency of every service business. More so, when you are running a hotel. No warm water in the shower; a big minus. Roaches creeping on the insides of the blankets; never coming back. Hideous location; one star. Courteous staff who help navigate through the best food options from a ten-page menu booklet; three stars. Internet that’s as fast as Bengaluru’s traffic; not the destination for a business traveller. Couples not welcome; huge no. And so on and so forth.

Now for the longest time, hotel owners have either been proud of or afraid of the user rating. They don’t like it when somebody games the system. Because ratings and user feedback takes years to build. Just to give you a sense, to get up to a 1,000 reviews on an aggregator website might take a hotel anywhere between 18-24 months. And that’s only if you are super popular or super awful or incredibly pesky.

In March, when MMT joined hands with Oyo and cut off ties with FabHotels and Treebo, it’s not only the Oyo hotels which the platform got on board. It got them along with their reviews. Or some semblance of it. To put a fine word to it: bewildering.

Based on 1587 reviews

Shree Kanta Residency is not alone.

Based on 464 reviews

Scan through pages and pages of listings of numerous Oyo hotels on ibibo and you’ll find the absurd number of reviews. Running in hundreds and more.

Hotel owners believe this is akin to gaming the system. Their question: How did these hotels amass these many reviews in such a short time? Who put them there? And why?

The answers, of course, are not forthcoming. “How can they do this?” says a hotel owner from Delhi, who requested not to be named because he doesn’t want to spoil his relationship with the aggregator. “It is like you can do anything you like and nobody will ask any questions. And when you ask questions, nobody is there to answer because who cares for us?” (Translated from Hindi.) “Reviews are sacrosanct,” says an entrepreneur who operates a network of B&B accommodations. “You just don’t mess with them. Period.” Another matter altogether that once you click on the hundreds of reviews of Oyo listings to arrive at a decision whether to book or not…

…Poof!

AUTHOR

Ashish K. Mishra

Ashish edits and writes stories at The Ken. Across subjects. In his last assignment, he was a Deputy Editor at Mint, a financial daily published by HT Media. At the paper, he wrote long, deeply reported feature stories. His earlier assignments: Forbes India magazine and The Economic Times. Born in Kolkata. Studied in New Delhi – B.Com from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. Works out of anywhere, where there is a good story to be told.

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