Wow, I can't believe this subject has come up again! We spent a lot of time last year addressing these concerns, so we'll answer them again here, since it seems that our communications on this last year have failed.
1) "We are not looking for actual feedback, just soundbites for the website." This is false. The tour evaluations are, and have always been, first and foremost one of the most valuable internal tools we use for improving our tours. The fact that we revealed them on our site in the first place was because we wanted to be transparent. But revealing them on the site has nothing to do with how we actually use the evals. The purpose of them has not changed.
2) "We are editing and/or hiding and/or not revealing negative reviews." This is false. The only time we edit evaluations is if a tour member curses or names another tour member. Reviews are only hidden from the public when the tour member who fills them out checks a box that says, "Do not publish." You see so many positive reviews because our tours are good, not because we're cherry-picking or editing.
3) "We are trying to 'stymie customer opinions.'" This is false. If we were trying to "stymie customer opinions," we would not ask tour members to fill out evaluations at all, much less reveal any part of them on our website. In addition, we would not have a Travel Forum at all, much less a brand new (as of a year ago) Rick Steves Tour forum. Our tour program uses customer opinions specifically to help make our tours better, and (clearly) encourages free dialogue about our tours or any other part of our business on our Tour Forum.
4) "Why did we change the questions on the tour reviews?" Because our old tour reviews were crafted for when we had around 5,000 - 10,000 tour members. As the number of tour members increased drastically over a relatively short period of time, our tiny staff was having an increasingly difficult time reading through evaluations with no character limit, repetitive questions, that was almost 100% text fields. We needed to make them a lot more specific and focused. More multiple choices with limited-character text fields, so that our staff could keep up with the now 21,000 tour members we have, many of whom fill out evaluations. This is an internal tool to help us improve our tours, and it needs to be crafted in such a way that our internal staff can use them in the most effective way possible.
5) "Why did we change the questions we reveal on the website?" The way our old evals appeared on the site were not user friendly. They were cumbersome, long, and the questions repetitive. After research into how reviews are presented on websites, we decided to reveal the two most general fields and a star rating based on the bullet rating of the questions. They’re quick, get to the point, consistent, and scannable for the average user.
6) "Will we ever change the way we reveal the evals, are we listening, do we pay attention to these complaints, does RSE even care?" Maybe, yes, yes, yes. Many of the complaints about the evals are, honestly, purely a misunderstanding of their purpose and our business. But then there are some complaints, like of the star ratings. I know how they’re calculated, but you’re right: it’s tricky when you see a three star review but have no idea WHY it’s a three star review. Could we reveal one other general field and increase just that character count, so our reviews look a little more like the excellent presentation of the OAT reviews? Yes, probably. That’s not up to me or the web department, but I have passed along these recommendations.
This has been an epic reply, but I hope it finally puts to rest conspiracy theories, mistrust, and frustration about why we have evals, how we’re using them on the website, and what we’re looking at going forward. I will repeat: we are a small company. We are not a faceless corporation. We take your comments seriously and we’re watching/listening.