Online hotel reviews are changing everything. With more than two out of three global travellers now using travel review websites before making a booking, and 93% of those saying online reviews influence their booking decisions – it’s clear hotel operators must become adept in the art of handling online guest reviews in order to stay competitive in today’s transparent business landscape.
As more and more guests turn to one another for advice on where to stay in cities around the world, the effectiveness of traditional hotel advertising is declining – while the impact of online hotel reviews is on the rise.
Failure to monitor, manage and respond to reviews will skew your hotel management strategy to issues that are unimportant to customers, as well as provide unhappy customers with ammunition for negative feedback on travel and social media sites.
To underline the importance of reviews to your hotel, here are some of the most moving statistics:
- 81% of travellers frequently or always read reviews before booking a hotel.
- 96% consider reviews important in the research phase.
- 91% of 18-34 year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
- 79% will read between six and 12 reviews before making a purchase decision.
- 88% of travellers filter out hotels with an average star rating below three.
- 32% eliminated those with a rating below four.
- When deciding between two similar properties, 79% of consumers are more likely to reserve a room at the hotel with a higher rating.
- 52% of individuals would never book a hotel that had zero reviews.
- Customers will value guest ratings over a hotel’s brand 72% of the time.
- Customers will value guest ratings over a hotel’s brand 72% of the time.
- Four out of five believe a hotel that responds to reviews cares more about its customers.
- 85% agree that a thoughtful response to a review will improve their impression of the hotel.
Managing and improving your hotel’s online reviews is a more straightforward and simple task than you might think. Even though it may be time consuming, it will be worth it for the long term success of your business.
This blog will give you an in-depth guide to managing online reviews at your hotel.
Table of contents
Hotel guest reviews: How to handle them at your hotel
There are really only two types of guests who leave reviews; those eager to praise your property and those aiming to criticise it.
Both groups require a similar approach. They all need to be responded to as quickly as possible in a calm, friendly, and thoughtful manner. There’s nothing you can do to change their experience, but you can let them know their voice has been heard, acknowledged, and had some effect on the way you run your business in the future.
Technically, there is a third group and these are the travellers who don’t leave a comment at all. It’s these guests that present a big opportunity for your hotel. If you can encourage this large contingent to post reviews you have a chance to not only increase your rating, but also your reach across many online platforms.
A few more stats that really show the potential impact of reviews on your business are:
- Guests will pay 24% more for a hotel with a 3.9 rating over one that’s rated 2.4.
- Guests will pay 35% more for a hotel with a 4.4 rating over one with a 3.9 rating.
- Hotels with review scores that go up one point (on a five-point scale) can raise their room rates by 11% without altering their occupancy or market share.
The more positive reviews there are of your property the better – and incentivising guests who might just be too lazy to post is the perfect way to acquire the reviews you need.
Once you have reviews to be proud of, you need to distribute them to as many channels as possible, including social media. The best thing about reviews is that they don’t cost you anything. Maintaining a constant presence online and highlighting your reviews will help you stay competitive at all times.
How to handle your guest reviews
- Having a plan in place to deal with online reviews should be part of an overall strategy for measuring your customer satisfaction and engagement.
- Be proactive and catch guest complaints before they go public. For instance, having a feedback system in place will give you access to real-time feedback, allowing you to respond to issues as they arise.
- Use social listening tools or a hotel reputation management system with real-time alerts to get on top of what guests are saying about you across review sites, blogs and social media.
- When responding to a complaint, be sure to acknowledge the poor experience, emphasise the changes you intend to make, and follow up with the customer as needed.
- Respond to issues as quickly as possible; the longer they go unaddressed, the longer they will fester and potentially get out of hand.
- Act on your promises to customers and move conversations offline when necessary to provide a higher level of personalised service.
- Limit the amount of different staff replying to reviews.
- Share customer feedback throughout your business. Your staff are your frontline brand ambassadors – but only if they understand the challenges and are incentivised to create the best customer experience possible.
- Don’t get defensive.
Use negative feedback to your advantage
The most feared of all feedback online is a negative review. The good news is bad reviews do not have to spell disaster. To the contrary, less-than-glowing comments about your hotel represent a great opportunity to respond to customers and show off your commitment to a high-level of quality service. In fact, savvy operators welcome the opportunity to respond to customers’ complaints (as well as praises) because it gives them a chance to shine.
Hotel customer reviews best practice
If you look at many tourist destinations around the world you will often see that independent or small group hotels are on the top positions on sites like TripAdvisor and Booking.com.
Independent hotels have the flexibility to make decisions on the spot to surprise and delight customers in unique ways. They can also make operational changes quickly without having to worry about brand standards. These factors put independent hotels in a much better position than the big brands to create exceptional and personal guest experiences, which can lead to better online reviews.
By differentiating their brands through superior service, hotels can increase their share of the billions of travellers each year – who place a high value on review sites when making their booking decisions.
Managing hotel customer reviews can be complex and it can be hard to know how to play by the rules.
Here are nine simple recommendations to ensure your hotel stays on the right side of best practice:
- Be clear about where reviews come from, and how they are checked before publishing
- Publish all reviews, even negative ones, provided they are genuine and lawful
- Explain to guests the circumstances in which reviews might not be published or might be edited (for example if they include swearing, abusive language or defamatory remarks)
- Make sure there is no unreasonable delay before reviews are published, so guests get the current picture
- Disclose commercial relationships with businesses that appear on your site, and explain how this may affect the review ratings
- Have appropriate procedures in place to detect and remove fake reviews, and act promptly in response to reports of suspected fake reviews
- Don’t offer inducements – money or gifts – to customers to write positive reviews about your hotel
- Don’t pretend to be a guest and write reviews about your hotel or other hotels – or pay others to do so
- If someone who publishes content accepts payment to endorse something, they need to make sure the content is clearly identifiable as being paid-for. For example, they could label posts or videos as “advertisement feature” or “advertisement promotion”
Best hotel reviews
Findings showed that in Europe, if the percentage of excellent reviews grows by 10%, a hotel’s search ranking on TripAdvisor improves 11.3%. A 10% increase in the hotel’s average review score will also push a search ranking up by 6.1%.
If the average review score of a hotel on TripAdvisor is improved by 10%, the expected number of bookings on TripAdvisor increases by 9% in Europe, and more significantly so in Asia-Pacific, by an impressive 15%.
So, it’s quite worthy to aim for the best reviews you can possibly get at your hotel.
Hotels can often be frustrated by reviews left online because they have little right of reply and can be targeted by fake or anonymous reviews. And because ‘the customer is always right’, if a hotel responds to a negative review in kind, no matter how unreasonable said review was, it only exacerbates the issue. This leaves other travellers steering clear of what they see as a potentially bad experience or unwanted confrontation.
One review model that some hotels have been interested in is the Airbnb model. Is this the best review system?
Because Airbnb is part of the sharing economy and there is a close mutual relationship between guests and hosts, the review system reflects this by allowing both parties to review each other.
This means travellers can decide not to stay at a certain property, but a property can also refuse a booking from a traveller they don’t trust based on the reviews left by hotel peers. Essentially this increases the chances of eliminating fake or unfair reviews.
There is then a two-week window where both parties can reply to the reviews, allowing for more transparency and significantly aiding others in the community to make better booking decisions.
It’s a process that has evolved and the new review procedure is far superior to the original one. Until 2014, both traveller and host were able to see each other’s review as soon as it was posted and could then write their own. If a host left a review saying a guest was unclean, disrespectful, or noisy etc. the guest could see this and write a so-called ‘revenge review’, scoring the host low even if there were no issues with the property. An environment was thus created where hosts and guests would leave favourable reviews no matter the experience because they didn’t want their own score to suffer, impacting accuracy and trust.
Airbnb also has other measures in place to encourage fairness, including:
- Verified identification
- Hosts can require guests to hold verified ID badges before they accept a booking.
- Guest profiles
- Completed guest profiles, including pictures, enable hosts to investigate the suitability of guests.
- Social connections
Airbnb users can connect to Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. Hosts can tap into this information to see other reviews that have been posted, see mutual friends, and get a sense of the person who is coming to stay at their property.
So does Airbnb have the guest reviews formula right?
There’s still nothing in place to prevent reviews that border on the ridiculous, such as a bad score because the weather was poor during a guest’s stay, for example.
Further investigation will always be needed beyond simply looking at a score. There’s also an argument that removing anonymity from reviews creates the potential for negative feedback to follow a person around forever, perhaps unfairly.
All in all though, it’s a largely equal and beneficial system for the Airbnb community, one that instills a sense of order.
For the contained environment that is Airbnb, it’s almost perfect, but is much more problematic for hotels.
This is because hotels are connected to so many different channels and travellers can create different accounts on all these channels – it’s virtually impossible to recreate the organisation and accuracy that Airbnb offers.
While it’s widely-hoped that in the future guests will have more accountability for their comments, until all travel sites are on the same page, hotels have little option but to roll with the punches and work hard to stay on top of their online reviews.
Hotel feedback: Responding to negative comments
Understanding how to respond to feedback is not just a competitive advantage, but potentially a means of ensuring your hotel stays in business.
You can easily turn complaints around and win hotel guests back – and these basic reputation management responses are your first line of defence.
Where a rational negative comment is posted, hotels do have options on how to respond.
Acknowledge and Action
For a genuine, reasoned negative comment on customer experience, it is best for hotels to respond in a timely manner (within 72 hours of posting), acknowledging the issue and describing how it will be addressed. Ideally, a follow up post will occur after actioning the issue, and showing how the experience will not be repeated.
This is by far the best possible response to negative feedback, because online audiences are far more willing to value action and positive changes in behaviour, than think poorly of the initial negative experience.
Apologise and Compensate
For a negative comment which illustrates an experience that was difficult or impossible to avoid, an appropriate response is to apologise for the poor experience and to privately offer either monetary compensation, or discounts on future bookings.
While this is unlikely to totally satisfy the customer with the stated poor experience, it will indicate to other customers, the prioritisation of customer experiences at the hotel. It’s important to take compensation offline where possible to avoid inviting those who like to complain for free stuff.
Apologise and Thank
For negative comments that focus on pedantic details, the most appropriate response is an apology for the experience and an acknowledgement that this feedback will help shape your hotel’s future guest experience strategy.
This is far more useful than a response which states that the comment will be passed to a customer service team, because the customer already believes that service is the problem at the property.
As for the initial risk of negative reviews getting posted, if you are a hotelier that pays attention to guests and provides good service, you should get overwhelmingly positive feedback. Sporadic negative reviews will not hurt your reputation directly and, when followed regularly by new positive reviews, will disappear quite quickly into the background.
Hotel guest feedback: Acknowledging positive comments
The relationship between hotels and guests has dramatically changed over the last few years and this is challenging for the hotels. On the one hand you have OTAs who have taken over the guest ownership. On the other hand, guests today have different expectations. In order to meet those new expectations, hotels have to know their guests better, so they can focus on delivering more personalised experiences.
By exceeding guest expectations and by working to build relationships with guests, even small independent hotels can encourage repeat bookers to book directly with them instead of with an OTA. In order to compete with the OTAs and other hotels, hotels realise they need to start collecting more guest data and use that data in better ways to improve service and build relationships with guests to ensure they return to the hotel.
Whether they’ve had a good experience or a bad one, increasingly-connected consumers are turning to social media and travel review sites to share their opinions to millions of other travellers around the globe. Indeed, the number of customer reviews on the popular TripAdvisor site has surged past the 150 million mark.
It’s so important to gain and manage guest feedback.
How to thank hotel guests for their positive feedback
While most organisations are thrilled with the prospect of positive reviews, an abundance of rave reviews can be just as suspicious to audiences as a series of negative reviews.
Therefore, positive reviews also need a response.
- Be Humble
Where a positive review is excessive and perhaps gushing, it is wise for firms to thank the guest for their enthusiasm, but to also acknowledge areas where you are attempting to improve. This reinforces commitment to customer service.
- Be Delighted
Where positive feedback is sincere and reasoned, the best response for hotels is to express delight and appreciation for the feedback and the desire to serve again in the future. This is the easiest response to deliver, but is often the least fulfilled.
- Be Appreciative
Where feedback is predominantly neutral, but some aspects are highlighted as being of particular value, it is advisable for hotel managers to express thanks for the feedback and to request further advice on how the organisation could improve in specific areas.
Again, try to take this conversation offline with an email or personal phone call. This enables more considered feedback to follow the initial post.
Hotel feedback form
Hotel guests read around 6-12 reviews prior to making a booking online, so it can really benefit your hotel’s online reputation (and by proxy, your visibility on review sites) to prioritise driving a greater volume of online reviews.
The best way to do that is to just ask. We’ve seen some hotels verbally encourage guests to write a review at check-out.
You can offer guests a feedback form to fill out, either at checkout or by placing it in every room for each new guest (or both). Once you have these responses you can collate the data and separate what’s useful for your hotel. Take note of what you need to improve on and what you can action.
If you get stellar comments, you could ask guests if it’s okay to publish the feedback on platforms such as your social media.
There’s also a way to do this digitally. There are survey and email systems that can ask guests for feedback shortly after checkout. Some systems then allow for automatic publication for TripAdvisor.
Hotel reputation management
Reputation management is often considered difficult or time-consuming. Yet the results of research into the importance of reputation management are unarguable: the value of reputation management is substantial and growing.
Obviously a big focus for maintaining your reputation is through managing your online reviews. It’s no secret that the quality of your customer service should be prioritised and you need to respond to online reviews as regularly and efficiently as possible.
Reputation management needs to move in a more personal direction. You might learn that people dislike a certain aspect of your hotel but you need to know who specifically dislikes it.
An example; some older guests might complain about the music while younger guests think it is excellent; you need to be able to segment reviews on demographics so you can see how you are performing specifically to your target audience.
Starting to harness reputation data to join the big data pool available for hotels is important so you can analyse this together with other data sets and dive even deeper into the reviews.
In general, to keep guests satisfied and your online reputation intact, you need to make sure the majority of your time and effort is going towards the most important issues. This goes for inside the hotel, and also when you respond to online reviews.
Time is precious in this industry, and you need to spend it seeking the biggest benefit for your business. Ultimately, loyalty and reputation go hand-in-hand. The better your reputation, the more inclined people will be to join your loyalty program. The more loyalty you collect, the higher your reputation will climb.
While feedback can be challenging, it can also help hotels to determine priority areas for improvement.
Hotel online reputation management tips
There are very few factors that are more important today than the online reputation of your hotel. Without an established and positive reputation on the web, where most travellers are doing their travel research and booking, your hotel won’t capture the amount of reservations you need to run a successful business.
Managing a reputation on websites like TripAdvisor is viewed as the most effective way of generating bookings by over half (54%) of independent hoteliers in the US.
For hotels across the US and Europe, online reviews are nearly twice as important as search engine optimisation in influencing hotel booking decisions. These findings are significant.
They signal the competitive advantage of online reputation management as a factor in hotel success. And as the impact of online bookings and digital feedback continues to rise, the importance of reputation management rises with it.
Yet while online reputation management is a trend across the hospitality sector, it is still considered an indulgence by some independent hoteliers. Part of this rationale is driven by the confusion around how to deal with both positive and negative feedback online.
TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index is becoming a critical metric to measure hotel online reputation. But besides this quantitative number that comes from scores on review sites, many hotels also look at the qualitative data by looking for trends in the guest feedback. For example, if guests are consistently complaining about the speed of check-in or the quality of the beds, hotels should consider taking steps to remedy those problems.
The key to building a successful business and a higher popularity ranking is by paying attention to your customers’ needs. Encourage customers to write reviews and learn from them.
- Every incoming guest should get an upgrade email before check-in.
- Hotels should also be sending upsell emails to promote amenities, emails to request survey responses, post-stay OTA win back campaigns, and loyalty campaigns.
- For each of these campaigns, hotels should also apply personalisation measures for each email, and segment their guest databases, so that all emails are relevant to the audience.
To achieve this goal, hotels need to start collecting guest data. The more a customer feels they’re being given great value, the more likely they’ll want to share it with those around them, including to other travellers online.
At the same time, perks and rewards should not replace customer service. Guest satisfaction must be high throughout their stay, otherwise a rewards program may feel like a bribe and it won’t be enough to garner a positive review or return stay.
- As more and more guests turn to one another for advice on where to stay in cities around the world, the effectiveness of traditional hotel advertising is declining – while the impact of online hotel reviews is on the rise.
- There are really only two types of guests who leave reviews; those eager to praise your property and those aiming to criticise it.
- Technically, there is a third group and these are the travellers who don’t leave a comment at all. It’s these guests that present a big opportunity for your hotel.
- Having a plan in place to deal with online reviews should be part of an overall strategy for measuring your customer satisfaction and engagement.
- Bad reviews do not have to spell disaster. To the contrary, less-than-glowing comments about your hotel represent a great opportunity to respond to customers and show off your commitment to a high-level of quality service.
- Independent hotels have the flexibility to make decisions on the spot to surprise and delight customers in unique ways. They can also make operational changes quickly without having to worry about brand standards.
- By differentiating their brands through superior service, hotels can increase their share of the billions of travellers each year – who place a high value on review sites when making their booking decisions.
- Because Airbnb is part of the sharing economy and there is a close mutual relationship between guests and hosts, the review system reflects this by allowing both parties to review each other.
- Understanding how to respond to feedback is not just a competitive advantage, but potentially a means of ensuring your hotel stays in business. You can easily turn complaints around and win hotel guests back – and these basic reputation management responses are your first line of defence.
- While most organisations are thrilled with the prospect of positive reviews, an abundance of rave reviews can be just as suspicious to audiences as a series of negative reviews. Therefore, positive reviews also need a response.
- The best way to get feedback is simply to ask. You can do this with feedback forms or via digital methods.
- Reputation management needs to move in a more personal direction. You might learn that people dislike a certain aspect of your hotel but you need to know who specifically dislikes it.