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How to respond to hotel reviews
April 1 2011

Managing a hotel’s online reputation by responding to negative reviews shows travelers that hoteliers are listening to guest feedback and are willing to make improvements.

Highlights
  • Discussing negative reviews with the team and resolving issues is critical.
  • TripAdvisor, Expedia, Hotels.com and Yelp all allow hoteliers to respond.
  • It’s important to respond to most negative reviews and occasional positive reviews.
By Jason Q. Freed
Contributing Editor, Tech Impact Report

INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Everyone’s got an image to protect. As the hotel industry becomes increasingly subjected to the world of customer reviews, hoteliers have developed a term for protecting that image—it’s called “managing your online reputation.”

A 2011 TripAdvisor survey revealed 99% of hotels plan to respond to customer reviews on the various review channels available today. But Daniel Edward Craig, former GM of the Opus Hotel Vancouver and now an independent hotel consultant, doesn’t buy it.

“Last year, only 7% of hotels responded to negative reviews,” he said. Craig encourages hoteliers to ramp up their monitoring and responses—especially to negative reviews—and has developed a strategy to help them do so.

Craig said responding to reviews shows travelers hoteliers are listening to what they have to say and that hoteliers are willing to make improvements based on guest feedback.

“It’s time-consuming, especially if you get a lot of reviews,” Craig said Thursday during a webinar titled “Improving your Hotel's Online Reputation—Best Practices in Responding to Online Reviews.” 

“It’s also intimidating. Now you have the added pressure of your response going to the entire online community,” he said.

Craig outlined four basics areas hoteliers should focus on:

  • monitoring and measuring;
  • discussing and resolving;
  • responding in order to minimize negative feedback; and
  • encouraging reviews.

Discussing and resolving is the most important, he said. “This is the hugely critical part. I recommend treating online reputation management similar to revenue management. Appoint a team and hold a meeting regularly.”

Craig said many hoteliers feel they have no control of what is said about their hotel. What hoteliers can control, though, is how they respond.

Fixing issues and then responding to customer reviews and noting those fixes makes good business sense. Travelers will notice the improvements, which will lead to more positive reviews, which will lead to more guests and in-turn will encourage more positive reviews, Craig said.

Sites that allow responses
On TripAdvisor, hoteliers need to register as owners and are allowed one response per review with no edits. Responses are moderated, and hoteliers can’t direct responses directly to the author of a previous post. Web addresses, email addresses and phone numbers are prohibited. Reviewers can’t respond to hoteliers’ responses. “Essentially you get the last word, and I encourage you to use it,” Craig said.

The rules are similar on Expedia and Hotels.com: Hoteliers need to register and posts are limited to 300 words. “Resist the temptation to promote your property; this isn’t the time and place to do that,” Craig said.

Daniel Edward Craig
founder
Revinate
Yelp is setup differently and uses a less formal approach to keep engagement between business owners and guests more personal. Hoteliers are required to upload a photo. “You can use a less formal tone, but of course always be professional,” Craig advised.

Most online travel agencies (Orbitz, Priceline, Booking.com, Travelocity) don’t allow hoteliers to respond to reviews. Craig said he’d like to see this change because fair interaction is crucial.

How to respond
In determining which reviews to respond to, Craig suggests adapting best practices that work best for each individual hotel. He said it is important to respond to most negative reviews and occasional positive reviews.

“If you respond to a lot of positive reviews, it can get quite repetitive,” Craig said. “That’s not what travelers want to see.”

High-level property staff members should be posting the responses because it shows guests they care. “I love to see it come from the general manager,” Craig said.

Whoever is charged with the task should have good writing skills because review responses are a reflection of the brand.

Responses should be posted as soon as possible—definitely within 48 hours. “It’s important to investigate and understand the issue and ideally have some sort of resolution to report back,” Craig said.

He recommends being brief in a response and thanking the guest for taking time to post a review whether it’s positive or negative.

If it’s determined the guest made false claims, Craig recommends setting the record straight—professionally—online. If the claims are particularly harmful, hoteliers can refute the post with the host site, but that process could take a long time and could end up futile.

Response examples
Craig offered sample responses to the most damaging online reviews.

Bedbug reviews, for example, can be particularly devastating. If a guest experiences a run-in with bedbugs at a hotel and the claims are true, Craig suggests contacting the guest directly, resolving the issue offline and then asking the guest to take the review down.

When a hotel is in the middle of a renovation that might affect guests, Craig said hoteliers can no longer pretend they didn’t know the construction crew was going to show up that day.

“In the age of social media, it’s all about transparency,” he said. “Be completely transparent about it so they know what to expect. Keep complaints on property and prevent them from becoming an online complaint.”

When reviews single out a staff member, responses should be managed with the utmost sensitivity. “Don’t single out the staff member, but at the same time don’t defend the staff member or assume the guest was mistaken,” he said. “Definitely don’t suggest the guest was the source of the problem.”

Sometimes negative reviews can be centered on pricing. If guests feel they didn’t get value, the hotel should apologize for that—regardless of the guest, Craig said.

Craig said hoteliers are going to get a bad review every now and then that they deserved. “Sometimes we just have to swallow it and move on and focus on the positive.”

COMMENTS   Show All
Mr Brown
6/27/2012 5:21:00 AM
We have run a small boutique hotel in France for four years now and have exceptional reviews. We registered with booking.com just over a year ago and to our horror have found they do not allow hotels to respond to a review. How can this be acceptable or even legal for that matter? A bad review can have serious consequences for your business and as we all know there are 2 sides to every story. The guest can give you bad scores with no justification as to why then post the review as anonmymous. Why has no hotel questioned this policy? This should be addressed by all hotels who work in partnership with Booking.com A petition should be started now!!!
judy serie nagy
12/30/2011 12:57:00 PM
As a hotel guest, I check reviews thoroughly before booking. I think it's important that the hotel response to anything negative be concise and to the point. I don't want to read any boiler-plate gibberish about how you take comments seriously or strive to keep the guests happy ... that's a given because you're responding, and doesn't need to be repeated over and over. I compare it to a telephone conversation with a CSR who continually apologizes for "my inconvenience" instead of LISTENING to what my problem is. This is annoying beyond belief. Address the problem(s), describe the fix and thank them for the review. Anyone who can read is able to pick out the grumpies and their inane problems ... we are looking for real solutions to problems that guests have had. And I couldn't agree more that a senior person with excellent grammatical skills needs to edit the response, nothing is so damaging to the hotel as a response from someone with a poor grasp of language.
RuddyglowPark
4/15/2011 8:48:00 AM
As someone who responds to both good and bad feedback via Trip Adviser, I rely on the service it provides to ensure my offering is of top quality for my paying customers. It is therefore frustrating - not to mention alarming - that a site like this can police reviews in a totally non-transparent, and even suspicious, manner. Not long after the site was hacked many hotels, including mine, suddenly found that reviews had been deleted for no reason. Trip Adviser will not discuss this, comment on it, or reply in any way as to why this has happened, leading me to question what, if anything, they have to hide. Review sites such as Trip Adviser tout "transparency" for hotel guests but this is patently not happening elsewhere on their site. If reviews are going to be taken seriously the review sites too must offer the same transparency to their customers that they in turn demand. How can a customer using this site trust the reviews that are being presented if they form an incomplete or 'selective' picture of the destination? This is blatantly unacceptable and Trip Adviser should respond to these claims to assuage the fears of both customers and hoteliers alike.
GuestBookCEO
4/13/2011 6:13:00 PM
Reviews with criticisms about noisy rooms, poor views, etc. are frequently an opportunity for the hotel to respond and educate future guests that guests who are light sleepers should request a quiet room, guests who want a view of the pool, should request a room in the back, and in general guests who book at the lowest price shouldn't expect the best rooms in the hotel, especially if they book through an OTA and don't communicate directly with the hotel about their preferences. For example, no one complains on a cruise ship they don't have a view when they book an interior cabin because that is why they are getting a large discount on the cabin. Is the problem that the OTAs book the rooms at the lowest rates and hotel does not have the ability to communicate with the guest, or is it the hotel's fault for not differentiating their rooms so that guests who book understand what they are getting?
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