Hoteliers from some of the highest-ranking properties in New York dish on how important positive online feedback is and how to ensure guests leave satisfied.
|Staff at the Distrikt Hotel (ranked No. 4 of 431 hotels in New York on TripAdvisor as of 31 August) prides itself on responding to guest reviews.|
NEW YORK – The keys to a high ranking on TripAdvisor lie in a focus on the site itself and a relentless emphasis on customer service, according to New York hoteliers at properties that continuously rank high on the review site.
One hotelier who has made TripAdvisor the centerpiece of her sales and marketing strategy is Adele Gutman, VP of sales, marketing and revenue for the recently renamed four-property Library Hotel Group (formerly HK Hotels).
“TripAdvisor is our marketing strategy,” Gutman said. “We frequently have three hotels in the top four in New York on TripAdvisor.”
Gutman said her TripAdvisor strategy was a grassroots plan that began on her first day on the job.
“When I was hired, I was not told to make sales calls or buy advertising. I was told to make these hotels as successful as they can be,” she said. “I have found TripAdvisor a tremendous tool toward achieving that goal. The staff reads the reviews every morning. They have now developed such pride in their rankings that the success builds on itself. When we slip a little, they renew their efforts.
“It starts from the top and permeates to every level,” Gutman continued. “If you ask anybody in the hotels—the IT person, the busboy or the electrician—what our priority is, they will say TripAdvisor.”
Kaizad Charna, GM of the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square (ranked No. 30 of 431 hotels in New York as of 31 August), said TripAdvisor rankings are posted in the hotel’s back office.
“If an associate’s name is mentioned in a positive way, they get a $25 gift card. We also do a monthly recognition of employees who have been praised in reviews,” Charna said.
Beyond exceeding expectations
Highly rated TripAdvisor hotels offer services and amenities above and beyond their price category or brand standards, sources said.
Gutman said when TripAdvisor first emerged on the scene, she noticed one hotel in the company’s portfolio was rated 3rd while another was ranked 56th.
“We wondered what made the difference,” she said. “Our GM at the high-ranking hotel said he recommended being in the top seven because when people searched for hotels in New York, they see the first seven on the first page. So we called all our GMs and sales managers together to figure out what made for a high ranking and what inspired guests to write reviews.
“We found it was little things like saying ‘Welcome’ rather than ‘Yes?’ or ‘May I help you?’” she continued. “If you establish expectations among your staff, this can work. We recently met with the housekeeping staff at each hotel to remind them about how important TripAdvisor is to the hotels and how their smiles and interactions with guests can make the difference. Those are the things that color a guest’s experience. What they do is more important than anything we as managers do.”
Gutman said the Library Hotel Group doesn’t care so much about resumes but instead will hire employees with no experience as long as they have the right personality.
Robert Gaeta, GM of the Best Western Plus Hospitality House on the east side of Manhattan Square (ranked No. 40 of 431 hotels in New York as of 31 August), said packages that offer extra amenities to the guest for a perceived value go a long way in receiving positive TripAdvisor reviews and rankings.
“We offer the regular Best Western inclusion package with full breakfast, free wireless and other complimentary items, but that means a lot in a high-cost market like New York,” he said. “Also, we have apartments with full kitchens, which also means huge savings in New York.”
“As soon as the guest walks in, we try to make them feel important,” said Frank Gonzalez, a front-desk supervisor at the Best Western Seaport Inn Square (ranked No. 71 of 431 hotels in New York as of 31 August). “By the time they come down from their room for the first time we know their last name. We’ll take the time to give them directions or whatever else they need.”
Responding to reviews
Charma, of the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square, said the hotel responds to every review on the hotel’s TripAdvisor page. The staff discusses all comments in its operations meeting every morning, he said.
“We are one of a very few limited-service hotels to have a guest services staff—three full-time associates. They send out pre-arrival e-mails and post-stay messages,” he said. “One guest who was in the hotel complained on TripAdvisor about not having cell phone service from her room. We immediately moved her to another room. It’s the little things like that that make a difference in the rankings.”
Gaeta himself responds constantly to TripAdvisor comments—and acts on them. Just recently, a guest complained about a slow toaster and Gaeta ordered a new conveyor belt toaster—delivering the news on TripAdvisor.
Constant interaction with guests is a high priority for The Distrikt Hotel (ranked No. 4 of 431 hotels in New York as of 31 August), according to Anna Silverstein, sales manager.
“Somebody on TripAdvisor just posted that they feel like they’re talking to a real person when we exchange posts,” she said. “Our GM encourages us to be personal, to use our personal sense of humor and to treat people as friends online.
“And we try to have fun,” Silverstein continued. “We recently posted on Foursquare that if you check into our hotel on Foursquare, you will get a free mango.”
It’s a popular theory that responding to a complaint online is frequently more rewarding than never having a complaint at all. Gaeta said the Best Western Plus Hospitality House can take a guest who is not happy and make them a guest for life.
“Guests have told us that honesty really serves us well when it comes to complaints,” Silverstein said.
“If there’s slippage in our rankings we will have conversations about it,” Gutman added. “We set up something specific to focus on for the day. That might be something as simple as saying, ‘Welcome’ to every guest.”