The Hotel Review Rodeo

“Rumour travels faster, but it don’t stay put as long as truth.” Thus spoke Will Rogers, iconic cowboy performer at the turn of the 20th century. He was saying that the values and quality of a person or thing will always outlast a few slanderous comments or superficial impressions.

He was right. In the end, quality speaks for itself.

But the rumor mill is more sophisticated these days. We don’t rely on vague recommendations from distant cousins, nor do we travel by stagecoach to the only hotel in town. We get our information directly from the horse’s mouth. Every word of feedback is preserved indefinitely. Every rating is crunched into a single digit. We scan huge numbers of options, dismissing what doesn’t make the grade and focusing our attention on what looks valuable.

And yet, the situation still resembles like the Wild West. Opinions overflow—some positive, some negative—while hotels and guests clamor to make sense of it all. Price point and location obviously matter, but recent studies confirm that reviews and ratings have special importance. Opinions of past guests—not promotional statements or offers from the hotel itself—are perhaps the most valuable indicators of what the end value actually is.

This means that complaints against hotels are hugely important—understanding them, responding to them, interacting with them in meaningful ways. A few recent studies from TripAdvisor offer powerful evidence.

77%—the percentage who feel that reviews and ratings are important
53%—the percentage who will not book a hotel that has no reviews
90%—the percentage who feel that public responses to complaints are important

If this doesn’t paint a clear enough picture, there’s that study from Harvard Business School that says increasing your average rating by one point (on a five point scale) could translate to a 5% increase in sales. Does that mean a one-point drop can result in a 5% decrease? There’s no concrete data to that effect, but it stands to reason that negative reviews may be even more detrimental than positive reviews are beneficial.

Indeed, one big negative review can feel like a bull running wild in a rodeo. It stares hoteliers in the face , reminding us that hundreds of potential guests are reading this and may be turned off our property. What to do? Well, many hotels are learning the importance of “sending in the clowns.” Like every good rodeo, we need to have a professional to help distract the bull. So we need our very own Earl Buscom. Every negative review must be addressed expertly, but not aggressively. It’s an art form that isn’t always best handled by the office admin person. You have to convince people that the situation was exceptional, unfortunate, and subject to swift recourse. And the best person to do that is the General Manager.

Most complaints against hotels have to do with service, maintenance, cleanliness, refund policies, noise levels, extra charges (especially for internet access), and dishonest descriptions or photos. The list of complaints varies from study to study, and if you want to get more in depth, you can check out this complete list of complaints by a weary traveller.

But as good operators have known for years, complaints are a gift. In fact, market insights continue to suggest that complaints are as valuable (if not more) than perfect reviews. Not only because complaints give hotels an opportunity to respond, but because no hotel would deliberately generate negative reviews about their own property. Skepticism is a shining beacon of authenticity, and it tells people that information is real. That’s why complaints and negative reviews tend to attract more attention than glowing ones. And why the way that you deal with this sends out a clear message as to what you will and won’t accept as standards in your property.

Where does this leave hotels? Potentially in a very good position. Using our rodeo analogy, it’s important to take the bull by the horns, respond to complaints, and get ahead of the issues that cause problem.

But it’s not necessary to feel like you’re being dragged through the dirt.

There will always be positive and negative reviews, even for five star properties. When all is said and done, the effort you and your team put in will make the difference it’s supposed to make.

Like Will Rogers said, rumors don’t stick around as long as the truth.

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