Hotel reviews and how to respond to them

Hotel reviews are critical post COVID Fuel Hotel Marketing 2020 survey Vol 4 word cloud of traveler sentiment

A Fuel Hotel Marketing 2020 survey Vol 4 word cloud of traveler sentiment – click the image to read the full report (image courtesy Fuel)

Over the past few months, we put together some marketing ideas for small, independent hotels. The first in our series was Help for branding small, independent hotels, followed by Small hotel marketing – win with engagement.

This third installment of our Small, Independent Hotel Marketing series is about responding to hotel reviews, particularly when guests may be more concerned than usual about their personal health risk while traveling.

We’re writing this as hotels are about to begin re-opening after the initial impact of coronavirus and COVID19. It’s critical that once you are open, you ask for positive reviews that include how guests feel about the steps your property has taken to mitigate the virus and keep guests AND staff safe. That perspective is definitely something people will be checking on TripAdvisor and Yelp.

Those positive reviews send a strong marketing message for you and will go a long way to instill confidence in visitors who are considering your property.

How are you making your guests feel safe?

Guests have always looked at reviews while booking, but now they want as much certainty as possible before making choices.

They will look for recent, detailed reviews, with an emphasis on avoiding risk.

They are also concerned about how you are training and taking care of staff members, because they know that no matter what sort of care you promise, it is those employees who must deliver on the promise. If staff is not well cared for, what incentive do they have to take good care of guests?

Small, independent properties must also convince guests that they are a “safe bet” even in competition with big chain hotels and their resources. Fortunately, in some of the lessons learned so far in countries recovering from the pandemic, “local boutique hotels….are usually perceived as combining reasonable prices with comfort.”

The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) and Hotel Association of Canada worked together on new safety and cleaning guidelines for the hotel industry. Items that could potentially be mentioned in property reviews include the following:

  • Check in – is it touchless, is it via a smartphone?
  • Housekeeping – is it daily or only upon request?
  • Room Service – how is it handled?
  • Buffets or no buffets?
  • Valet or self-parking?

Some of the above won’t apply to smaller hotels, but here are a few more items that you should think about that could show up in reviews:

  • Signage that lets guests know exactly how rooms and common areas are being cleaned.
    • Who are you partnering with regarding your cleaning products?
  • Policy for physical distancing – is it displayed appropriately?
  • Are sanitizing stations available in the common areas?
  • What is your mask policy?
  • What type of training are you doing with your staff?
  • Have you covered all the above on your website?
  • Do you have at least one short video on your website (maybe on your FAQ page) talking about what your property is doing to protect people from the virus, including the guest rooms, lobby, pool, exercise room, and dining area?
  • Are you creatively using your social media to share what you are doing about your property’s cleanliness protocols and procedures?

Making your guests feel safe is the bottom line. Period. Your TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews will reflect this question over the next several months, or even longer.

From a marketing and credibility standpoint during a tumultuous time, it is smart to get some positive reviews up right away to set the tone for how potential visitors will view your property.

Some review response tips

In our digital destination marketing workshops and webinars, we’ve helped many hotel properties do a better job of connecting with guests and visitors online, including responding to reviews.

Those responses are part of your online reputation management, and they’re important.

A sincere response to any review gives you a chance to highlight your hotel, refute any false claims, give additional kudos to a staff member if they were mentioned, and make the reviewer feel good that they took the time to post a review. Whether good or bad, reviews give you an opportunity to shine, through the quality of your response.

Did you get a negative review? Most travelers understand that the occasional bad review amongst mostly good ones is a data point, but not usually a reason to toss a property from consideration.

What they really want to know is whether you quickly responded to that review in a professional tone, and did the same things online that you do offline – apologize for a poor experience, offer a relevant explanation if appropriate, and ask what you can do to make it right.

What IS often the “kiss of death” is not responding at all, or responding to every review with an obviously boilerplate script using the same words over and over.

Go here for more of our detailed tips on review responses.

If you have ideas that you use when responding to reviews, we hope you’ll take a moment to tell us about them down in the comments.

 

PS. In case you missed our recent COVID-related posts:

**  Tourism marketing and coronavirus: decisions now are key to what happens later

**  Mostly for tourism and Main Street partners, but some DMOs as well – Is it time to launch an online store?

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