Bad Hotel Guest Reviews: Should You Be Worried?

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This week on the Bedvine Blog, we’re examining the fascinating field of hotel guest reviews and how it can influence customers’ buying behaviour as well as your profitability.

As a hotel manager, you are faced with an ever-growing influence of electronic word of mouth (eWOM).

In the course of booking a hotel room, on-line ratings have become the main source of information to customers who are using reviews to compare hotels and make informed purchasing decisions. From customer experience to cleanliness and location, your guests are evaluating every aspect of your hotel and it can be a challenge to stay on top of everything.

It is clear that electronic word of mouth is a great way to influence potential customers as the hotel industry offers experience products and intangible services that can’t be evaluated prior to purchase.

Did you know that TripAdvisor influences $546 billion USD of global tourism spending annually? That means that no matter how good or bad your reviews are, they impact your bottom lines on a daily basis. That’s why many hotels want to develop new knowledge about review management and want to be able to analyse, interpret and manage on-line social influence more efficiently.

Just received mixed-feelings reviews and have no clue how to answer them? Let’s fix that.

By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with data-backed insights about eWOM that you can apply to your own marketing strategy to boost your on-line sales.

Ratings that hotel guests post on review sites such as TripAdvisor are a key source of information and influence for other users that in turn help hotels generate more leads and bookings.

With the growth and all of the talk about hotel review websites over the past few years, you might be wondering to yourself: What makes websites such as TripAdvisor so influential?

What keeps these platforms growing and thriving is partly due to the fact that they display the common intention of the mass and are globally considered as a trustworthy source of information. Ellen Eun Kyoo Kim, Ana S. Mattila and Seyhmus Baloglu supported this with an article back in 2011 discussing the various reasons that push customers to seek information from OTAs.

Here is the exhaustive list:

List of reasons that push customers to seek information from OTAs

Reading reviews not only reduces risks for customers when making purchase decisions but it can also help them discover what’s new on the market and feel part of a community.

In 2018 for instance, TripAdvisor launched a brand new design for their website that resembles famous social media platforms:

TripAdvisor screenshot

When asked about the reason behind this fundamental shift, Stephen Kaufer, CEO & co-founder of TripAdvisor explained that:

“TripAdvisor is poised to disrupt the travel industry once again as we create a more personalized and connected community.”

Stephen Kaufer, CEO & co-founder of TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor is slowly turning into a travel and social media hub, which will certainly encourage more interactions between users and exacerbate its popularity.

By influencing $546 billion USD (10.3%) of global tourism spend annually in the travel and hospitality sector1, TripAdvisor has became a cornerstone of this industry.

That’s why on-line reviews are so crucial to your hotel success, yet receive little to none of the credit in most of hotel revenue strategy masterminds.

Before coming up with a fine-tuned review management strategy, first, let’s cover the basics.

Why are hotel guests reviews vital to your business?

A recent study on travel purchases determined that 84% of people looking to book a hotel on-line have their choices affected by what they see.

Understanding the buyer journey is crucial to your hotel and applies to all of your on-line marketing campaigns.

Here is a small list of tips you can implement with your team:

1. Don’t stress too much over negative reviews

Screenshot of bad hotel reviews on TripAdvisor

The above reviews look a bit scary, don’t they? Hold on for a moment.

In an experiment conducted by Daphne Seegers and Ivar E. Vermeulen, the researchers found that on-line reviews have a global positive impact on sales as they play an informative role that enhances brand awareness.

When you think of it, for many of us the way that we first hear about a particular hotel is by coming directly from websites such as Booking.com where travellers can post reviews.

Being present on these review websites is intended to capture more consumers as they become aware of a limited number of hotels, which in turn helps them narrow down their choices to a limited awareness set of hotels.

The study conducted by Seegers and Vermeulen surprisingly found a positive impact of review exposure on hotel consideration for both positive and negative reviews. This is because positive and negative reviews increase consumer awareness about the reviewed hotel’s existence and so its average probability to be booked.

It might seem counter-intuitive to think that getting bad reviews for your hotel can be good for business. But that’s partly what their research has found.

While positive reviews increase awareness and consideration for a given hotel, bad reviews lower attitudes towards it.

The study however minimizes the negative impact of bad reviews as it is compensated by an enhanced awareness effect which yield a neutral effect on consideration.

While you should still pay attention to negative feedback, keep in mind that a widespread exposure to hotel reviews can become an opportunity for your business rather than a threat.

Loading up on positive reviews increase your chance to be booked while negative reviews are at worst neutral, as they increase your chance to be found on the Internet.

Knowing that, stay focused and read what’s coming next, especially if you are running a non branded hotel.

2. Independent hoteliers should care more than others about on-line reviews

What more can we say about eWOM?

Vermeulen and Seegers discovered that non branded hotels are more exposed than familiar brands to change in booking trends, following exposure to on-line reviews.

Photo taken outside a Hilton hotel in New York City

Famous hotel brands try to build deeper connections with their audience than independent counterparts, by creating stronger roots in their consumers memory.

This makes familiar hotel brands more resilient to review effects.

That’s why independent hotel managers need to be extra vigilant about their on-line reviews.

By having a stronger persuasive effect on web visitors, on-line reviews of independent hotels better improve awareness of a particular place and the likelihood of it being booked.

Even with positive feedback being said about your hotel, you can only achieve enhanced awareness and increase your on-line customer base by improving your rating trustworthiness. Besides receiving good quality reviews, you should constantly seek to aggregate a large quantity of feedback and comments to create trust among web users so as to increase your sales.

3. Grow your ratings database

Even with the best customer reviews in the world, potential buyers won’t book a stay with your hotel unless they trust the comments they read on the Internet.

Compiling a lot of good reviews is one of the most compelling ways to build trust and get more bookings.

An experiment conducted by Diana Gavilan, Maria Avello and Gema Martinez-Navarro confirmed that the best performing hotels on the Internet are those that collect the most positive reviews.

The aim of their experiment was to test the impact of the number of reviews on the relationship between numerical ratings and trustworthiness.

Here is what their results look like:

Graph showing the relationship between ratings vs trustworthiness with on-line reviews

They discovered that the number of reviews plays a moderation role that reinforces trustworthiness for web users.

Hoteliers consequently need to collect a lot of reviews with high ratings to generate trust among readers and increase their chances to get booked on-line.

Accumulating a lot of good reviews is also a great way to showcase your hotel, as customers might be more focused on the quantity of reviews you receive than on their content at an early stage of their search.

More surprisingly, the study conducted by Gavilan, Avello and Martinez-Navarro saw an asymmetrical pattern existing between bad and good ratings:

Graph showing the relationship between good ratings and bad ratings vis-a-vis trustworthiness

Overall, their experiment validated the idea of receiving negative reviews to boost trustworthiness more easily than with positive ratings.

Unfortunately for you, this means that users tend to trust negative reviews more easily that positive ratings.

That is why despite all what has been said previously, it’s important to keep an eye on reviews year-round and develop a proactive strategy to avoid receiving negative feedback while capitalizing on the good ones.

How to implement a curated review management policy?

Every hotel receives web reviews. But what most people don’t realize is that - when used and answered strategically - reviews can significantly boost a hotel’s performance.

When it comes to your on-line marketing strategy, you need to think about how your way to handle reviews will be looked back on and how it might shape your business moving forward.

Do you want to satisfy your visitors and avoid them spreading negative eWOM over the Internet? To do so, get your customers involved during their stay by asking them questions about their experience with your hotel.

Try to gather comments and feedback on-site by talking to them face-to-face, by reaching out to them via email and questionnaires or using a dedicated hotline that handles customer complaints.

Invite your audience to engage with you directly so as to keep potential complaints of dissatisfied customers within your hotel rather than being shared across eWOM websites.

The other cool thing about interacting directly with your customers during their journey is that you can create a good service recovery strategy to avoid customer dissatisfaction in the first place.

By trying to correct first hand a bad customer experience, you might avoid frustration, reduce dissatisfaction and even create unexpected positive eWOM.

This is what McCollough and Bharadwaj call “the service recovery paradox”.

PRO TIP

If you’re running a hotel, also make sure to answer every single review you receive on the Internet, both positive and negative!

This is important to do because customers want to feel important and would rather book a hotel that responds to reviews2.

This is especially true for any negative feedback you may receive.

Try to always reply to them in a polite, exhaustive and prompt manner. The goal is to look as transparent and honest as possible.

The benefit of this honesty and transparency is that it helps to build trust with your customers. The best ways to build credibility for your hotel is to be transparent and not shy away from critics you may receive.

So the way to gain trust is to be transparent and right off the bat, point out your hotel shortcomings and how you intend to improve them.

By now, you probably understand that hotel reviews aren’t just a transient fashion.

Through websites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp and Foursquare, potential customers are getting influenced by what they see and make purchase decisions that can save or break your hotel business.

There must be a logical methodology behind replying to every single comment and how to do so.

This is why it makes sense to think about hotel reviews in the context of the buyer’s journey.

If you can interact directly with them at the right time and try to reply adequately to their remarks, you can develop your authority, trustworthiness, and influence with potential customers.

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