5 years ago

How to respond to hotel reviews (hint: not too much)

NB: This is a guest article from Aaron Zwas, director of emerging technologies, Digital Marketing Works.

The recent paper from Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research has garnered much attention in our industry because it demonstrates for the first time, with hard numbers, the positive impact of online reviews upon hotel performance.

In case you missed it, Tnooz node Josiah Mackenzie shared a great summary of that paper when it first came out a few weeks ago.

The study does a great job in demonstrating why a hotel needs to optimize its online reputation, but does not (understandably) focus on how to do it.

At DMW, we have been “review evangelists” since early 2010. Based on our hands-on experience with a variety of clients since then, we have developed strategies that comprise our Review Optimization Program. This playbook drives more reviews of better quality and describes what to do with them. In effect, it is the “how to do it” to compliment the Cornell study’s “why you need it”.

I won’t be sharing everything today, but I would like to share some of the fundamentals of this program.

  • Ask
  • Respond
  • Publish
  • Measure
  • What’s Next?

This should not come as a surprise, but we have found that the best way to obtain more reviews is to simply ask for them. Quantitative studies with our clients show that one of the most effective ways to generate reviews is to arm employees with business cards that ask guests to “share your review”. This method generates more reviews than posters, table tents, stickers, buttons, and almost everything else that we tested combined.

The cards should be handed out judiciously, without any pressure being placed on the guest. From an operational point of view, be careful to ensure that a single guest isn’t being bombarded by multiple employees with review requests. Depending on your clientele, also consider adding a QR code to the card so that it is easier for mobile users to write a review.

There are no shortage of articles in the hospitality space regarding best practices for responding to reviews, but most of it boils down to this: respond to all of the negative ones, a few of the positive ones, and none of the average ones. But how does this behavior affect our Review KPIs, and especially the quantity of new reviews being written?

In another data-driven study we conducted, our analysis revealed these very actionable findings: Responding an “appropriate” percentage of the time can lift the quantity of incoming reviews by up to 35%. We also learned, however, that responding too often can have a noticeably less beneficial effect.

Why is this? Can hotels really over-respond to reviews? We don’t tend to think of it in these terms, but the review page for a given property on, say TripAdvisor, is a social space in its own way, an asynchronous meeting room, of sorts. If the host of the party (the hotel) is crowding out the conversation with a lot of jabber, it appears to turn people off from participating in the conversation, with the end result of guests writing fewer reviews.

Note: Our tests were conducted with North American hotels. Cultural preferences might influence best practices elsewhere.

As Professor Anderson demonstrated, reviews matter! In fact, they matter so much that guests will leave your website for TripAdvisor or an OTA if they can’t read objective reviews there. Will those guests return to your site to make a reservation? For a variety of reasons, some will and some won’t. This is one reason why it is so important to have third party reviews on your own website. The other is related to cost per acquisition.

It is important to understand that the performance benefits described by Professor Anderson do not account for the share of revenue that will be taken by the review sites and OTAs where guests are reading reviews and often making their reservations. The best strategy is to publish those same third party reviews on your site with tools like Revinate’s Social Buzz. This practice helps keep potential guests on your site, with the results of driving up conversion rates, paying much smaller acquisition fees, gaining additional newsletter signups, and more.

Some hoteliers who already engage in this practice make the mistake of cherry picking only the best reviews for their site. DMW advises that hotels enable an almost unfiltered stream of reviews -including the good, bad and ugly, to be published onsite for the following reasons:

  • Remember that bad reviews legitimize the good ones. Especially important when you consider that brands are among the least credible sources of information in consumers’ eyes.
  • Operationally, it requires much less manpower to enable an unfiltered stream of reviews vs. seeking out good ones to publish manually. An unfiltered stream also keeps the content fresh.
  • The knowledge that negative reviews could appear on its own website is a great motivator for improving an organization’s operations and guest satisfaction in general.

The only metrics that matter for reviews are compset index scores. Use them for measuring the quality, quantity, and recency of reviews. It is important to use a compset index because it puts your scores in perspective of the hotels down the block. Eg: did you gain a lot of new reviews this week because a big football playoff game was in town? That’s good news, but your competition probably did too, thereby negating much of the positive optimization effects you would otherwise have gained.

Improving these metrics vs your compset is the collective key to optimizing your hotel for organic search in Google and for any OTA or review site where your hotel is listed.

What’s Next?
I hope this article provides some great tactical advice for hoteliers (and agencies) in hospitality. Our industry continues to change quickly, however. Here’s where I predict things are headed:

Hosted Reviews: Despite all of the benefits of positive reputation on TripAdvisor and the OTAs, all of these reviews point to the OTA sites and compete with your own website for favorable rankings in organic search results. Hosted reviews, like those offered by Customer Alliance, live on your servers and drive SEO value back to your website.

Strategies are evolving to incorporate a mix of hosted reviews (which drive best organic SEO) and 3rd party reviews (which have a larger audience and lend greater impartiality and authenticity).

Per-venue reviews: Resorts have an opportunity to offer more utility to their guests and to achieve higher levels of organic search optimization by establishing review optimization programs for each venue/activity/area on their campuses. Akin to Google’s new concept of Indoor Maps, expect this sub-level of detail to begin to appear in various resorts, amusement parks, college campuses, and more.

Personalized Reviews: Third party reviews are a great way to help determine the quality of a service or product, but, sometimes, quality is in the eye of the beholder. Eg: A top-tier steakhouse that gets five stars from David, a 50 year old sales exec, would probably not rank nearly so high with Emily, a 20 year old vegan undergrad.

On the horizon are personalized reviews that allow us to find feedback written by people “like us”. When this does go mainstream, hotels will be further challenged to be sure that their messaging (and reputation scores) lines up with each of these known audiences. The reward, however, will be higher conversion rates for the audiences they get right.

Whatever may come next, taking time now to develop best practices will pay long-term benefits. Regardless of the platform, device, or audience, understanding how to drive an abundance of high quality reviews will always serve you and your hotel well.

NB: This is a guest article from Aaron Zwas, director of emerging technologies, Digital Marketing Works

NB2: Thumbs up image via Shutterstock

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries.



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  1. Paige Herrin



    I am tasked with responding to our Trip Advisor reviews and we also utilize Revinate. I do like some of their canned responses and use some of those for negative reviews but most aren’t sincere so I customize them. Positive reviews are, obviously, a freebie in increasing my response ratio as they are easy to respond to. Additionally, I am a seasoned veteran at responding to complaints, but Trip Advisor is a completely different animal. When i respond to guest complaints, they are directly to the guest and address specific issues they had and my responses are not made public. With Trip Advisor, whatever I write is published and read by the general public so I need to be extremely careful with what i write. Trip Advisor is an ugly beast by which many people do not write reviews, the write blogs and rants. These are particularly hard to address because it’s clear we pissed them off and they are just trying to get back at us. Honestly people say that directly, “When I get home I am telling everyone on Trip Advisor what you guys did to us on our vacation!!! You’ll be sorry once everyone reads my review!!!” (Of course we try to intervene and turn their experience around before that happens) However, the “threat” of a negative Trip Advisor review is used often. And we have no recourse but to write a management response after the fact. Trip Advisor has become a customer’s best blackmail weapon.

    I hit writer’s block on a kind of weird negative review and finally gave up and did a random google search on how to respond to a negative hotel review. Most returned results were for eHow and the like. Not a single one addressed the hotel industry or Trip Advisor in particular. I really had to search for this one, so I’d love a list of good articles, helpful articles to read that will help me learn how to respond to some of these reviews. In particular I am interested in addressing “value”. We do charge a pretty penny for our rooms and yes, food is fantastically expensive in Hawaii. I try to focus on how great our service is but when responding to these reviews I am especially careful because it is really about addressing the public that will read the review, not addressing the actual reviewer. Does anyone have advice about addressing value (especially when the product pricing is very very high)?

    I know it was mentioned here that the hotel industry is inundated with articles like yours, but this is the first article that specifically addressed what i am tasked with doing, so thank you!

    I have been asked to respond to all reviews but after reading this article I think I might submit this article for re- consideration to my management. I hadn’t considered how responding too much might have an opposite effect than we desire. I see the point to not responding to each and every one because after a while it’s just repeating the same thing over and over and over but with different words. How phony is that? And the reviewers know that. Then we are perceived as only giving lip service with a smile.

    Mahalo in advance,


  2. Torsten Sabel

    Hey Aaron,

    just ran over your article now… Great thoughts and thanks for your opinion. Review management is really a new management discipline that every hotelier should have a strategy on. Thanks for mentioning us.



  3. Rupert Richardson

    What is a “compset index”? I’d like to use the intelligence in this article, but without knowing this, I really can’t

  4. Robert Gilmour

    Kevin,I’m always all ears, i enjoyed Aaron’s article, didn’t i say that? – if it didn’t read that way, sorry Aaron

    ‘This is a good simple common sense presentation Aaron.. ‘

    My point is that hoteliers are sick to death of being preached to on this topic, mainly by people who are not holeliers and have no experience of the context. That’s all

    Anyway happy new Year to Tnooz,I enjoy it, long may it continue.

  5. P Jason King

    While the article may be extremely interesting and hoteliers should be concerned, one of the most important aspects that never seems to be the forefront of conversation is the Customer Service or lacking of same in Hotels across the USA and the lack of cleanliness at the properties. We see these as Major Problems that Hoteliers could fix! You can see the items in TripAdvisor among many other online Complaint areas. “Lobby dim”, “Check in too long”, “No one greets guests”, “hallways dirty”, “carpet stained”…Take a black-light to your average room and look at linens and pillow cases and you would not want to sleep there.

    • Robert Gilmour


      As an ex hotelier, this would bore me to tears.

  6. Robert Gilmour

    Why are 10’s of ‘000’s of articles written on this topic, when clearly there aren’t 10’s of ‘000’s of RIGHT WAYS to do it.

    This is a good simple common sense presentation Aaron.. Hoteliers are not dumb you know, we don’t need tp be told something pretty much the same 10’s of ‘000’s of times over before we believe or act on it

    We do get the message, you know.

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @robert – chill out, eh…

      • Robert Gilmour

        Perhaps as a ‘moderator’ you shouldn’t have published my posts, or dropped me a direct email, rather than make a personal comment in public like that. That’s a comment I might have made in private to my son!

        Kevin i’m reflecting the views of over 200, many prestigious, award winning UK and overseas hotels, which are direct full service clients of my company, and another 300-400 which are members of hotel associations I look after. if Tnooz doesn’t want to hear them, then i’m happy to go elsewhere where I’m respected, and protect my reputation.

        i have always promoted Tnooz as good reading, to my client base.

        • Kevin May

          Kevin May

          @robert – aah, come on. You did make a pretty snippy comment at Aaron 😉

          Anyway, moving on…

          We always value the comments you leave here, and long may they continue.


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