The end of the professional critic (and why you need to get over it)
By Lara Salomon, Content Marketing Specialist
Remember the days of the professional critic? You'd have the perfect room picked out — the pride of your hotel — and it would be flawlessly cleaned and prepped, mint on the pillow, bar fully stocked. Your staff would be on their best behaviour, waiting on the pseudo-celebrity hand and foot, all to make sure that you got the best review that you possibly could. We're sorry to tell you this, but the professional critic is dead.
No longer does one person's opinion act as a placeholder for all. The advent of the internet means that every guest is a critic, all of their opinions holding equal weight when it comes to reviewing your hotel. It's no longer enough to have one room prepared once a year for the grading inspector. Instead, every room needs to be given that treatment. Every guest expects a great experience when they book your hotel, and it's up to you to make sure that they get one, or face the wrath of the bad TripAdvisor review.
Why professional reviews don't mean as much anymore
Having an outstanding review published in an internationally recognised magazine used to be the pinnacle, practically the definition, of success. It would see guests from around the world swarming to your hotel and booking for months and years in advance. Now, a review published in a magazine is nothing more than that — one review. It may still carry weight with some readers, but is unlikely to be the only source of advice that they look to. It will be followed by a trip to TripAdvisor, a browse of Booking.com or a glance at Google, and the reviews found there will tell the reader more than that single article ever could — it will tell them what an average experience at your hotel is like.
While some hoteliers and chefs may lament the death of the professional critic, for others, the more egalitarian review system allowed by an internet to which everyone is a contributor has been a decidedly positive development.
Now, hotels that may never have come across the radar of professional critics get their time to shine too. Review sites cover wide ranges of accommodations, so while your safari camp or self-catering cottages may never get the chance to grace the pages of Cosmopolitan, they are exactly what some visitors to TripAdvisor are looking for, and potential guests get the chance to read about how others have found their stays with you.
The rise of the publicly accessible opinion
With the rise of review sites like TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Yelp, Trivago and thousands more, suddenly opinions are public, and you're seeing reviews from people who had good and bad experiences alike. Though it can feel as though all these sites do is provide a podium for disgruntled guests to rant, or unscrupulous visitors to blackmail their way to a better room, they're doing so much more – they open up the world for hoteliers and travellers alike. You're no longer relying on one or two reviews in magazines, newspapers or guidebooks to get your name out to the public, but could have hundreds of reviews for potential guests to base their decisions on. Not only do they give travellers the power to make better-informed choices, they're giving you the opportunity to learn more about the guest experience that you provide and to respond to any criticism that you might receive.
People having opinions about their stays with you is nothing new
The fact is, none of this is really new. Your guests have always been critics — they simply haven't had the public platforms before. Word of mouth is hardly a novel concept — think of all those great stays that saw your guests suggesting you to their friends and family. But the other side of the coin wasn't quite as noticeable — the awful stays that saw your unhappy guests telling their real-world social network to avoid you at all costs. You didn't notice those instances, because you didn't know about them. You simply never saw the bookings. You couldn't stop the negative word of mouth from spreading or add context to it, because you didn't know where it was coming from, or who it was reaching.
You can add your voice to the discussion online
Now, the negative reviews and naysayers may be reaching more people than they were before, but, while you should obviously be trying to ensure all guests have positive experiences, bad reviews aren't necessarily something you should be scheming to circumvent. Now, you also have the opportunity to address negative reviews, and make sure that more than one side of the story is being heard. Where before, you couldn't know who was talking about your hotel, now you can be a part of the conversation.
Perhaps your guests are raising points that you haven't considered before — you have the opportunity to improve what you offer, and raise your standards. Better yet, you can make sure that your unhappy guest, and all those who may read their review later, know that their opinion matters, and that you take their suggestions to heart. Showing that you care about your reviews and your guest experiences enough to change will encourage others to consider your hotel, and maybe even have that unhappy guest considering giving you a second chance. Research by TripAdvisor suggests that a professional response to a bad review may even improve readers' impressions of your hotel, and make them more likely to book.
Creating a balanced picture and getting a better rating require more reviews, not fewer
When it comes down to it, you should really be encouraging every single one of your guests to post reviews on travel sites! The more reviews you have, the more balanced a picture you can give, not only of the accommodation that you provide, but of the atmosphere and attitude that you inspire. And, while it might be tempting to just have the ten best reviews that you've ever received displayed on every site where a potential guest might see them, the algorithms that sites like TripAdvisor use take into account not only the score of reviews, but the number of reviews and their recency as well. Therefore, the more reviews you have (even if they could be described as average at best), the better you're likely to rank, and the more uncharacteristic those few negative ones will seem to readers.
Use reviews to your advantage offline
Not only are the number of reviews and the opportunity to engage with reviewers fantastic for your business, but the content of the reviews that you get will be more helpful than information that professional critics provide. People who are paid to write reviews are reviewing you for their readership, not for your benefit, and whether they're packed full of praise or niggling negativity, it can be difficult to find information that you can actually use to improve what you've got to offer. When it comes to online reviews, on the other hand, there are no holds barred, and you have the opportunity to learn exactly where you are getting things right, and where work is needed. Whether they act as the basis for making operational decisions, or creating marketing campaigns that highlight what sets you apart, your reviews can be used online and off to improve your hotel and bring the right kinds of guests to stay.
For better or worse, professional critics are part of the past, along with floppy disks and VCRs. Every one of your guests has an opinion to wield and air, and it's a wonderful development that you should embrace! After all, it's not going to be changing any time soon.