Reviewing the Hotel Review Sites: Have You Kept Up?
By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners
The clout of the hotel review aggregators marches on. The blunt question is this: Are you keeping up?
Many hoteliers have fallen asleep at this switch. They are scrambling to focus on influencers, the rise of digital advertising, posting on Instagram, and trying to attend to the many other new initiatives that are shaping 21st century hotel and resort marketing.
But this is fact: online hotel reviews may be the single most influential factor in the booking decisions of most consumers.
Especially for independents and members of very small groups.
Maybe even more so for non US hotels. When I have stayed in recent years in Paris or Rome, I have always stayed in independents - and definitely was heavily influenced by online reviews. And got very good advice online.
But here's the big change: the names of the leading players in online reviews are fast shifting.
Five years ago I generally told hotels they need only give notice to TripAdvisor reviews.
The report offers a bounty of factoids. For instance, hotel review volume jumped 27% from 2016 to 2017, as more of us see the value of participating in this crowd-sourced opinion vehicle.
The "review pace" per month per hotel was 38, up from 29 in 2016.
But where the data gets really fascinating is in its analysis of the sources of reviews. Booking.com now leads the pack with 29.5% of reviews.
Surprisingly, Google has vaulted to #2, with 19.8% of reviews.
TripAdvisor is now 16.5%.
Facebook has climbed to #4 with 8.3%.
If you had to bet, bet that Google and Facebook - the two tech titans with real talent at connecting with the public - will continue to grab share.
TripAdvisor, meantime, grievously stumbled in its censorship of reviews that alleged sexual attacks by hotel employees – and that story appeared nationally, in leading newspapers. Many users told me they were ignoring TripAdvisor because it seemed untrustworthy as an impartial aggregator of reviews. That baggage weighs TripAdvisor down still.
Can you ignore the also rans such as Hotels.com and CTrip? Sure. If time permits scan them. But on busy days, ignore them.
As for the Big Four - make it a daily habit to keep up with what people are saying about your property.
Do you need to respond to reviews? According to Revinate, on sites that allow hotel responses, hoteliers responded to 29.7% in 2017.
To me that is too many. My advice to clients remains this: if the review leaves you with something you want to say that will interest many readers, post it. Otherwise, stay mum.
I read way too many canned - literally copied and pasted responses - that are littered throughout a review feed. "Thank you so very much for your compliments for our elegant furnishings and stately service and blah, blah, blah." No one reads that stuff, no one cares about it, just stop.
The rules of engagement remain the same. If there's a fact that needs correcting, do so - gently and politely. If the guest asked for more info, provide it. Very occasionally, thank a guest for a particularly lovely and perceptive comment. You want to comment often enough so that it's plain that you do indeed monitor opinions and follow up when appropriate. Be engaged, pleasant, cheerful. That's the hotelier guests want to see.
No guest wants a loud-mouthed, intrusive GM in physical, real life. And they don't want it digitally either.
When guests have specific complaints, steer the conversation offline. "Call me at 555-555-1212 so we can discuss what happened and put a smile on your face."
There's no need, in my opinion, to respond to "every" 4- and 5-star review, which is the advice of some experts. Cherry-pick ones where you have something to say.
But definitely respond to all 1-star and some 2-star reviews. Come across as caring, concerned, interested. Never get defensive (and I've worked with at least one GM who had to be reminded of that, often).
Always remember: the real audience for the response isn't the person who posted, but the many, many prospects who will see the review stream and what they read will influence their decision to book.
Online guest reviews are - for the hoteliers who are masters of this medium - a treasure trove of useful insights into the property (what's special, what needs improvement) and the forums are a great way to get a message out to prospects.
Use the tools. Use them well. And you'll learn to like online reviews as much as your guests and prospects do.
Babs Harrison + Partners