This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
As we move further into the digital age, the impact that negative online reviews have on a company’s bottom line continues to increase. This is especially true for travel- and hospitality-sector businesses, which rely heavily on positive customer relationships to drive word-of-mouth and social media marketing. Because guest experiences count for so much, companies in these industries need to find ways to remove or otherwise counteract negative reviews on popular review sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia.
Why should I worry about negative reviews?
Today, review sites are an integral part of the travel booking experience. Research from the guest feedback platform TrustYou reveals that a staggering 95 percent of travelers look at reviews online before booking, and according to a 2011 study by Focuswright, over half of TripAdvisor customers would refuse to book a hotel that had no online reviews.
TripAdvisor boasts an average of 390 million visitors per month, while 131 million visitors use Expedia in a given month. Given the amount of traffic these sites get, the reviews on these sites have the potential to influence large numbers of potential customers and thus significantly affect hospitality and other travel-related companies’ revenue.
For example, too many negative reviews can really cost your business when it comes to acquiring new customers. According to a survey by the search marketing firm BrightLocal, 87 percent of customers will refuse to do business with a company that has less than a 3-star rating, and nearly 10 percent of consumers require a company to have 5 stars before they will consider it.
The good news is that positive reviews will help you earn more money. In fact, research shows that over 75 percent of people will gladly pay more for a hotel room if it has received numerous positive reviews. Travelers are also four times more likely to choose a more expensive hotel room if it has truly excellent ratings.
A recent Cornell University study revealed that reviews have the power to change hotel room rates. For example, a hotel that gains an additional star on a five-star rating scale can see its room rates rise by up to 11 percent, even if the hotel’s occupancy rate and market share remain the same.
Further exploring the connection between hotel prices and online reviews is a new report titled “The Welfare Impact of Consumer Reviews: A Case Study of the Hotel Industry.” Authored by researchers at Boston University, the study shows that improved reviews aren’t merely correlated with higher demand (thus leading to higher prices). Instead, the reviews themselves actually generate the increase. In their findings, the authors note that when ratings went up by a single star, the demand for rooms saw a corresponding 25 percent jump, which translated to a 9 percent rise in prices.
How can I keep customers from seeing negative reviews?
Now that you know the fiscal impact that a bad online reputation can have on your business, the next step is to figure out how to avoid the consequences of negative reviews. There are basically three methods of addressing negative reviews: First, you can try to get the review deleted from Expedia or TripAdvisor. Alternatively, you can also respond to the review in a way that shows your customers that your business genuinely cares about them and wants to make things right. The final option is to thoroughly examine your business practices and implement policies that help you avoid alienating consumers in the first place.
Deleting negative Expedia and TripAdvisor reviews
While it is possible to remove some negative reviews from Expedia and TripAdvisor, this is the exception rather than the rule. These sites will not remove a review just because you happen to dislike it; you’ll need to demonstrate that the review is problematic in some way.
In some cases, it’s easy to tell when a negative Expedia or TripAdvisor review qualifies for deletion. If you’ve had a problem with a guest harassing a staff member, for example, and that guest decides to post a personal attack on the review site, it’s a fairly simple matter to get that review removed.
Other less-clear situations will be up to the specific site. Bear in mind that there are two sides to every story and review, and Expedia and TripAdvisor will weigh both before making a decision. Unfortunately, their decisions are final.
To flag a review for deletion on TripAdvisor, click the grey flag on the bottom-right corner of the review in question. This will bring the review to the attention of the site’s editors. If you want to delete reviews on Expedia, you will need to contact customer support.
Responding to negative reviews
Hospitality companies need to respond to hotel reviews in order to maintain their bookings; this is confirmed by a 2014 TripAdvisor study that showed that hotels that posted responses to reviews were over 20 percent more likely to get booking inquiries through TripAdvisor than hotels that didn’t reply to any reviews. Moreover, businesses that responded to more than half of their reviews were 24 percent more likely to receive a booking inquiry than hotels that didn’t reply to any reviews.
The tone and manner in which you respond to a review can greatly affect a potential customer’s view your company. According to a 2012 survey by TripAdvisor and Phocuswright, 84 percent of respondents believed that a professional and courteous response to a bad online review made them like a hotel more. Further, 64 percent stated that they were less likely to stay at a hotel that replied to a review in an especially defensive or aggressive way.
As such, you need to follow these basic rules when composing a response to someone who has posted a less-than-flattering review of your establishment:
- Respond quickly: Reviewers want a speedy response. According to a study by the Internet Advertising Bureau UK and Lightspeed Research, 25 percent of people who post a negative review expect a reply within 1 hour. Additionally, 6 percent of individuals believe that companies should respond in less than 10 minutes.
- Personalize the interaction: For example, address reviewers by their name (or Twitter handle), rather than relying on generalized terms like “esteemed guest” or “sir or madam.”
- Apologize for the reviewer’s bad experience: You don’t need to accept the blame for the situation if the problem wasn’t your fault, but often, simply acknowledging the guest’s distress can do a lot to mend the relationship.
- Tell the reviewer how you will address the problem: If the issue was with your hotel, you should explain how and when you plan to fix it.
- Take the conversation offline: Once you have posted your public reply to the reviewer, it’s a good idea to contact the guest directly and work out the details of your solution in private if the situation is complicated. This shows the reviewer that you are willing to reach out personally to resolve his or her complaints. It also removes a potentially contentious conversation from the public eye.
Examining your business practices
It’s far better to stop bad reviews before they start, and thoroughly examining your business practices is one way to do this. Consequently, you should make a point to review all complaints about your business to look for any patterns in them. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are there ambiguities in your marketing you can clarify?
- Is this guest’s problem a systemic one that could affect other customers?
- Is the issue an easy fix?
- Is the reviewer’s problem well founded or likely to happen again?
If the answer to any of these is “yes,” then you need to take action. Whether customers want clean sheets, lower prices, better souvenirs, or something else, you have to figure out an efficient way to deliver it. The more you take into account your guests’ wishes, the easier it will be to remove negative online reviews on TripAdvisor and Expedia and avoid negative reviews in the future.
Expedia offers tools to hotels to notify them when someone posts a new review about them, thereby allowing hotels to assess their reviews and act quickly if there’s a problem. If something goes wrong during a guest’s stay, you should always strive to resolve the issue. Showing that you care about a guest even after the bill has been paid is often the most effective way to deal with a bad review. You may not be able to stop all bad Expedia and TripAdvisor reviews, but with a little forethought and hard work, you can keep even the crabbiest guest from damaging your company’s reputation.
Many people post bad reviews out of frustration, not hostility. Often a guest will attempt to resolve the situation through multiple avenues and only resort to venting on the Internet when those avenues fail. Thus, giving customers complaint cards, a response line, and other methods will help keep a bad review from appearing.
Be sure to encourage customers to review your hotel as well; include links to Expedia, TripAdvisor, and other sites in your official emails and post signs asking for reviews at the front desk.
What else can you do to improve your business’ reputation?
Because they have witnessed the growing power of sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia, 9 out of 10 hospitality and other travel-related businesses fully understand the weighty role that reviews play in the success or failure of their venture. As a result, many are proactively working to improve their online reputations. In fact, a recent TripAdvisor survey revealed that this area was the largest area of investment for hoteliers, with 59 percent spending more on online reputation management in 2016 compared to the previous year.
Unfortunately, some businesses don’t have the time or the resources to adequately monitor and maintain their online reputations themselves. Those that find themselves in this situation can take advantage of a dedicated reputation management firm like ReputationDefender to safeguard their valuable online presence.