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Upon Further Review

Hotels May Not Be Able To Recover From Negative TripAdvisor Ratings

Monday, March 02, 2020
Mr. Larry Mogelonsky
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Taking on a year-long asset management consulting assignment for a luxury boutique hotel, the initial part of the work was in discussing what to fix first. Problems were everywhere and all required dedicated attention to effectively address. Besides many long conversations with the owners, a key indicator for what direction to take stemmed from online reviews.

And so I found myself perusing the pages of TripAdvisor, Expedia and any other third-party resource where I could source first-hand feedback for what actually affected past guests on an emotional level. Moreover, we set up a task force of key managers to triage any new incoming reviews that weren’t five stars.

Besides the necessary corrections bespoke to this particular property, I noticed something else, confirming what many GMs had told me before, but I had not thus far devoted the time to personally investigate. With guests now wholly aware that negative critiques can seriously damage future revenue prospects, certain individuals have come to abuse this system for their own gain, vocally or implicitly threatening hotels for discounts and comps when their lofty expectations aren’t egregiously surpassed.

My umbrage with how review sites work is that the live guest scores are not properly vetted nor do hotels have an effective recourse for removing irrational postings before they cause financial damage. Here are four examples of this from my recent endeavors working hands-on with independent hotels.

1. Spa booking fumble. Two practitioners call in sick and the manager then has to advise the day spa user (and not an actual overnight hotel guest) to rebook. Flabbergasted, the customer says that ‘her entire day has been ruined’ and that she ‘simply cannot accept that a replacement could not be found.’ The customer then gives a one-star review on TripAdvisor, not citing any other flaws for the incumbent hotel.

2. Beyond tardy for dinner. A hotel guests makes a dinner reservation for 6:45 p.m. then shows up at 8:30pm. Unsurprisingly for a busy Saturday, the restaurant is full; they are asked to wait at the bar until a table is available and are even given a free drink. With no comments left on the quality of the food itself, do you think the restaurant deserves to lose a full three stars because these guests complained that a table wasn’t ready when they arrived?

3. Mess of a dining bill. One diner orders the risotto from the menu then changes her mind when it arrives. For round two, this same diner remarks that the replacement is exceptional, with two free desserts given as compensation. The final bill deletes the risotto and comps the desserts but charges for the replacement. This patron pays, but then blasts the restaurant with a one-star review for an inaccurate bill.

So, what can the hotel owner to do in each of these situations? You can and should respond to each review as accurately as you can and explain your side of the story.

But it is a slippery slope to avoid being accused as unfriendly. Importantly, most customers won’t have time to read the written reviews let alone the manager’s responses—they only see the defamatory star ratings. And if all they see when scrolling down the page is the star ratings (or only the aggregate at the top), then a series of nonsensical low-star ratings from vindictive actors can potentially cost you numerous future bookings.

It’s not like we can sue a guest for libel—these are their ‘opinions’ and yet they carry so much weight. Nor is lobbying the platforms to remove the slanderous reviews a viable option as they are notoriously slow in following up. Thus, the one-star rating remains on your permanent record, unaffected by any polite justification offered through the manager’s response. You are culpable in perpetuity based solely on the whims of your customers.

Maybe we need a two-way rating system like Airbnb whereby we can also rate customers so that, with enough accumulated data, hoteliers can decide to reject guests if they have a track record of unfounded complaints. Until this happens, all you can do is ensure that your service delivery is flawless as the silent majority of your customers are always more forgiving and will appreciate you for trying your best.

Larry Mogelonsky    Mr. Larry Mogelonsky
Managing Partner, Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited
Owners, Principals, or Partners
Hotel Mogel Consulting Ltd.

Bio: The world’s most published writer in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes five books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” ...
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