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How (and How Not) to Respond to Bad Hotel Reviews

Respond to negative reviews by focusing on one core audience: potential guests looking to book.

Many hotels don’t engage with reviewers or respond to bad reviews online. Of those that do, some managers make mistakes that don’t serve the original poster and may chase away other potential guests.

More than 80 percent of travelers always or usually read reviews before booking a hotel, according to current hotel industry statistics from HotelTechReport. And that means those potential guests also read your responses to negative reviews.

So next time you go to answer a poor review or criticism of your hotel, it’s important to remember that your main audience is not the person who posted the bad review. It’s the hundreds or thousands of potential guests who will read your response and use it to gauge how they might get treated as a guest.

Here are six dos and don’ts for responding graciously and productively to less-than-flattering online hotel reviews:

1. Do: apologize with sincerity for the issue

No matter what the problem, a sincere and open-hearted apology goes a long way. The first line of your response should usually be a straightforward apology. Some hotel managers successfully use simple, sincere phrases, such as: “I’m sorry we missed the mark this time” or “I personally apologize that you had this experience.”

2. Do: offer to make contact to make things right

Even if a guest has already checked out, you still want to make it clear that you’re open to talking to the guest personally to make things right. For example, one Louisville hotel manager wrote:  “​​I would be happy to speak over the phone to try and understand where the disconnect occurred as we were honoring cancellations due to weather, as a result of the ice storm. Please reach out to the hotel directly, dial 0, and ask to speak with Josh, the GM.”

3. Do: offer details that show your dedication to service

There’s a fine line between defensiveness and offering details that show potential guests that you do care about service and strive to offer the best. While it’s important to avoid argumentative or defensive language, adding supporting details in a neutral tone can be helpful. For example, one marketing manager for a New York City hotel mentioned that the hotel has a 24-hour maintenance team in her response to guests who complained about a maintenance issue. She then apologized: “I’m sorry they weren’t able to get this issue resolved for you.”

4. Don’t: fail to respond at all

One of the biggest mistakes hotel managers and marketing teams make is a lack of response to bad reviews. There are a number of problems with going this route. First, it may leave the impression that you don’t care about the issue or your reputation enough to respond. Second, by not responding, you’re failing to use valuable online real estate available to you on the third-party booking sites that many travelers use. Responding shows that you are engaged with guests, you can accept criticism gracefully and that you care enough to have a conversation and try to make things right for your guests.

5. Don’t use a snarky tone or insincere language

If you read enough online reviews, it can be surprising to see how many responses miss the mark by coming off as thin-skinned, snarky or defensive. Discover valuable insights on handling negative feedback to protect your reputation and foster guest satisfaction. Read more!The only response worse than none at all is one that comes off as unpleasant, irritated or critical of the guest who left the review. Be careful to avoid language like, “We’re sorry you feel that way.”

6. Don’t give a generic or canned response

One hotel review for a Louisville property complained about a number of issues, including the lack of the bar and restaurant that were advertised, and no hand sanitizer available for guests.  In response, a manager wrote a generic: “Thank you for your feedback.

We have used what you have shared to improve.

“While the manager may not have had the power to correct all the issues, they could have mentioned one or two actions taken in response to the review. For example, “Thanks for the feedback and helping to make our service better. We’ve installed a hand sanitizer dispenser in the lobby, and our bar and restaurant are opening in May. We hope you’ll visit us again to give us another chance to provide top-notch service.”

A little finesse in responding to online reviews can do wonders to salvage poor guest experiences, show potential guests you’re professional and caring, and to win bookings from guests who are reading reviews before they decide where to stay.