A Cure for the Hotel Website Review Blues

By Tema Frank CEO, Frank Reactions | November 05, 2017

You get to work, coffee in hand, fire up Trip Advisor to see if any new reviews of your property have come in. There, amid all the 4 and 5 star glowing reviews, you see a 1 star from a grumpy, impossible-to-please recent guest. It’s going to pull your average down, and you won’t show up as high in the rankings. Even worse, the customer has also Tweeted about how upset he was with your service, bashed you on Yelp, and told his friends and followers on Facebook. You start to panic. It’s the 2nd bad review in a week; you have to contain the damage!

What Should You Do?

The proprietors of the Union Street Guest House decided to fight fire with fire: they wrote into the fine print in their contract that customers would be charged $500 for bad reviews. They felt that the reviews were unfair, and that customers shouldn’t be able to slander them in this way.

Legally, they may have been right, but the approach they took killed their business. The first reviewer they tried to ding went public, and a media uproar ensued. The owner tried to claim the fine was a joke, but the evidence didn't support his claim, and it came way too late to save the business.

In fact, thanks to the number of hoteliers and restaurant owners trying to fine or sue people over bad reviews, the US House of Representatives last year passed the Consumer Review Fairness Act, which makes it illegal for businesses to force customers to sign agreements giving up their rights to make honest negative statements. It also makes it illegal to sue them or to threaten harm for honest negative reviews.

That said, you could potentially go to court arguing that the customer’s comments were not “honest”, but to be totally honest with you, the odds of winning such a case wouldn’t seem to be very good. Even if you did win the battle, you’d lose the war: as we’ve seen with the Union Street Guest House and other similar cases, if you attack a customer who left a review, that is likely to spell the end of your business.

Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.