English Corner

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Dealing with bad travel reviews

Von Ben West

The popularity of user reviews is at an all-time high. How should the travel trade respond to them?

More peer reviews - praises and knockings on the likes of TripAdvisor and Bookings.com - were posted in 2014 that the previous five years combined.

That’s great news if your hotel, B&B, resort, restaurant, airline or car rental company can do no wrong. But it can be devastating to business if you’re struggling or have had a string of operational setbacks to deal with.

The effects of a good or bad review can be instant: if your new rogue employee has upset a couple of punters enough for them to put pen to paper - or more accurately these days finger to keyboard - and trash you on TripAdvisor (a site that more than 350 million travellers consult each month) the drop in bookings can be instant.

It’s so unlike the old days, when reviews in a guidebook were even out of date the moment it was printed. To make matters worse, many in the travel trade wonder how many of these reviews are genuine. Was that post slating your company put there by a business rival? Was that glowing post about his own company put there by him?

Incidentially, many users do not have a good understanding of the sites that verify user reviews, and those that don’t. They are much more likely to trust the review by taking into account the sheer volume of reviews for that travel product or facility, their own experience, and brand awareness.

81% of travellers find user reviews of importance

Whatever the truth about online reviews - with leisure travel at least - they definitely have huge influence over the consumer. Especially so for millennials and Generation Y, those demographics so many travel firms want to lure.

A 2013/14 study by Pennsylvania State University for intelligence analysts SAS found that higher ratings were the strongest factor governing consumer choice, followed by lower price. However, the research also found that neither lower price nor positive reviews were able to overcome the impact of negative reviews.

Another survey, of more than 2,000 respondents by Forrester Consulting on behalf of TripAdvisor, found that 81% of travellers find user reviews of importance when choosing their accommodation. Only 3% said they didn’t find user reviews important. Interestingly, negative peer reviews are bad enough, but one piece of research found that there is even a scenario where lots of good reviews can be detrimental: some consumers searching out luxury travel products can be put off by a wealth of positive reviews because the more reviews out there, the less exclusive the product, they perceive.

A lot of companies would do well to focus more on studying the peer reviews they and their competitors receive to ascertain what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Investing resources in social media monitoring, community building and engagement can pay huge dividends. And responding to reviews is very important - although it is good to let many of the more positive reviews speak for themselves, as a gushing acknowledgement after each and every one can become tiresome, naff and start to sound insincere.

Insulting the reviewer can make matters worse

But response after a negative review is often vital - and within 24 hours. Silence after your company has been attacked online can suggest to consumers that you’re too complacent to care. A polite and reasoned response to a bad review could in fact turn a negative situation into a positive. An unprofessional response, on the other hand, such as insulting the reviewer, obviously can just make matters worse.

It’s best to explain the reason for the problem and any measures taken to ensure that it won’t happen again. Apologise for a bad travel experience - it’s not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing. Dollops of empathy always helps, as does acknowledging the guest by name. And a standard one-response-fits-all reply won’t do you any favours: always keep it genuine, and give an individual reply every time.

And whatever you do, don’t do what the Broadway Hotel in Blackpool in the UK did in 2014: they ‘fined’ a couple £100 (137 CHF) for calling their establishment a ‘rotten, stinking hovel’ on TripAdvisor. The couple found that the sum had been charged to their credit card, the hotel justifying the action by referring them to the small print on its booking document, which stated: “For every bad review left on any website, the group organiser will be charged a maximum £100 per review.”

Well, it certainly garnered the hotel plenty of press publicity. But not the ideal sort...