Hospitality Reviews: A Winning Marketing Strategy in the Travel Industry

How important are hospitality reviews for hotels and the travel industry? Find out how to use this essential marketing strategy to dominate the competition. Read More...

Are the hospitality and travel industries beholden to hospitality reviews?

Sure, hospitality reviews are important.

At times though, it sounds as if we're beating a dead horse. There are plenty of companies in the hospitality and travel industry that don't have a strong review portfolio. These companies are doing just fine.

Are they though?

There's a growing body of evidence that shows hospitality reviews are a life or death, make or break issue for companies in the hospitality and travel industries. As you'll soon see, this is no exaggeration.

Is a portfolio of strong hospitality reviews an unfair advantage?

Customers have sky-high expectations. Their expectations aren't just focused on their experience in your establishment. These customers are more discerning. They're focused on the experience they have while buying your products and services.

The key trait, according to eHotelier, is awareness.

"Their fundamental trait is the awareness of their own needs. They know what they want when they want it and how they want it to be presented to them. They won’t simply accept anything just because it is at hand. They want a certain quality and won’t settle for less. And they are not afraid to speak out about it.

The customers are smarter and more confident, making them a lot more difficult to please than those before them."

This awareness has an impact on the customer-facing parts of your business.

  • The buying process. Customers expect their browsing, planning and shopping experience to be easy, simple and intuitive. They have no patience for poor design, complicated steps or unclear layouts.
  • Customer service. These discerning customers expect immediate answers to any of their questions. While the majority of these customers are reasonable, they expect you to bend over backwards to accommodate requests that are well within your wheelhouse.
  • Your marketing. Customers are less interested in the content from your establishment and more interested in the experiences they’ll have. They’re far more interested in the effort you’ll take to accommodate their needs, the incentives you offer to earn their business and the support you’ll provide to make their experience with you memorable.
  • Your review portfolio. Customers expect you to be present everywhere:

What does this mean for hoteliers? The amazing service that made you legendary in your customer's eyes is now standard and expected. The bar has been raised.

5 star Yelp review from Ed Y about a great hotel

What makes hospitality reviews more important than these other categories? Your online reviews describe each department or unit of your business to customers. Customers share intimate details on any part of your business.

  • If customers feel you’re overpriced, it goes in their review.
  • Did your customers have a bad experience? They could share their story with Yelp before speaking with you.
  • Promised something in your ads that you failed to deliver? Customers will warn the public.
  • Used heavy-handed sales tactics to convert prospects? Your tactics will be shared in detail.

Every part of your business is impacted by the almighty hospitality review; I use the word almighty for a reason. Your online reviews have a disproportionate impact on the success or failure of your business.

Isn't just about reviews, it's also about hotelier's responses to the online reviews in their portfolio.

  • 57% of users agree that seeing hotel management responses to reviews generally “makes me more likely to book it (versus a comparable hotel that didn’t respond to travelers)
  • 84% of users agree that an appropriate management response to a bad review “improves my impression of the hotel
  • 78% of users agree that seeing a hotel management response to reviews “makes me believe that it cares more about its guests
  • 64% of users agree that an aggressive/defensive management response to a bad review “makes me less likely to book that hotel

The data is overwhelming but it's also clear. Your online review portfolio has an overwhelming impact on your hospitality business. It's such a life or death issue for the business that some hoteliers are relying on fake reviews to stay alive.

Gabriele Piccoli Ph.D., researching for Phocuswright, states this is a risky proposition.

"Simply showing that hotels with higher review ratings have greater revenue per available room (RevPAR) – or do better in any other measure than hotels with lower ratings – does not necessarily indicate the value of reviews. Considering reviews as a reflection of quality – not an independent measure of it – is more useful. Because higher-quality hotels perform better than lower-quality hotels, higher-quality hotels receive higher online review ratings. Higher-quality hotels, of course, achieve superior RevPAR and financial results – but online reviews reflect, not influence, these outcomes."

[Emphasis added]

That's the key point here, isn't it?

If these online reviews reflect but do not influence outcomes, these fake reviews are creating a vicious cycle.

Any customers they receive will immediately realize that the reviews they read did not match their experience, prompting many to write more negative reviews. The hotel will be tempted to write more fake reviews to combat their legitimate, negative reviews.

It's a house of cards that's destined to collapse.

What's the state of reviews in the hospitality industry?

Established hoteliers understand the importance of a strong online review portfolio. They spend a significant amount of time, effort and resources to ensure the listed in the right places and reviewed prominently.

Independents? Not so much.

Example of hotel listings on Yelp from independent hotels

A quick scan via popular review and travel websites show the same thing. Small brands don't have the strongest review portfolios. Here's a brief snippet of the reviews of the same hotel on Booking.com.

review snippet examples from booking.com

The problems are the same. These independent hotels, bed and breakfasts, motels - the vast majority of them have poor review portfolios. As we've seen from the research above, this has a significant impact on their business. This may not matter if customers can't find them.

Which leads us to the important question.

Where are customers searching for hospitality companies online?

Customers use a variety of online platforms to find what they're looking for.

As you've probably already guessed, this isn't a comprehensive list.

If your hotel has strong brand recognition (i.e., Waldorf Astoria), new customers may search for your brand specifically. Previous travelers who are satisfied with their experience at your hotel will search for you, in Google, by name.

This is the exception, not the rule.

Searches use a variety of generic keywords to identify hotels at their intended destination. Here's a short sampling of these keywords.

  • Affordable hotels in [nyc]
  • Best hotels in [new york city]
  • Hotels in [new york city times square]
  • Trip advisor hotels in [nyc]
  • [New york city] hotels [near times square]
  • [New york] hotels
  • Hotels close to [nyc]
  • Hotels in [nyc]

See the theme?

These queries are location specific and brand agnostic. The competition for these keyword terms is fierce and dominated by travel aggregators, meta-search engines and deal of the day sites.

It's a battleground.

There are an enormous amount of travel themed websites. This makes building a strong review portfolio incredibly challenging. How on earth are you supposed to direct customers to the right platform? How do you ensure reviews are distributed equitably (notice I didn't say equally) across each platform type?

Doing this manually is out of the question.

This makes review management software an indispensable tool for building strong review portfolios. It's essential that you're present wherever customers expect to find you. If you're not visible across these five platforms platform types you're losing money. If your reviews on any of the top-rated sites in these segments are poor, you're losing money.

It's a complex balancing act.

A strong review portfolio = an unfair advantage

The data above confirms what we already know. A strong review portfolio and a consistent presence on these travel, review and deal sites, means your hotel has an unfair advantage. It's an important detail established players already know.

Initially, customers aren't loyal to a particular hotel.

That comes later, after you've wooed, wowed and pampered them. If customers have a phenomenal experience your hotel, they'll talk about it. They'll seek you out by name next time. Exact match ads triggered by permutations of your brand name and the strong organic presence for your brand name is an ideal way to capture repeat customer traffic.

Bring them to your site, tag them, then share an exclusive incentive for repeat customers via remarketing. It's a surefire way to get these loyalists to come back.

But what do you do with them?

What do you do with your happy and satisfied customers at the end of their stay? You ask them to share their story, to talk about their experience online! Here are four ways you can do just that.

Hospitality Review Generation Tactic #1: Create custom reminder cards

Create custom reminder cards inviting customers to share their review. You can include these reminder cards in your hotel welcome basket. You can place them on your guest's pillows along with a small chocolate. While you definitely don't want to overdo it, reminder cards are a low-key way to request feedback from your guests.

Just be sure to provide them with exceptional service.

If you're feeling unsure about your new customers you can leave your welcome basket for returning guests. It's a high percentage way to increase the amount of positive, five-star reviews you receive.

Hospitality Review Generation Tactic #2: Send a short autoresponder email

You probably already have your guests email address. At the end of their stay, after they've checked out, you can send out an autoresponder sequence asking them about their visit. Here are two templates you can use.

[Guest Name],

We've enjoyed having you with us and we hope you enjoyed your stay. I'm writing to you today because I have a question for you.

Did you enjoy your stay with us?

We want to make sure you're happy that you've had an excellent experience with us. We'd love to hear your thoughts on your stay.

[Review Funnel Link] [Signature] [Contact information]

If your customer is happy with their visit, you're free to ask if they'd be willing to share (copy and paste) their story with others on your review platform of choice. What if they're unhappy with their experience?

[Guest Name],

I'm so sorry things didn't go right during your stay. It makes sense that you're feeling [emotion]. I'm also sorry that we didn't find out about this sooner.

What can I do to make this up to you?

If you're willing to give me a chance, I'd like to make this right with you. Would [offer] be a good starting point?

Please let me know!

[Signature] [Contact information]

If you have an email service provider or you're using a review management tool to track customer feedback, you should be able to send the first email out automatically. If you decide to automate or semi-automated your follow-up, you want to make sure your customer's information is correct.

Hospitality Review Generation Tactic #3: Direct mail flyer

This works best when it's coupled with an irresistible offer. If you include vouchers for a free massage, service upgrade or complimentary meal it's easier to get them to come back. It's also an easier sell for your review request.

Just sending customers your review request may not go over as well as you intended.

Incentive/review combo offer is a great way to attract the kind of customer feedback you're looking for. It's a tangible reminder to customers that you're excited and looking forward to their next visit — the more personalized your communication, the better. A handwritten note on an offer card is a great way to make a connection with guests.

Segment your customer list if the volume is too high.

Hospitality Review Generation Tactic #4: Use an on-site review widget

An on-site review widget is a subtle reminder to customers. It's an easy way to remind them to share their feedback. It's also convenient. An on-site review widget is a helpful tool you can use to attract and convert new customers. Use it with your direct response, remarketing and retargeting campaigns to convert more customers.

What comes next?

Who's responsible for reviews that come in? Who should be responsible for the reviews that come in? That varies depending on the size of your business. If you're running a small bed-and-breakfast you, the owner, should be responsible for the reviews that come in.

If you're running a large operation with multiple employees, your marketing manager, guest service manager or general manager should take the lead. You're looking for someone who can keep calm under pressure.

You're also looking to make personal connections.

You want each of your customers/guests to come away with the feeling that your organization genuinely cares about their happiness and satisfaction. Do that and you'll find customers are eager to write a review about your business.

Hospitality and travel industries need online reviews to survive

Your customers have lofty expectations. Their expectations aren't focused solely on their experience in your establishment - no-no-no. These customers are more discerning. Their expectations are centered on and around the experiences they have while purchasing your products and services.

Every part of your business is impacted by the almighty review.

Your online review portfolio has an overwhelming impact on your hospitality business. It's such a life or death issue for businesses that some hoteliers are relying on fake reviews to stay alive. It's self-defeating and completely unnecessary.

The hospitality and travel industry are beholden to the online review.

A strong review portfolio is a make or break issue for the vast majority of small, medium and specialty hoteliers. As the data shows, a strong review portfolio is a competitive advantage. Hotels need a consistent and structured approach to win in this ultra-competitive environment.

It's difficult, but it can be done.

Work consistently, automate judiciously you'll find you have everything you need to create your own unfair advantage.

About the Author

Andrew McDermott

Andrew McDermott is the co-founder of HooktoWin and the co-author of Hook: Why Websites Fail to Make Money. He shows entrepreneurs how to attract and win new customers.

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