What’s your online review site strategy?

Online reviews posted by travelers on TripAdvisor and online travel agencies (OTAs), like Hotels.com and Expedia, have enormous value for hoteliers, especially during the lucrative summer months.  Reviews provide travelers with valuable nuggets of information that help them complete itineraries and narrow their choices.  Good reviews provide independents with opportunities to influence travelers and capture bookings.  However, to truly maximize their value, independents should utilize an online review strategy.  Here’s some insight on how to craft a viable strategy:

Claim and update profiles

The biggest mistake many hoteliers make is not claiming their online review profiles.  Claiming profiles allows hotels to guide the online narrative rather than allowing it to take on a life of its own.  For example, if a guest leaves negative feedback that goes unnoticed, it may signal to other travelers that customer service isn’t a priority and take the hotel out of booking consideration during their planning – an unintended consequence.  Claiming profiles allows independents to control the conversation and manage their online reputations.

Build an active online community

After claiming profiles, the next important step for independents is to start building an active online community.  The easiest way to do this is to simply ask current and past guests.  This should be done in various ways, such as through social media, confirmation and follow-up emails, online surveys and, of course, in-person.  Lots of travelers are willing to share their experience, but if they’re not prompted, it quickly falls to the bottom of their To Do List.  By actively asking travelers to provide feedback, independents can build an active community of happy travelers who are willing to advocate on their behalf.

Review and respond to reviews daily

Unquestionably, the most important part of any online review strategy is responding to feedback early and often.  Whether guests leave kudos or complaints, independents must respond in some fashion.  For positive comments, a simple “Thanks for the kind note.  We hope you visit with us again soon!” works perfectly.  Negative comments can be more challenging to handle, but they cannot be ignored.  As mentioned above, ignoring criticism can seem like a hotel is avoiding the issue, especially if positive reviews received responses.  The more active hoteliers are on their profiles, the more encouraged travelers will be to leave feedback since they know someone at the hotel will see it and respond.

Create a plan to handle negative feedback.

Handling negative feedback is the trickiest part of managing online reviews, but there are ways to navigate them so issues don’t spin out of control.  First, as mentioned, hoteliers must respond to show they’re taking the complaint seriously.  In that response, operators should offer to contact the guest directly via email or phone to ensure their issue is handled properly.  This allows the hotel to move the conversation offline and validate the seriousness of the issue.  If the traveler is willing to continue the conversation, it can now be done privately.  However, if the traveler does not respond to the offer or chooses not to discuss it further, the hotel can now move on from the situation without causing any damage to their online reputation.