In an increasingly technologically savvy world, it has become second nature for both business and leisure travelers to turn to the internet to research for a hotel destination, whether through a search engine, social media channel, brand website or online travel agency.  The internet has made it fast and easy to research properties, view photos, read traveler reviews, and compare rates from virtually anywhere--at desktop computer in their own home, on their mobile phone or on a laptop computer.  With the increased availability and access to information, hotels are not the only ones controlling their brand image and the content available to travelers and consumers.

The growing sophistication of online marketing in the travel industry has created more sophisticated consumers, who cut through the hype and marketing provided by a hotel and seek out independent opinions and reviews as their most influential source of information.  In a recent survey conducted by TripAdvisor and Forrester Consulting, 81% of travelers said reviews were important when deciding which hotel to book, and almost half said they wouldn't book a hotel unless it had reviews.

The relationship between OTAs, review sites and hotels has always been complicated, but with the proper knowledge and practices, the hotel and third party sites can grow to have a loving, successful relationship!  A major part of regaining control of the content about your hotel and making a significant impact in the minds of travelers is to respond to the reviews that travelers have posted online, often known as reputation management.

Here are Blue Magnet's top tips on how to respond to online traveler reviews of all types--the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Until proven guilty, assume all reviews are real and true

Online Hotel Review

Do your due diligence in investigating each review.  If a guest review is negative, investigate the issues presented by the guest and take the necessary steps to get to the bottom of the issue.  Look to see if the guest issued a complaint while on property and ask your Director of Operations if there have been any issues in any departments that could attribute to the review.  There are going to be false and misleading reviews posted about your hotel, but it can only help your cause by taking the high road and treating these reviews as real.  If you do discover that the review is false, be sure to report it to the site with all of your supporting information in order to have the review removed as soon as possible.

Take a deep breath before submitting a response

It is easy to get defensive about your property and the criticism that a reviewer posts publically.  But remember, you are representing the hotel brand, the property and all of its employees.  Your response should demonstrate that all feedback, both positive and negative, is important to you by being polite and professional.

The guest is always right...online

No matter how much you believe this to be true or false deep down in your gut, your public online response must address the needs and concerns of the guests first.  For example, a guest writes a review that they were unable to control the temperature of their room because the directions on how to use the thermostat were hard to understand.  If you were to look at the directions, as part of the hotel staff they might be clear to you since you are familiar with the thermostat system.  However, the guest is always right and there is usually a kernel of truth to extract from their experience, which you can use to improve your product.  Take the opportunities that guest reviews provide to reevaluate the issues that guests bring up to strengthen your property thus enhancing the guest experience.

The following steps will help hoteliers structure their property's online reviews and manage their online reputation more effectively:

  1. Sign up for notification emails
    Most consumer review sites allow management to receive notifications when a new review is posted. Ensure that the correct members of your hotel staff are signed up to receive these notifications and are available to act on behalf of the property. Preferably, a hotel's response should be sent from the General Manager, Hotel Manager or Director of Guest Services.
  2. Respond in a timely manner
    Once you receive a notification that a new review has been posted, respond as soon as possible.   This demonstrates to the guest that their feedback is important and that you value customer service.
  3. Remember one of the first rules your mother taught you: "Say please and thank you!"
    The very first line of the response should read:

    "Dear [insert the username of the traveler to make it personal], Thank you for taking the time to write a review on [insert name of travel website].  We truly appreciate your feedback regarding your stay with us at [insert the name of your property] [and include the time/date of the stay if the review mentions it]."

    It is important to express your genuine appreciation to guests who have taken the time to sit down, type out and submit their review about their experience at your property--good or bad.
  4. Highlight the positive
    Highlight the things that the guest noticed/appreciated during their stay.

    "Thank you for your kind words regarding the service you received from our Front Desk Guest Service Agent and the Bellman.  We pride ourselves on superior customer service and I am glad to see that these team members went above and beyond to make your stay more comfortable.  I'll be sure to share your feedback with them and their supervisors."
  5. Address specific complaints
    If the guest voices a complaint, your response should include an apology and direct acknowledgement of the specific complaint.  You should also include a description of the action you are taking to improve the situation and what the guest can expect during their next visit.

    "I'm very sorry for the inconvenience you experienced when housekeeping did not refresh your room or provide clean towels or new amenities.  I will address your concerns with the Director of Housekeeping to ensure this situation is avoided in the future.  During your next stay with us, please do not hesitate to call down to the front desk and inform them of the situation as they will be happy to make sure a room attendant addresses your room right away."
  6. Be original and transparent
    Avoid using a cookie cutter response for all reviews by personalizing your comments to each response you receive. This will demonstrate to the guest that each individual review and all feedback are important to you and that you took the time to actually read the review.
  7. Don't offer public service recovery
    If a review is bad enough it warrants a very personal response. Take the conversation offline.  Provide a direct phone number or an email address where the person can contact you directly about the issues they experienced.  Since online channels protect the anonymity of the reviewers, management is not able to get the direct contact information of the guest.  By providing your contact information you are inviting the guest to have their comments directly heard and addressed by the management.  This will help you resolve the issue faster than working through the online system and it will alleviate the potential for miscommunication.

    "Dear Traveler, Thank you for taking the time to write a review on TripAdvisor.  We truly appreciate your open and honest feedback about your experience at our hotel over the holiday.  I'm very concerned with the comments you made specifically about the appearance of bedbugs in your guest room and I would welcome the opportunity to address your comments personally with you over the phone.  Please feel free to call me at your earliest convenience.  Your satisfaction and well-being are of most importance to us and we hope to rectify the situation as soon as possible.  Thank you."

TripAdvisor Management Response Center

According to TripAdvisor, 50 million travelers are utilizing the site every month, so it is crucial to your hotel business to be an active part of the online correspondence.   Management responses give you the opportunity to engage with your past guests and market your property to future guests.  Industry research shows that management responses are highly influential with travelers during the booking process.  When an owner responds promptly and professionally to a review, addressing any specific complaints as well as the positive comments, it can make a big impact on prospective customers!  While responding to reviews might seem like a trivial, grass-roots public relations effort, it does make a strong impression on travelers when it comes time for them to book.

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Google Alerts is a free tool that every hotel should be using to manage their online reputation and monitor the web presence of competitors at the most basic level. Essentially, Google Alerts notifies you via email any time Google discovers your hotel's name (or any search query you specify) within any webpages it crawls. We at Blue Magnet know the importance of managing a hotel's online reputation and Google Alerts is just one of the many tools we use.

When you set up a Google Alert, you are automatically notified when Google crawls new web content that matches a search term you select. For example, I have created a Google Alert for "Blue Magnet Interactive," which means that I receive an email notification every time Google finds a new mention of that search phrase ("Blue Magnet Interactive") anywhere on the web. This can include content from news, blogs, videos and discussion groups, letting me quickly monitor discussions or posts about Blue Magnet Interactive. This is a quick and easy way for hotels and other businesses to monitor the online gossip about their particular company.

How to Set Up a Google Alert in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Google Alerts - Go to www.google.com/alerts
  2. Search Query - Add the business name or search term you would like to track in the Search Query field. It's a good idea to set up an alert for any variance of your business or hotel name. For example, the Hilton Chicago should add alerts for "Hilton Hotel Chicago," "Hilton Chicago" and "Chicago Hilton." You can do the same for the names of your direct competitors.
    Google Alerts for Hotels
  3. Add result type - Results type allows you to choose what type of alerts you would like. You can choose from news, blogs, videos, discussions and books. It's best to choose "everything" so you receive alerts for any mention of your hotel name across the web.
  4. Add notification frequency - You can choose how often you receive alerts: "As it happens," "Once a Day" or "Once a Week." "Once a Day" is the option I choose, as it gathers all of your alerts for the day and sends them in a single email.
  5. Designate the number of results - You have the option to receive "Only the Best Results" or "All Results."
  6. Add your email - Simply specify the email address to which you would like your notifications sent.
  7. Create alert - Clicking "Create Alert" will send a verification email to your designated address. Once you verify your email address, the alert is created! You will soon receive emails, like the one below, for each search term you added.

Google Alerts

How Google Alerts Work for Hotels

There is no limit to the number of alerts you can set up. This free tool not only allows hotels to regularly monitor their own online reputation, but also helps keep hotels updated on their competitor's online presence. With competitor alerts, you can stay informed about new hotel specials in the area, competing hotel events or a wide range of guest reviews--and it all comes straight to your inbox!

Online reputation management for hotels is important and requires a strategic approach. Google Alerts isn't the only ingredient in our recipe for online success, but it's definitely a great jumping off point for hotels looking for simple (and free!) reputation management solutions!

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When it comes to your hotel's online reputation management, think of the internet as high school and you’re trying to win the popularity contest. With Google’s plans to incorporate Google+ into personalized search results and the backlash of TripAdvisor’s misleading reviews, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a considerable focus on what people are saying about your brand. More than ever before, people are turning to each other through the internet to glean opinions about hotels, their staff, and even how the hotel dealt with problems, before making any concrete decisions about where to stay.

Here’s the real clincher: consumers aren’t just looking for their peers’ reactions; they’re also taking into account how the hotel responded to both positive and negative reviews. Your online reputation management will continue to be increasingly important as “likes,” “+1’s,” and reviews are intertwined into how we discover new information on the internet.

So, how will you amp up your online reputation management to make sure small blunders inside the hotel don’t go viral?

1. Listen to the locker room gossip

Know what people are saying about your hotel. Like any good prom queen in the running, you need to know what’s being said and where people are saying it. One simple and free way to oversee mentions of your hotel is to set-up Google Alerts. With Google Alerts, you’ll be notified via email every time your hotel name (or whatever keywords you deem relevant) are mentioned anywhere in search results.

Google Alerts for Blue Magnet Interactive

Another key strategy is to monitor your social media profiles daily. There are more opinions posted on those sites besides just reviews. Tracking the increase in visits, likes, re-tweets, shares, etc. can give you a good idea over how buzz worthy your hotel is or not.

Finally, if you’re a one-man show and need some minions to help build your reputation, you can employ technology services to help manage the process. Bookassist offers a service called “Reputation Alert” which not only collects reviews from guests who book through your brand.com, but it also crawls hundreds of sites to gather comments or reviews and brings them to you in one place. Some more comprehensive products to consider are ReviewPro or ReviewAnalyst. Not only do these services monitor and collect all reviews, but they also compile the data into easy-to-use reports.

2. Be a social butterfly

Be engaged with your online community. If you’re going to gain entrance into the cool crowd, you need to be outgoing and diplomatic to others. The same goes for your hotel’s image online. Similar to how you want to be accepted and liked by others, your guests or reviewers want to be heard and acknowledged, too! Responding to positive reviews about your hotel is easy enough to do, but a lot of hoteliers shy away from responding to negative reviews or complaints. These are the reviews that need the most attention, as these guests may have felt as though their issue was ignored on-property or not handled properly. Now they want to lambast your hotel for the whole world to see.

By simply acknowledging that there was an issue and offering a diplomatic response, you are engaging in an online conversation that other potential guests will see. People are eager to see how the hotel will respond or react to a negative situation.  Furthermore, the way in which its handled will give potential guests insight as to what they’ll be up against if a problem occurs during their stay. In fact, there have been cases in which a once disgruntled reviewer was so satisfied by the hotel’s response to their issue that they removed the negative review and became a cheerleader for the hotel. The more you engage with your online community through responses, blogs, and social media, the more positive your brand image will become.

3. Transform your ugly duckling into a beautiful swan

Interesting images and other content are key to growing your community. If you’re going to be a front-runner in the popularity game, it’s important to always highlight your best features. High quality and complementary images of your property will draw consumers’ eyes away from any negative reviews and into your photo gallery. New social media sites, like Pinterest, showcase destinations with beautiful landscapes or neat décor with a link back to the source (aka your brand.com).

What’s more, gaining new followers on your social media channels is more than just skin deep; you have to show your inner beauty. Provide content that followers will want to share with their networks. Interesting blog entries, fun contests, and “featured guests” posts are sure fire ways to gain attention and keep your current followers interested. Finally, posting pictures and posts about hotel staff events allows your followers to feel a connection with the hotel and helps make your hotel staff seem more approachable.

4. Campaign like a class president

Promote guest reviews. Although “Vote for Me” posters aren’t exactly within brand standards, there are other ways that you can encourage your guests to leave reviews on your social media channels that will help keep your content and reviews fresh. Adding links to your TripAdvisor, Google+, or Yahoo listings on your Facebook page is one way to ensure writing reviews is top of mind for your guests. More subtle methods include adding a link to your listings on email signatures, newsletters, and brand.com. Providing easy access to your business listings will keep reviewing from feeling like a chore to your guests.

The most obvious way to encourage exceptional guest reviews is to provide the guest with a great hospitality experience. Even if there are blunders during their stay, the way in which it’s handled can make or break a raving review. It’s important to train your staff that what happens inside the hotel may be reflected online, and reviewers aren’t shy about naming names if they’re really upset. They also aren’t shy about naming names when a hotelier helped make their stay really wonderful, so just ask yourself what kind of publicity do you want?

In the end, will you be a popular student or a wallflower? If your hotel stays in touch with their reviews and reviewers, provides valuable content on its social media channels, and encourages positive reviews when the opportunity arises, I could foresee Prom Court in your future. And remember, it’s the negative reviews that need the most nurturing and what happens inside your hotel doesn’t always stay inside your hotel. Good luck!

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As a hotel internet marketing guy, I get asked this question by hoteliers all the time: "What can I do to improve my hotel's ranking in TripAdvisor?"

For your convenience, I'm just going to set the record straight: TripAdvisor ranks hotels using an automated tool they call their "Popularity Index." According to official TripAdvisor website, they describe this Popularity Index as such:

The TripAdvisor Popularity Index incorporates Traveler Ratings to determine traveler satisfaction. Emphasis is placed on the most recent information. We calculate the Popularity Index using an algorithm.

TripAdvisor's Popularity Index is:

  • Pure: Completely organic. No paid results influence rankings.
  • Fresh: Constantly incorporates new information.
  • Global: Reflects reviews from around the world.
  • Unbiased: Based on the good and the bad!

Well, what a shocker. Just like Google, TripAdvisor is pretty opaque when it comes to disclosing to hoteliers what needs to be done in order to improve their hotels' TripAdvisor rankings. To shed some light on these vague guidelines, I'll provide some tips on improving your TripAdvisor rankings based on our experience and various discussions with TripAdvisor market managers.

Important factors that may impact the TripAdvisor Popularity Index:

TripAdvisor Best Practices for Hotels:

  • Claim your TripAdvisor Business Listing
  • Keep the content in your listing updated and fresh
  • Encourage customers (via on and offline means) to write reviews of your hotel (but do so in a way that doesn't violate TripAdvisor's Terms of Service--ie, don't "reward" customers for leaving reviews.  If you do, you may find your hotel penalized for this violation.)
  • Monitor your customer reviews
  • Respond to BOTH negative and positive reviews
  • Use your customer reviews as free market research to enhance your hotel's internal operations
  • Enhance the good and fix the bad features of your property
  • Repeat all the above on a regular basis

Managing your online reputation takes a lot of time if you want to do it effectively. Constant management of these various review channels (TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc) is necessary to be successful in social media marketing and management. At the hotel level, be sure to assign a staff member to serve as your "social media champion" and ensure that your entire hotel team is aware of the social media initiatives. In the end, there are many hotel internet marketing companies (such as yours truly) that specialize in hotel social media marketing and management.  Agencies like Blue Magnet can help monitor and manage your listings to ensure you're always on top of your hotel's online reputation.

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