Prospective guests are reading your reviews right now as they consider your hotel. And the most popular review site for hotels, resorts and hospitality (like it or not) is of course TripAdvisor.
But with hoteliers being busier than a one armed paper hanger, it is no wonder you may have overlooked these big TripAdvisor mistakes...
1. Bribing or Rewarding People
Today I came across an example of something that you should definitely not be doing when adding TripAdvisor management responses (replying to reviews). Not unless you want your reviews to be removed and awards held back by TripAdvisor.
They were offering incentives for people to leave reviews by way of discounted future accommodation...
The General Manager replied to a poorly written review by asking them to contact the manager when they wish to return and that "I will be delighted to provide you with a special rate."
I suspect this 'Top 10' resort located in Phuket, Thailand - was not even aware that they shouldn't be doing this. Its just a matter of time before their delighted competitors report them and they risk losing these reviews and risking their reputation big time.
You would think if they knew this they would at least offer such incentives up front or at least be slightly more discreetly than this.
And even if nothing bad happens - people reading these reviews will of course think that this is the reason for all their 5 star reviews! This will be hurting their revenue right now, and can only make it worse.
Once you submit a manager response on TripAdvisor you are not permitted to edit it which is of course, insane. So this resort will be left in the unfortunate position of having to contact TripAdvisor and plead for all these reviews to be edited with the reward offer removed - with the hope there is no penalty.
In all of my dealings with TripAdvisor I have found them (generally speaking) to be fair and reasonable. Please do not make the same mistake and make such offers people who leave 5 star reviews to give them discounts - you are digging a massive hole that you will someday have to climb out of!
This is also an example of why you should treat TripAdvisor with the utmost care and attention. It should be something left to someone who really knows that they are doing.
2. Not using professional photos
If you are subscriber to Locus Focus you will know how much I rave on about how important great photography is. And yet, despite everyone basically having a capable camera in their pocket these days — there still remain top resorts, hotels and restaurants with terrible photos.
It is very important to understand your main primary photo will be the very first image a prospective guest has of your business.
If you do claim your TripAdvisor page and upload your own professional photos then TripAdvisor may adopt an amateur photo from one of your guests. This is definitely not the best outcome, as you have no control over which photo is chosen.
There is plenty advice on photography over in our photography section so if you are guilty of this — make it your highest priority!
Remember that you can specify your primary photo on TripAdvisor to appear first. Assuming you already have great photography, make sure this first photo is appropriate.
For most hotels this will mean a room shot, but it might be the pool or even lobby is this impresses more and more appropriately appeals to your target audience.
Spend an hour if you have to choosing this photo, make sure you are putting your best foot forward!
3. Not replying to every single review
Every single review that is left on TripAdvisor for a hospitality business should be replied to within 24 hours (or less) by an appropriate staff member. Note I did not say General Manager — it must be somebody who is simply the best person for the job.
Having said that, this should also not be rushed for the sake of it. You should not reply to reviews from your mobile phone if you can avoid it. It is much easier to make mistakes both in terms of strategy, spelling mistakes, auto correct errors and grammatical errors if you are replying from a smartphone.
Remember, once you leave a management reply this cannot be edited! That can not be stressed enough. Sure you can submit an edit to TA — but this is at their discretion to change it. You are literally etching your brand into the internet forever!
So be careful — subscribe to Locus Focus and learn every trick to improving your online presence on TripAdvisor.
Every review should be replied to whether its a neutral review, the highest praise or the most nasty tantrum!
Here are some key reasons to reply to all reviews:
Statistically proven to improve positive impressions
TripAdvisor engaged an independent research company in late 2015 who discovered the following insight:
85% of users agree that a thoughtful response to a bad review will improve their impression of the hotel — an increase of more than 50% since 2013.
Click here for the Top 5 Insights from this Survey on TripAdvisor
This makes sense because its demonstrably shows you care about your guests. Guests are going to be reading the reviews before they book, so this might be your first chance to speak your brand voice and make a good impression.
UPDATE JUNE 2017
Please note: As I discuss in the podcast at the top of this post I now have a slightly different recommendation for replying to reviews on TripAdvisor and do not recommend replying to every single review. Please listen to the podcast for the full explanation, but suffice to say I now recommend in most cases replying to 1, 2, 3 and 5 star reviews.
It's just old fashioned politeness
This encourages more reviews and increases the chances they will leave another review in the future. Its respectful, polite and the right thing to do.
It says you care about the customer and appreciate their contribution. This also comes through to people reading the reviews.
It is painful to see five star reviews where guests are raving about a hotel and promising to come back again in the future, only to have no-one reply or respond.
If you have that persons personal email address also consider a personal thank you in a more personal tone, in addition to replying on TripAdvisor. A restaurant that I visit on my annual holiday just about every year always takes the time to personally thank me this way.
It shows that they have noticed, and that they appreciate the review. Suffice to say, I always leave five star reviews not only because they deserve it, but probably because it also makes me feel good.
It discourages others from leaving bad reviews
That's because most people will read other peoples reviews and your replies before leaving their reviews.
If they see how devastated you are when left with other negative reviews, they may think twice and start to feel guilty about destroying you with a nasty review.
This is particularly true of smaller hotels which are independently run. It is much harder to leave a negative review for a hotel run by a lovely warm and friendly couple which is clearly "family run".
If they see lots of negative reviews with no replies from management, they won't hold back! This simply reaffirms what they thought, that the hotel clearly doesn't care.
4. Not asking for a review from your raving fans
That old saying if you don't ask you don't get could not be further from the truth when it comes to guests leaving online reviews.
The advantage of asking for a review (which is not against TA terms) is that you selectively ask customers who you know had a great experience.
If a guest has had an amazing experience or stay they will automatically feel that they should reciprocate this by giving something back to you. That actually relieves their anxiety and just 'feels like the right thing to do'.
Suggesting to someone who has approached you in person or sent an email with a raving review or feedback that it would be really appreciated if they could "leave us a review"on TripAdvisor is absolutely crucial to ensuring a higher balance of positive reviews.
To recycle another cliche from the barrel, strike while the iron is hot!
Just one word of caution here, not everyone is comfortable with TripAdvisor. Don't assume that everyone regularly leaves TripAdvisor reviews or is that way inclined. They may for example, leave reviews with Booking.com if they booked that way, or even these days on Google Reviews or Facebook.
Rather than asking for a "TripAdvisor" review, it has got to the stage in 2018 where I prefer to ask "If you could leave an online review somewhere that would be greatly appreciated!".
5. Copy and pasting a standard CORPORATE SPEAK reply
This is something TripAdvisor recommends you don't do. According to them, it comes across as insincere. I would have to agree with this, and yes — it's hard replying to every single review using original text every time but it must be done.
You see this all the time, even at 5 Star hotels and resorts. The manager will copy and paste a reply that is then repeated with each review. It looks robotic and thoughtless and prospective guests will think the same when they notice the similarity to the replies.
Another thing to watch for is using the same superlatives or phrases over and over again. This might be something like "Thank you for your kind remarks".
This is another area where you should be referring to the brand voice section of your branding style guide. Exactly what tone should you be taking with guests? In most cases a warm, friendly and personal tone while harder to pull off genuinely is better than a formal tone.
The last thing you want to come across like is a corporate spokesperson.
You see replies like this all the time from chain hotels...
"XXXXX greatly values your feedback as we strive to deliver the utmost in guest satisfaction. Your comments will be discussed at out next team meeting where we hope to implement new policies to ..." Bla bla bla...
This is not the way to reply on TripAdvisor, remember it is a social media platform.
6. NOT CHECKING THE TRIPADVISOR APP
Not an obvious one at all, but remember that many guests find you these days on the TripAdvisor app. Make sure your listing is correct and searchable with related keywords such as location and your hotel name. If not, you may have made an error with your listing and need to remedy it, or contact TripAdvisor for help.
7. NOT TESTING REVIEW EXPRESS
Review Express is the TripAdvisor service where you feed in email addresses of guests and TripAdvisor requests them to leave a review. I remain "on the fence" in regards to its merits...
But this is definitely worth testing for your particular hotel to see whether it:
- Does actually increase quality reviews.
- Doesn't result in complaints or concerns from guests regarding their privacy.
If it doesn't materially increase the number of quality reviews you get over a defined time period (say 6 weeks) then leave the program! It is not worth the potential negative impact this may have on the guest experience.
8. NOT CONSIDERING "TRIPADVISOR BUSINESS ADVANTAGE"
This is the extra paid program from TripAdvisor split into "Standard" and "Preferred" options (preferred for TripAdvisor!) which gives you the opportunity to take advantage of premium features to promote your listing including advanced competitors analytics, more photo control and the ability to list contact information such as your marketing website URL.
Now you don't have to be a member of Mensa to work out that listing your website URL is a great way to increase direct bookings. The problem I have with this program is that the pricing is not transparent.
No that would be far too easy for you. TripAdvisor wants you to call them up on an old fashioned telephone and speak to a salesperson before they reveal pricing...
You see, their pricing is based on the size of your hotel and is entirely at their discretion. So make sure you are polite when you call them up to get a quote!
Seriously though, this is a program that is well worth considering especially if you have a great reputation on TripAdvisor and importantly, you already receive significant traffic and referrals from TripAdvisor (which your Google Analytics should reveal).
Just make sure it makes sense for your hotel. Make sure the price you are paying gives you more benefits and is worth the investment. Then monitor this over time to see whether it yielded a positive return on investment!
Chris Jack is the editor of Locus Focus and a professional hotel photographer based in Brisbane with over 20 years experience in digital marketing. He also hosts the weekly "Sharper Hotel Marketing" podcast.