If consumers get onboard with the industry’s endeavor toward pushing direct bookings, the transition would seemingly diminish the importance of online hotel reviews. But not so, according to Kelly McGuire, a research fellow and board member at Cornell Hospitality Research (CHR) and the recently named recipient of the 2016 Cornell University School of Hotel Administration’s (SHA) Master of Management Hospitality (MMH) Outstanding Alumnus of the Year Award. Along with her MMH, McGuire also earned her PhD from SHA and now authors the new CHR Insights blog.
“The importance of hotel reviews won’t go away, regardless of where consumers decide to book,” she told HOTEL MANAGEMENT. McGuire, whose research includes "Pricing in a Social World: How consumers use ratings, reviews and price when choosing a hotel," has taken an in-depth look at how each of these considerations collectively influence consumers’ travel purchasing decisions. She explained that consumers implore all of these factors in making their booking decisions and that there “isn’t a silver bullet solution. It’s not as simple as having the lowest price or the best reputation.” But she also pointed out that user-generated content (UGC) focused on specific hotels can be a treasure trove of operational and marketing intel for savvy hoteliers who know how to mine it.
1. Hotels needn’t respond to each and every review about their property.
Citing the April Cornell study “Hotels Managers Shouldn’t Overdo Responses to Online Review,” by Chris Anderson and Saram Han, which finds that after a 40-percent response rate, hotels seem to reach a point of diminishing returns—McGuire advises hoteliers not to reply to all positive reviews as readers can find that as off-putting as a series of negative reviews. “The study shows that there’s a negative impact if you respond too much on TripAdvisor, including responses to positive comments,” said McGuire. Conversely, she pointed out that one or two negative reviews with thoughtful replies amid a sea of positive reviews can also work in a hotel’s favor. However, a litany of negative reviews and it’s time for the hotel to take a more circumspect approach to its operational issues.
2. Pinpoint opportunities for operational improvement through reviews.
A series of negative reviews is certainly not good for business and apologetic responses are not likely going to help the issue. But the unflattering commentary, taken as a whole, can also serve as a solid indicator of where exactly a property needs to make an investment or simply a change in operations or service. “Look at the reviews in aggregate,” McGuire advised. “If you see systematic comments over time –a lot of people are talking about lighting in the bathroom, for example—you know that in the next renovation cycle, that’s where you need to deploy resources and to do so more efficiently.”
3. Delve into what may seem like minutiae.
The devil may be in the details, but so could your property’s next biggest selling point. So take note if a series of reviewers positively comment on something as small as flower arrangements in public spaces, which according to McGuire, turned into a cross-marketing partnership opportunity for one hotel after managers noticed consistent compliments on social media about the property’s floral arrangements, created by the wife of a hotel employee. “Understanding what’s resonating with guests, when you’re hearing what is meaningful to them, in their own voices, is an opportunity to replicate that across the property,” she said.
4. Consider positive reviews from all angles.
McGuire explained that consumers tend to gravitate toward reviews that they feel are written by people like them. In other words, those traveling without children are going to discount positive reviews about a property’s kid-friendly pool. “If, over and over again, people are commenting on how their kids loved the hotel pool and you can’t figure out why your romantic weekend package isn’t selling, you may have your clue right there,” McGuire said. “You can see what hotel features are resonating with what types of travelers and then reinforce that in your marketing message.” She also noted that this method can be more efficient than first collecting personal data about each guest before capturing feedback following their stay. “The industry is preoccupied with learning about guests’ individual preferences, yet they often skip over looking at these comments in aggregate to see how their guests are reacting to their product because really thinking about applying these insights to the property’s decision making can be really powerful,” she added.