According to Cvent's 2018 Global Planner Sourcing Report, positive reviews are the top influence on planners' destination choices. Peer recommendations, meanwhile, remain their most influential resource for booking decisions.
This means hotels need to be paying special attention to the way both planners and attendees are responding to them on online sourcing platforms, as well as sites such as TripAdvisor and Facebook Reviews.
The good news: There are strategies hotels can implement to greatly increase the likelihood that guests leave glowing reviews.
It Often Comes Down to People
Despite our tech-obsessed culture, the human element still matters.
John Knob, director of sourcing and proposal development for Cadence Meetings + Incentive Travel, notes that often, outstanding customer service can overshadow substandard experiences. “A customer will overlook a decent but average buffet or a less-than-inspiring guest room, but they'll remember the way they were treated by the hotel staff — good, bad, excellent or indifferent."
How can hotels go above and beyond to make sure planners and guests feel as though they've gotten special treatment?
Concentrate on service and personalization, including unexpected touches.
Knob recalls an experience he had in New York City when his family joined him a day after he had arrived. “The doorman was waiting to greet them next to me. He opened the car doors to let them out, and greeted my wife and two girls by their names — using Mrs./Ms., too! I didn't tell him the names; he already knew and had them in his memory."
Anticipate Guest Needs
Consider the challenges of a particular traveler or group — such as a long flight — and anticipate their needs.
Jody-Ann Rowe, founder of The Event Certificate, provides a personal example from a 4.5-star property in London. “We had arrived from Canada after an eight-hour flight to a friendly front desk assistant. There was a travel kit waiting in our room as a welcome gift, with all the little essentials we needed. There was also a note left in our room letting us know that room service would still be open, even though we had arrived quite late."
And it didn't stop there. Rowe notes that when she snagged her skirt, the concierge not only brought scissors to her room, but also assisted in mending and left her a sewing kit — without her asking.
Fairness and Transparency Are Key
Not every hotel gives this top-notch treatment. Rowe recalls a 10-year hotel relationship gone sour over a contract dispute.
“The sales representative tried to renege on a cutoff date to release any extra room blocks, stating that our interpretation of the agreement was incorrect as a result of a misplaced comma. She demanded that we pay for all the rooms and became unresponsive to requests to review what we had in writing and had discussed."
Rowe ended up hiring a lawyer, who confirmed she was right.
In the end, the hotel decided to honor the original agreement — but the damage was done. After that event, Rowe's company removed the property from its preferred list.
Consider Your Staff Size
Sometimes, hotel employees — whether it's on the sales team or onsite — may be impolite or slow to respond just because of a lack of staff. But that can still lead to negative reviews.
In fact, if Larie Gray, owner and lead planner at MILA Event Solutions, could give hotels one tip, it would be not to load one or two people down with so much work that they can't handle customer concerns and their regular duties without being stressed.
“When staff is burned out, they do not possess the energy to deal kindly with the customers. Hotels should train their staff to go above and beyond the call of duty to make their customers happy by doing whatever it takes, even when it is outside of their job description."
How to Handle Negative Reviews
When negative reviews do happen, Rowe recommends you respond so the issue doesn't appear unresolved.
But be careful how you word it: Generic apologies — such as, “We're sorry you had a bad experience" — look like a non-apology. Instead, she recommends thanking the reviewer for their feedback, offering a solution to the problem, and providing an incentive for them to give you another try.
Finally, follow up.
Rowe explains, “The customer will be pleased to see their concerns were addressed, they will feel privileged that their feedback created change, and they might even feel like a VIP because you took the time to let them know."
This approach also alleviates fears of potential future guests who read the exchange on a review site.
Knob adds that bigger issues such as health and safety concerns need even more attention. “Guests need to feel secure in their hotel environment, so these issues must be addressed and resolved thoroughly and explanations should be as detailed as possible."
Overall, negative reviews can be a learning experience that can be beneficial for improving services, but of course, it's preferred to receive this feedback privately.
Consider leaving out cards or a phone number for guests to log issues and complaints. Go above and beyond to resolve them, and hopefully that negative review will turn into a positive one.