By Kacey Bradley

In today’s digitally-inclined world, online reviews are a significant part of the hotel booking process.

According to one study, more than 50% of travelers don’t want to book until they read reviews — typically between six and 12. They want first-hand accounts of a stay on your property, whether good or bad. The newer the feedback, the more helpful.

You can’t prevent bad reviews — no matter how stellar your guest experience. What you can control is how you respond.

The majority of travelers — 87% — say an appropriate response to a bad review improves their impression of the hotel. On the flip-side, an aggressive or defensive answer is likely to turn potential guests away.

How to Reply to Positive Reviews

It’s great to get a good review — validation for your hard work. Before you type up your response, consider the right thing to say.

Some excited hoteliers go overboard in their reply, thanking the guest for their review and offering gifts and coupons. This kind of response can be seen as bribery, something review sites and consumers frown upon. Plus, you might annoy an already happy guest.

TripAdvisor, for example, will blacklist hotels with suspicious reviews. One UK hotel, The Cove in Cornwall, was discovered offering discount incentives in exchange for glowing recommendations. In the case, the bribe was 10% off your next stay.

Instead of gifts and gratitude, be polite and professional. Thank them for the review and remind them they’re always welcome back.

Try a response such as, “Thank you so much for your nice review! We’re glad you enjoyed your stay. We look forward to seeing you again on your next visit.”

Short and sweet.

Responding to positive reviews is easy. The real challenge is replying to a negative one.

How to Reply to Negative Reviews

It can be disappointing to get a negative review, especially if you believe it’s untrue. However, bad reviews happen, even to top brands.

Today’s travelers are smart. Trust them to read between the lines when looking at reviews. Most understand that online feedback can be — and often is — fabricated. You don’t need to worry if your hotel has a few one-star reviews in a field of five stars.

If you get a bad review, resist the urge to question the guest’s experience. Travelers will avoid your hotel if management seems argumentative or uncaring.

For example, say a guest leaves a review that says, “Horrible experience. My husband got bit by bedbugs. We tried to contact management, but they ignored us.”

Your instinct, especially if you believe the review is untrue, may be to say, “Our hotel takes cleanliness very seriously. In the unlikely event a guest suspects an issue, they are moved to a new room, and the area is isolated while we determine whether the issue exists.”

In other words, this response is calling the guest a liar, telling them no problem occurred and, if it had, you would have solved it.

If you think a negative review turns off visitors, an argumentative response can do even more damage. Instead, respond in a way that wins back trust.

The correct answer would look like, “Thank you for your feedback. We’re very sorry to hear you’re unhappy with your experience, and take all complaints very seriously. When it comes to your concern about bed bugs — it has been a problem in the city before, but this is the first incident at our property.”

Outline the measures you take to ensure cleanliness and prevent pests. Then, extend a line of communication so the guest can contact you if they have more questions or concerns. In this scenario, it would also be reasonable to offer a complimentary one-night stay.

You don’t have to — and shouldn’t — offer a gift for all bad reviews. Use your best judgment on the severity of the issue.

For example, say a guest leaves a review saying, “I hosted my wedding at your hotel. When we checked in, there was dust all over the room.”

Start by congratulating the newlyweds. Thank them for their feedback and directly address the issue. Let them know you will take action to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.

That’s it. For a minor issue, compensation is not necessary.

Responding to Online Hotel Reviews

It’s essential to have an online presence, including positive reviews. Guests read reviews to ensure a good experience before booking. Yet the practice is a double-edged sword. A bad review, if mishandled, can have a lasting impact on your reputation.

The best course of action is to reply to reviews, both good and bad. Let guests know you’re taking action based on their feedback. Always remain professional and courteous, even if you believe the review to be fake.