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​by Glenn Eleiter, B.Comm.

When I started my career, opening a behemoth resort in Whistler, BC, we would receive guest feedback. It came in the form of Guest Comment Cards. After a guest checked out of the property, some lucky soul in the Executive Office was tasked with stuffing a Comment Card into an envelope; slapping a stamp on it and sending it out in the post. Hundreds would be sent out. A few would be returned.

The card would then begin a circumnavigation around the hotel. From the GM office to the number two. Then to the directors of the property and eventually, maybe a month after it was received, it would make its way down to the lowly Department Head - people like myself. There would be various scrawls, scratches, coffee stains and sometimes my name written on it in with a bright red marker. Glenn!!!! Please investigate!! A red arrow would lead me to a circled comment under the heading of the restaurant I managed. The guest commented there was, "No one at the door when I arrived for breakfast at 7:45am on Thursday, December 12th." I need to find out why and respond back up the chain. Great. No problem. Except now it's January. 

I work as a GM now. We receive guest comments. It's a little different though. Guest comments and feedback are instantaneous. And you are not the only one reading them. 

I remember receiving an email from Trip Advisor stating that my hotel review listing on TA had received 2,500 page views the previous week. I called my Business Listing's manager, "You mean last MONTH, right, not just last WEEK?" No, just one week. 2,500 views. Holy. Who's reading these reviews? Who's writing them? Why?

I became obsessed with Trip Advisor reviews. So obsessed that I would check my smart phone 3 or 4 times a night. Sleeping patterns were wrecked. A good review and I was in heaven. A poor review and I would toss and turn, reviewing in my mind the steps I would take the next morning to rectify. I studied and analyzed each review carefully. I studied my competitors' reviews. Guests were posting reviews on Trip Advisor while they checked-in - using the mobile app, "Just arrived…so far, so good!" This is immediate feedback. Immediate validation. Immediate dread. Either way, this is powerful. No other tool plays such an influential role in the travelers' decision making process.

This is the new era of guest feedback and much has been written on the topic. But, have all hoteliers really accepted this new order? I don't see guests picking up the latest copy of Conde Naste to select a hotel property, but I do see them in the business center pouring over the latest reviews of the next property they are visiting. What's more powerful?

Is your property rated as a 4-star or 5-star property? Bragging about it on your site? Forget it. Rating systems are worthless in this new age. User-generated social media platforms such as Trip Advisor will decide the fate of your property. Post pictures on your web site that are photo-shopped, have an orchid placed strictly for the photo shoot or only show the five rooms you recently renovated? Your property will be persecuted on-line. There cannot be a single disconnect between the content on your web site and what the guest experiences. And no detail of product or element of service is too small for comment or dissection. Everything is on the table.

By the time many of us have had our first cup of coffee in the morning, hundreds of your potential guests may have already read about your latest service blunder. 

But, by paying close attention to reviews, my previous hotel moved from the #22 position for the city it resided in, to the #1 position for all of Canada - and held it for several years. We would receive over 25,000 page views on TA per month as we moved closer to the number 1 position. As we climbed up the TA ranks, so did occupancy, rate, RevPar, employee pride & owner satisfaction.

This also meant that our marketing budget could be drastically reduced. Let's say, to zero. We did not need to do a thing. The guest did it all for us. 

Wandering the corridors of the hotel and chatting with guests in the breakfast room and lobby, I would casually ask, "Are you enjoying your visit to Vancouver? May I ask how you found us?" Inevitably, the guest would say they read about us on Trip Advisor. Whether they were from Forssa, Finland or a town outside Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Trip Advisor, when managed and leveraged properly, creates what I refer to as a 'Cycle of Success'. The staff at my previous property became just as obsessed as I. They wanted their name in lights. And they got it! They were motivated. They were engaged. Reviews often mentioned specific employees by name. And no one wanted to drop the ball. No staff member wanted to be responsible for the hotel ranking dropping from the coveted #1 to the #2 position. So they went over the top. Using their empowerment and an arsenal of weapons at their disposal to prevent or solve challenges. Ownership was proud and happy to chip in for new planters out front or other non-budgeted items if it meant staying #1. Everyone was on board. Employees were proud and enthusiastic. Owners were delighted. Even guests wanted to be a part of the success, the mystique. Number 1 in Canada on Trip Advisor? Ooooooh! What are they doing?! 

Leverage Trip Advisor. Take it seriously. The benefits are enormous.

Suffering from a low comp set Rev Par ranking? Want to know why? Read your reviews. Then read your competitors reviews. All you need to know is right there.

Here are some key points to remember about Trip Advisor and creating a Cycle of Success.

  • Be honest. Your web site pictures and content must reflect reality. Your ability to set the right expectation in the guests mind about your property is critical to your success - not just on Trip Advisor, but overall. Say exactly what you are, not what you hope or want to be. 

  • Provide real value for money. Quick nickel-and-diming your guests for wireless. Offer something complimentary, even coffee at check-out. Your ROI will be more than you could ever imagine. 
  • Get your team pumped up. Print all your good reviews and post them. Highlight any team member names if there is a positive accolade along with it. Post in the staff cafeteria. Personally hand deliver a copy of the review to individual members of your crew when they receive a positive mention. Do this in the middle of their shift, in front of their colleagues. Watch them glow. Thank her. Thank him. One of my employees would show these letters to his parents. Powerful stuff.
  • Use poor reviews as a positive learning tool. No one really wants to mess up. Give encouragement to poor performances and performers. Give the staff member the chance to turn it around and then watch them beam as you show them a positive review where their name is mentioned.
  • When responding to a review, remember that your response is there FOREVER. Get it reviewed by a peer or two. Before you press send, double-check it again. Be professional. Don't come across as being defensive. Write it like a business letter. Use the reviewers' TA name, "Dear lovestotravel2013." Sign on and off with your real name and title and not 'Manager from hotel responded.' That's not personal enough. 
  • Do you really need to respond to every review? Even the 100% reviews? I'm not sure. Depends on your overall strategy. Trip Advisor is a tool for travelers. Not an opportunity to pat yourself on the back and stroke your ego. "Thanks for the great review! We know we are awesome!" Worse yet, having a corporate policy that dictates you must respond to every review. It's time consuming for the responder and of no real benefit to the reviewing community. Often the result is a terse, impersonal response obviously written in haste.  Want to really thank the guest for taking the time to review your property? Send them a private message thru TA - don't know how? You need to learn.
  • Don't say you are going to correct something and then do nothing. Cold eggs at breakfast regularly coming up in your reviews? Fix it. But if you say you will fix it and you don't, you lose credibility with the travel community - and your staff - they are reading your responses too. 
  • Don't say you will fix something you can't. Line ups at the elevator and frustrated guests commenting on it? What are the chances you are going to build a new elevator shaft? Zero. Just lay yourself at the mercy of the reviewer. "Our elevator situation is frustrating! We know and we are sorry." 
  • Really awful review. Maybe not really fair? Reviews against a mistaken property can be removed through TA. But, what about other reviews? Can they be removed? You bet. But, not by you. I've had several removed by the reviewer whilst remaining 100% committed to TA strict policies and guidelines. No incentives. No promises for complimentary rooms next visit. No credit card refund. Send a public response within 24-hours. Make it a good one. Send a private message thanking the guest for the feedback. Tell them you are genuinely sorry that you impacted their vacation in a negative way. Tell them you couldn't sleep for 2 days. Tell them you kicked your dog. Angry reviews are written in the heat of the moment. After a few days, the reviewer might have second thoughts about how they came across to the world. Your response and your personal letter to them will be thoughtfully reviewed and scrutinized. I've had several occasions where a reviewer wrote back to me and said they have removed a poor review having been thoroughly satisfied with the manner and attitude of managements' response.
  • Get more reviews. The TA rankings are based on the timeliness, quality and quantity of reviews. Older reviews receive less weight. Newer reviews receive more. It's statistical analysis at its finest. TA rewards those properties who improve over time. A chef once said to me, "I'm only as good as the last plate that went out of my kitchen." Same can be said for TA. You are only as good as your last review. Want to move up the rankings? Ask your guests to write a review. That's allowed and encouraged by TA, but do not incent them in any way to do so. Be careful though. We only asked for reviews once we were completely confident in our product and everyone had completed a substantial re-training program. If you start receiving more reviews but they are low scores, it will do two things - solidify your current ranking or drop you down the list. 
  • You don't have to explain or defend every negative aspect mentioned in the review. If it's a really bad review and the guest has commented on everything from the first hotel interaction on the phone to check-in, carpet stains, in-room dining, cold coffee, linen quality, etc., just accept it. It doesn't matter if you think the reviewer is being unfair. It only matters what they think, what they felt, what they experienced. Your opinion doesn't matter here. Sometimes you need to just say, "We let you down. We weren't good enough and we certainly need to do better! We'd love you to give us another chance!" The only time we would 'correct' a guest was when they stated a fact wrong. For example, if the reviewer stated that Valet Parking is $50 per night and it is actually $30, we would gently mention that in our response. There are times, however, when a thoroughly professional response is necessary to protect your image, brand or reputation. Use a Word Document to draft your response and paste it into TA after you have proof read; spell-checked and had a colleague review.
  • Never respond angry. Sometimes I would write the response I REALLY wanted to send, show it to a colleague, laugh at the horrific look on their face, delete it and then write and post the true response. 

Trip Advisor is a powerful tool. No other user generated social media platform has the power or will ever come close to influencing a potential hotel guest in the manner TA does. Not with over 100 million reviews. Not Yelp! Not Google places. Not Expedia reviews. Nothing.

Embrace this new world and create your own Cycle of Success.

About Glenn Eleiter

Glenn Eleiter is the pre opening General Manager of the Hotel BLU and Residences Vancouver and was the previous GM of the #1 hotel in Canada on Trip Advisor.

Contact: Glenn Eleiter / 604-562-7375

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