Cruise Ships, Port of San Diego
San Diego is a center of the national travel and tourism industry. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

By Erica Schlesinger

Today’s San Diego visitor loves online review sites. Eighty percent of travelers read online reviews before making a booking decision, and 93 percent say they consider those reviews influential in where they stay and play. Combine those stats with the fact that 62 percent feel seeing a hotel respond to reviews, whether good or bad, makes them more likely to book there and it’s clear that reputation management is not something San Diego’s hotel and tourism industry can afford to ignore.

However, given the myriad of sites out there, it can be overwhelming to break into the game. The guidelines below should help ease the process and streamline a communications plan to stay on top of your digital presence… and increase revenue.

Erica Schlesinger

Where to begin?

At least as you’re getting started, stick to Yelp and TripAdvisor. These are the first places travelers are likely to look when researching a trip (especially TripAdvisor), and are your best use of time in terms of establishing a solid rapport with past and potential guests.

How often should I reply?

Monday/Thursday is a good schedule to stick to. This gives you the opportunity to catch post-weekend rushes, as well as tackle one-offs or those who are catching up mid-week. It’s helpful to create a document to track each review and response. If you ever need to refer back to a specific review or can’t complete a full run of replies in one fell swoop, it’s a great resource to simplify the process and hold yourself accountable.

But there are so many reviews… do I have to respond to all of them?

The main purpose of reputation management is to ensure negative reviews are handled. The second is to take an active role in the direction of your business — which doesn’t mean responding to every single comment posted. Even reviewers don’t expect that.

Try responding to all negative reviews and about 30-40 percent of positive reviews. If someone takes the time to write a lengthy note or say specific team members were helpful, return the favor with a thank you (and be sure to pass the good news along to deserving staffers).

What if I get a nasty comment?

It’s not if, it’s when. Even five-star hotels with exquisite service will get bad reviews from time to time — you can’t make everyone happy. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Always acknowledge — Travelers will pay more attention to negative reviews and how they’re handled than positive ones.
  • Know your pain points — Many properties have issues that are a regular gripe for guests. Some things, like WiFi speed in a remote location, you can’t do a whole lot about. But if you can, take heed and work on it. The repeat reviews will decrease, and guests will notice you take comments seriously.
  • Assess the situation — Some negative reviews are straightforward and not all that serious, surrounding complaints like, “I didn’t like the bedding” or “the food was cold.” In this case, a simple, “we’re so sorry to hear that you felt X was X, and we appreciate your feedback” will suffice. However, with something heavier, like “my room was filthy” or “I got food poisoning from the restaurant,” you’ll need to invest more time. Draft a simple response that shows you’re taking action, but then take things offline. Privately message the guest with the appropriate contact information, and be sure staff promptly responds to their concerns — and makes things right.
  • Stand up for yourself — It’s an unfortunate fact, but sometimes, people lie about or over-exaggerate situations. If something doesn’t seem right, check with members of the team who may be better in the loop for further insight. If you know a comment isn’t true, it is absolutely acceptable to (politely) correct the guest.
  • Choose your words — Most of the time, I recommend saying things like, “we’re sorry you felt X didn’t happen.” This acknowledges the guest’s feelings, but doesn’t necessarily accept their opinion. However, some things are undeniably frustrating and unacceptable, like being ignored while checking in or waiting an hour for food service. In this case, switch things up to convey apologies and understanding.
  • Lose the canned responses — I am a fan of putting together a document of common issues and sample replies to refer to. However, I do not support using the exact same responses each time — it’s not authentic and an obvious corner-cutter.

Reputation management is a crucial tool for staying on top of public perception and engaging with guests in all stages of the sales funnel. With a bit of organization and a strategy behind your approach, you’ll be ruling the digital travel world in no time.

Erica Schlesinger is a communications strategist at (W)right On Communications specializing in hospitality clients. She was a finalist in the San Diego Business Journal‘s 2014 “Emerging Generation: 25 in their 20s” awards.

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