Categorized | Hotels

Hotel managers monitor online critiques to improve service…

Posted on 23 March 2010

Denise Hill checked in at Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix with her 18-month-old grandson on a recent evening and asked for a bellhop to carry her luggage to her room.Hill, who lives in Tucson and Mexico, says she was denied help because only one clerk was working in the lobby. Upset, she hit the keyboard and wrote a lengthy critique of the hotel on review site TripAdvisor.


“After stacking luggage and grandson on a luggage cart,” she wrote, “(I) was helped into the front door and elevator by other guests.” Rating the hotel at one out of a possible five, she also complained about the lack of pool towels and housekeeping service.


Ben Bethel, who owns the hotel that has an average rating of four from more than 240 reviews, wrote a lengthy response two days later. He promised changes would be made. He added a person to the front desk, and reassigned his assistant general manager to the evening and weekend shift. Employees were instructed to tell guests to leave their luggage in the lobby if no bellhops were available, and bags would be taken up later. “We just didn’t have enough people,” Bethel says.


Add managing your business’ online reputation to the long list of to-do items for hotel managers.


Armed with a log-in account and numerous travel websites willing to give them a forum, customers are increasingly vocalizing their experiences online for other travelers to read. That’s prompting more managers such as Bethel to respond quickly or fear losing business. Less than 4% of negative reviews on TripAdvisor get a response, according to TripAdvisor, which has more than 30 million reviews. But the review site says it saw a 203% explosion in responses from hotels last year.


Hotel managers may ignore customers’ reviews at their peril, some analysts say. Others say they’re just another way for hotels to find ways of improving operations. And those who are paying attention and responding to customers can earn some goodwill points at a time every room night counts.


“It’s an opportunity to stand apart from your competition,” says Dean Schmit of Standing Dog, which developed software ReviewAnalyst.


Large hotel companies have always solicited customer surveys from guests. But they’ve relied mostly on numerical rankings and have rarely contained descriptive explanations.


Managers still regularly receive customer survey scores tabulated by the headquarters, but online reviews are being used to improve training, adjust restaurant and staffing hours and add or remove amenities, says Bjorn Hanson, a hospitality professor at New York University.


“The (hotel) brands didn’t pay attention to online reviews until recently,” Hanson says. Now, many are responding in big ways:


•In September, Hilton began testing a software tool at “hundreds of hotels” that will aggregate reviews and comments on websites, blogs and other social-media sites, including Twitter, says Chuck Sullivan of Hilton.


•Starwood Hotels and nearly 300 full-service Marriott and Marriott-brand hotels also use ReviewAnalyst to manage online content, Schmit says. It monitors more than a dozen websites, including TripAdvisor, Priceline, Flickr and YouTube. Hotel managers can also set certain phrases — bedbugs, discrimination, eviction, police, security — that require immediate attention.


•Joie de Vivre Hotels, Rosewood Hotels, InterContinental Hotels and Kimpton Hotels also use a similar product, developed by San Francisco-based Revinate.


Clarendon Hotels’ Bethel isn’t using any outside help but has set his Google Reader to receive automatic alerts from popular travel websites.


‘A tidal wave of whispers’


A big majority of customer feedback, 70%, is “positive,” says Maureen Dime of Avalon Report, another firm that compiles online reviews for hotels. “But,” she says, “if 30% is unhappy with you, that’s still a large percentage. We call it a tidal wave of whispers.”


Hotels have adopted different ways of responding to the tidal wave.


John Spomer, managing director of the Driskill Hotel in Austin, says negative reviews are compiled daily and forwarded to appropriate departmental leaders who are “required to respond within 24 hours.”


The hotel hired a communications director this month, whose duties will include handling reviews. “We’re not doing the best job talking to the masses,” he says. “It really takes commitment.”


Marriott has a set of “best practices” that it provides to general managers, and has been sending trainers to hotels to help employees understand social media, spokesman John Wolf says.


This is a tricky issue for review sites. To prevent hotel owners from being overly aggressive in soliciting positive reviews, TripAdvisor has a policy prohibiting hotels from offering incentives or discounts in exchange for reviews. TripAdvisor also says it has other ways to ensure reviews are legitimate, and not written by employees or competitors.


Some websites, such as Expedia and, allow managers to respond publicly but won’t provide guests’ direct contact information, Schmit says.


Others, such as (Vacation Rentals by Owner), let vacation rental home owners remove customer reviews they don’t like. But VRBO says it’s changing its customer review policy starting today, letting guests leave reviews on the site without having them first read by owners. VRBO says it will remove only reviews found to be fraudulent, libelous and containing profanity.


Reviews with specific data should spur hotels into action, managers say. Paul Frentsos, manager of Galleria Park Hotel in San Francisco, collected online reviews that criticized the hotel’s slow Wi-Fi Internet connection and presented it to owners.


After reading the reviews, the owners approved funding for a new Wi-Fi system two months ago. “Sometimes, people are dramatic,” Frentsos says, “but there’s truth in what they’re saying:.

Source: USA Today

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