A Hotelier’s Guide to Responding to Online Reviews

Consumers rely heavily on reviews to make purchasing decisions. The quantity and quality of online reviews help them decide what to buy or where to book, which makes reviews critical to a business’s success. As of 2021, 99.9 percent of US consumers look at them when they shop, at least some of the time. 

But it’s not only about maximizing positive reviews and minimizing negative ones (although that’s certainly important). Your response to reviews—whether they’re good, bad, or neutral—is an essential part of reputation management. If done correctly, it further capitalizes on good reviews and mitigates damage from the bad. Here’s a quick guide to responding to online reviews. 

General Tips

Work with reputation management software >> Reviews are easier to respond to when you have them all in one place, so use a reputation management system like BirdEye or Revinate to pull them together from across the internet into a single dashboard. You can even integrate this software with your property management system to automate review requests when guests check out. 

Use their name >> Address the customer by name. Using names tells customers that you care about them as individuals and makes it seem less like an automated response. 

Be genuine >> Nobody likes receiving a canned response. It feels inauthentic and doesn’t build a connection. Avoid generic statements and use language that conveys your property’s personality. Do your best to showcase your brand voice without sounding stiff. 

Don’t be repetitive >> It can be tempting to use the same responses over and over to save time, but people read multiple reviews when researching online. If the same phrases are repeated, they’ll notice. So, mix things up. 

You may want multiple staff members responding to reviews so that the language naturally sounds different. If you have each staff member sign with their first name, that will make it even more personal. 

Save time with generative AI >> Writing genuine responses takes time, but AI can help. Input the review into a program like ChatGPT, along with a request to write a response, and you may be pleasantly surprised at what comes out! However, it’s important to always tweak AI-generated content for accuracy, appropriateness, and to reflect your brand voice. Think of generative AI as a source of inspiration when writer’s block sets in.

Ask em’ back >> Whether the review is positive, negative, or neutral, ask the guest to come back. Avoid the hard sell but mention that those cinnamon rolls they liked are ready and waiting. In the case of negative reviews, where they didn’t like anything, let them know what you’ve done to improve and that you’d love them to give you another chance.

Positive Reviews 

Just because a guest isn’t complaining doesn’t mean you can ignore them. Responding to positive reviews shows you don’t take customers’ kind words for granted and is an opportunity to leverage the review even further. The same reasons you say “thank you” in person apply online. (Be sure to say the words “thank you” in your response!) 

Repeat the positive feature >> When a guest writes a rave review, they usually mention specific details that meant the most to them—things like “Breakfast every morning was delicious.” Restate those details in your responses. Saying something like “We’re so glad you enjoyed our breakfast!” shows the guest (and others reading the exchange) that you’re listening to what they have to say and reiterates the positive attributes of your property.

Use your business name and keywords >> When crafting your response, make sure to include your property’s name as well as other keywords. You want people to see your positive reviews, and this helps them show up in search results (it boosts your SEO). 

Include subtle marketing >> Reviews have a vast audience of potential customers, so don’t miss the opportunity to plug your property further. After thanking the guest for their kind words, include a subtle call-to-action that highlights your property’s attributes, for example, “We’re so happy to hear you enjoyed your view of the lake! You should come back and see it in the winter; it’s so beautiful!”. Happy guests are the easiest ones to ask back (see above). 

Negative Reviews

Negative reviews may sting, but they’re not always as bad as they seem. In fact, they legitimize the other (hopefully positive) reviews on your page. Guests will look for the catch if everything appears to be sunshine and kittens. 

Bad reviews even give you the chance to leave a good impression if you respond to them appropriately (and without expletives!). 

Take a breath >> Leaving out those expletives is much easier if you give yourself a minute to calm down. Remind yourself that every hotel, no matter how superb, has been negatively reviewed somewhere. 

Acknowledge and apologize >> When responding, the first thing you should do is acknowledge your guest’s experience and apologize for it. People tend to simmer down when their feelings are validated.

Move the conversation offline >> You don’t want to turn negative reviews into long, drawn-out discussions online. After apologizing for the guest’s experience, include an invitation to contact you offline so the situation can be resolved. 

Keep it short and sweet >> Nobody wants to read paragraphs of text, especially when they’re upset. Don’t add fuel to the fire with long-winded responses. A simple acknowledgment, apology, and invitation to communicate further are all you need.

Don’t use your business name or keywords >> Unlike your positive reviews, you don’t want these ones to pop up on search results. Avoid using your property’s name or relevant keywords in your responses.

Make note and improve >> Are multiple guests complaining about the same thing? It may be you and not them. Use their feedback to guide improvements to your hotel. Maybe your older rooms could use that spruce up during shoulder season… 

Neutral Reviews

They didn’t like you, and they didn’t hate you, but you should still respond. There are a few types of neutral reviews. Guests can say something positive and something negative in the same comment, in which case you have to deal with both. Or they can simply feel “meh” about your property. And then there are the confusing ones where you have to wonder if they got the right property / review site / planet. These are the head scratchers.

Say thank you >> While you may not necessarily be able to thank them for a compliment here, you can thank them for their comment. It’s a way of tying your response together while expressing appreciation. 

Acknowledge both sides >> When someone gives both compliments and criticisms, you can’t simply ignore one or the other. It is possible to express both gratitude and a willingness to improve in the same response. You can say something like: “We’re glad you enjoyed the fresh waffles (those are one of our favorites too), but we’re sorry you had a hard time with your workout. We’ve ordered new machines, and they should arrive next month.” 

Realize a neutral review isn’t really neutral >> No one wants a “meh” vacation experience. If you have too many neutral reviews on your site, you should a) take another look at your property and revamp where needed and b) ask for more reviews to lessen the impact, which works for negative reviews too. The order you do this in is important! Don’t ask for more reviews if you haven’t fixed the shabby carpets yet. 

Responding to online reviews should be an ongoing part of your marketing strategy. Make sure you’re doing it right, so you can make the most of positive reviews and reduce the effects of others to drive more bookings. 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2018 and updated January 2024.