Zero Stars and Scandal: How to Handle a PR Crisis at Your Hotel

Going viral isn’t always a victory. If your staffer gets caught kicking a service puppy or a guest calls their room “revenge of the roaches,” going viral can be downright, well, viral to your reputation, whether or not the accusation is true. People prefer to do business with brands who share their values, and your bottom line suffers if they don’t believe that’s you. Here’s what to do when something happens to jeopardize your public image. 

Initial Response

Your initial response shouldn’t be a response. 

Think. Sit. Take a deep breath before you hit “post” or “send.” The customer’s review or post may be unfair, and your panicky frustration may be valid, but it rarely plays out well online. 

Find out what you’re dealing with internally before you respond externally. To be especially prepared, have a crisis management plan in place prior to any emergency. 


If there was a problem on your end, apologize and do your best to fix it. Ninety percent of customers believe authenticity is a key factor in their choice of brands to support. However, 51 percent of these customers believe that most brands do not produce authentic content. It’s a tricky target to hit, especially when apologizing for something. Ask yourself if you would believe what you’re saying and assume guests have the same intelligence. 

Customers want to feel heard and understood. Validate their complaint even as you work to fix it. Try phrases like “I understand how you must feel. We’ll start working on [appropriate solution] right away.” 

You don’t have to grovel on your knees, particularly if you think the criticism was misplaced, but a polite, succinct apology goes a long way towards repairing your image and business relationships. (Bonus points if your apology has fewer misspellings and random capitalizations than the complaint!)

Not every complaint is a crisis. For one thing, negative reviews can legitimize the positive reviews on your page and give guests a chance to see how professional you are dealing with conflict. 

Whatever you do, don’t try and claim that your mistake / previous statement was a joke. Like this hotel did when the press learned that they had tried to charge guests $500 for leaving negative reviews. (Don’t fine your guests either. If you do that, you will be the joke.)

A computer screen reads, "take a deep breath."


Is there something you could do to prevent this happening again? Cleaning house now—literally and metaphorically—saves a lot of aggravation and heartache in the future. That post can’t go viral if nothing scandalous happens. Do you need to review staff hiring or training procedures? Streamline processes? Invest in insecticide? 

Training staff isn’t an instance of one and done. Review policies and practice scenarios so that your staff knows how to respond to customer conflict. They should be able to judge when to strictly enforce rules and when it’s better to make an exception. (For example, don’t have your pre-booked guest pay an upgrade fee when you’re overbooked.) Common sense isn’t nearly as common as the definition implies. 

Moving On

Regardless of how well you apologize and how strong your preventative measures are, you don’t want this mishap to be the first thing that pops up on Google. 

There are tips and tricks to banish the content about your mistake to page two where it belongs and/or keep more of it from going public. For instance, you can offer your unhappy guest your direct contact details (in a private message) to resolve their problem faster. This takes the conversation offline and avoids further damage. 

When you make your apologies, don’t use your business name too much, or it will negatively impact your SEO. That conversation shouldn’t be at the top when someone types your name into the search bar. Brand name is key to your reputation. Just ask Meta, i.e., Facebook.  

If you receive a negative review, ask for more reviews to balance it out. You can make the request on social media, via email, or even face-to-face in the lobby. For email, it’s best to wait a few days after the guest leaves your property. 

Sometimes, it’s a post of your own that generates controversy. If this happens, it’s best to take the post down if you’re receiving too much online criticism from it. You may also need to craft an apology.

False Complaints

Sometimes it really is them and not you.

You can ask sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to remove a review if you believe it contradicts their guidelines or is not posted by a real customer (i.e., your competitor decided to have some fun with your ratings).

If the complaint is relatively small, e.g., the towels weren’t fluffy enough, it’s best to shrug it off and let it go. Give the same polite apology you would if you agreed. You’ll look petty if you get into a spat over fabric integrity and wash temperature. 

However, if it’s a bigger issue, e.g., a guest claims you have a portal to the netherworld in room 13, you may need to correct the record. Share whatever proof you have. If it’s a misunderstanding, you can also communicate privately with the person involved and ask them to retract their statement. This has to be handled carefully though, or it could backfire. For instance, if a guest thinks you only care about the review and not the issue itself. 

Your reputation is key to boosting bookings, maintaining revenue, and attracting quality talent. If something happens, don’t react. Take a deep breath and strategize instead.