Sudden changes in temperature. Doors opening and closing. Unexplained cigar smoke. Singing, crying, laughing. The occasional floating apparition.
If you notice any of these things in your hotel on a fairly regular basis, you may have a haunting on your hands. Hotels are notorious for attracting otherworldly guests. Just run a search for the world’s most notorious haunted hotels, and you’ll find lists from any number of respected publications—including this one from the Telegraph UK.
The funny thing is, a quality haunting can be good for business. People are endlessly fascinated by ghosts. As long as the supernatural mischief is mellow, and as long as the hotel’s fundamentals (service, amenities, value) are strong, paying guests might turn up hoping to see signs of the beyond. Hard to believe? Check out this recent article by Bloomberg Business. It’s all about how ‘haunted’ hotels are cashing in.
But there’s another kind of haunting which, although not as exciting on a supernatural level, is all the more terrifying for its impact on business. The hotel ghosts of the 21st century: Negative online reviews.
Make no mistake: If you’re a hotel owner or manager, this is the one kind of haunting you definitely don’t want. Things that go bump in the night don’t hold a candle to scathing, scornful comments posted on popular travel sites for all eternity. They hang around forever, scaring away potential guests and tarnishing your hotel’s reputation. They even end up on their own ‘top ten’ lists, much like traditional hauntings. People love to read about terrible service and filthy rooms almost as much as ghouls and goblins.
Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that your hotel—or any hotel, for that matter—will never generate a single negative review. The number of guests, circumstances and variables is simply too great for that to happen. Case in point: Plug ‘worst five star hotel’ into your search bar and watch what happens. Not even the world’s most acclaimed properties can escape completely from public wrath.
Prospective guests do expect a few negative reviews, even if a hotel is top notch. TripAdvisor recently conducted a survey in which a very low number of guests (5%) said that negative reviews were a determining factor in their booking decision. Obviously, this assumes that the number of negative reviews is not overwhelming, and is offset by a high number of glowing reviews.
The most interesting thing about this survey, however, is that a huge number of respondents (64%) said they’re less likely to make a booking if hotel management has either not responded well to negative reviews or done so in a cold, aggressive or haughty fashion.
What does this mean? Basically that negative reviews, in and of themselves, are less important than the manner in which hotels respond. A warm, professional, apologetic response is the key to mitigating the effects of negative reviews and preventing a full-scale haunting. In fact over 30 years ago, in the “In Search of Excellence” series, it was highlighted that top companies see complaints as a gift because they offer an opportunity to demonstrate how well they can respond. After all, every hotel is great until something goes wrong – the best ones acknowledge this and go that one step further to make it better.
How tempting it is—especially when the guest was rude or even unreasonable—to fire back and stand up for your brand, your staff, yourself. It’s important to understand that no matter how right you are, prospective guests will see a management team that is more concerned with making its customers wrong than making the situation right. And even if you prove the guest wrong, do you think they will ever come back?
Call in the Exorcist
The only good negative reviews are, of course, those that are never written. If a hotel really is giving guests the short end of the stick, the hauntings are rightly deserved. Driving out the ghosts may be next to impossible without something drastic, like new management or a name change.
OTAs and review sites like TripAdvisor are great because they allow guests to advertise on your behalf. At the same time, they allow the past to haunt you indefinitely. That’s why it’s so important to know what attracts these terrible apparitions in the first place, and what to do when you see one.
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