How NOT to Respond to Negative Reviews

The Union Street Guest House in upstate New York was called out by multiple news outlets, including the New York Post, reddit, and even the online publication of Time magazine for its negative review policy. The hotel responded by claiming the policy was a joke that it never meant to actually enforce. It also removed the text of the policy from its website.

This screenshot is from The Wayback Machine’s cached version of the hotel’s website from August 4th, 2014. I was able to pull it from the Web this morning, even though on today’s version of the site, the paragraph about charging guests $500 for negative reviews has been removed.

In a slightly lesser-known debacle, the Bluesky Hostel in Glasgow got into an ugly Internet tussle with a guest. The guest wrote a bad review, and the owner of the hostel responded by trading insults. The entire chronicle was documented with screenshots and commentary on Buzzfeed. (Warning: The language gets crass. Most of the profanity comes from the owner of the hostel.)

There are a few basic laws of the Internet at play here.

1. On the Internet, nothing goes away. Be thoughtful about what you decide to post online. 

In the age of screenshots and caching, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to take back anything you say online. And, this can have a negative effect on your bookings. In a 2012 PhoCusWright survey, researchers found that “64% of users agree that an aggressive/defensive management response to a bad review ‘makes me less likely to book that hotel.'” Alternatively, “84% of users agree that an appropriate management response to a bad review ‘improves my impression of the hotel.'”

2. The Streisand Effect means that an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information on the Internet usually has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely. Instead of trying to hide mistakes, be honest with your guests and don’t be afraid to apologize.

In 2003, Barbra Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit demanded the removal of an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from a publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. Before Streisand filed her lawsuit, “Image 3850” had been downloaded from the website only six times. Two of those downloads were by Streisand’s attorneys. As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased substantially. More than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month. The phrase “Streisand Effect” was coined by Techdirt founder Mike Masnick to describe this phenomenon.

In the situation with the Union Street Guest House, management tried to alter the story by claiming the $500 fine policy was a bad joke. The public responded with even more outrage. People who had previously never stayed at the property flocked to its page to write one star reviews.

3. The Internet loves a train wreck. Avoid bad publicity by taking disputes offline ASAP.

On social media, the Bluesky Hostel could have kept the damage to a minimum with an apology and an offer to resolve the issue offline. Instead, the owner’s poor response incited an Internet flame war with over 700 comments, resulting in a lot of bad publicity. Some people just came to watch. Who knows how many prospective guests read about this and decided to stay elsewhere.

Lesson learned?

So how should the owners of these hotels have responded to negative reviews? They should have apologized for the bad experience, thanked the guest for their feedback, and offered to contact the guests privately to make the situation right. It doesn’t matter if the guest misunderstood what a property had to offer. It is the responsibility of the hotel to set correct expectations with its guests, and it is the right of the guests to complain if those expectations are not met.


A follower of the Bluesky Hostel fiasco has the right idea:

Additionally, when facing the need to change a policy, it’s best to say something like, “Because of your feedback, we’ve re-evaluated this policy and decided that it is not in line with our standards for the guest experience. We value any feedback that our guests have to offer, and we take it very seriously. In the future, our guests should feel free to provide any feedback they feel is appropriate.”

Looking for more information on how to respond to reviews? Download our free guide for hoteliers. 

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