A study on the factors that lead to customer satisfaction in guesthouses in Gauteng suggested that guesthouse owners should “interact with as many people as possible to form networks”. Together with satisfied customers, these networks generate the word-of-mouth recommendations so highly prized in the hospitality industry.
Today, of course, both networking and recommendations occur online. Without a doubt, reviews posted on the internet are the new word of mouth.
The rise of reviews
You may have done your best to ensure that your guesthouse or hotel’s website is as inviting as it can be, but customers can now “crowdsource” opinions from your most recent guests with the click of a mouse button. Because online reviews come from people who don’t stand to gain financially from them, they engender a sense of trust.
A recent independent survey on TripAdvisor, conducted by PhoCusWright, found that more than half of international travellers won’t book accommodation until they’ve read reviews of guesthouses and hotels from other travellers who have stayed there. In fact, the majority of the survey respondents (80%) said they read at least 6 to 12 reviews when researching where to stay.
“The results of this study showcase the vital part reviews play, reinforce the idea that we are becoming more social as travellers and demonstrate the essential nature of reviews to hospitality businesses,” said TripAdvisor’s chief marketing officer, Barbara Messing.
TripAdvisor and Google reviews
Travel website TripAdvisor boasts over 200 million traveller reviews, making it the world’s leading source for online accommodation reviews. Without a doubt, it’s the most important source of reviews for the hospitality industry.
However, keep in mind that the majority of online traffic comes via Google. Accordingly, you should aim to get your guesthouse to rank highly in local search results. To do so, take the following steps:
- ensure your website is built to feature blog posts – regular fresh content can drive your search engine optimisation (SEO) results
- add a business listing to Google Local
- get your listing verified by Google and aim to have several online citations that list your establishment’s details
- encourage and track customer reviews posted to your Google+ Business page.
It’s important not to overlook the importance of reviews from local customers so that you don’t miss out in the competitive domestic market.
Attracting positive reviews
To help ensure that reviews of your hotel or guesthouse are positive, pay attention to:
- First impressions: The lowest online ratings often mention front-desk issues, such as unfriendly staff or check-in glitches.
- The basics: These include factors such as cleanliness, noise levels, the state of the bathrooms and so on.
- Your online review-response plan: Mandate one or two staff members skilled in the written word to manage responses to any negative reviews. It’s critical to handle these well.
- Personal gestures and unexpected extras: Add-on services or products are great ways to differentiate your offering. Whether it’s a welcome drink on arrival or personalised pillow chocolates, extra touches can add significantly to the positive impression you make on guests.
Train your front-desk staff to politely nudge happy guests to post reviews online, or send your customers follow-up emails, thanking them and providing a direct URL they can use to post reviews via e-mail on your Google Business page.
What about negative reviews?
More so than in any other industry, complaints within the hospitality industry should be seen as potential opportunities. Often they highlight ways you could improve your service. Also, the way you handle these complaints online could actually win you new or repeat customers.
Research shows that guests whose complaints are properly addressed and end with a positive outcome are more likely to become repeat customers, and to refer others to you. TripAdvisor’s Barbara Messing says, “Not only are travellers referencing reviews before they book, they are clearly more highly engaged by businesses that respond to reviews.”
Making a good impression
That said, you want to aim for positive reviews by encouraging happy customers to post online testimonials. As the TripAdvisor study revealed, visitors actually want to share their positive experiences with other travellers. Sharing makes them feel good.
Make a good impression on guests and it’s likely they’ll be willing to take the few minutes required to spread the good word of mouth.
To help boost your hotel or guesthouse ratings in South Africa, find out more about one of the most cost-effective ways to show your appreciation to customers – our high-quality, personalised pillow and courtesy chocolates.