Silvia Battistella knows a thing or two about responding to online reviews. As Quality Manager at Iberostar Hotels & Resorts for three years, and now as Online Reputation Manager at Barceló Hotel Group for the past two years, she estimates that she has responded to around 20,000 reviews—in English, French, Italian and Spanish.
But she is quick to point out that it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. “We have to remember that we’re quality managers, not quantity managers,” she told ReviewPro in a recent interview. “It’s not a matter of numbers, it’s a matter of being able to write meaningful answers that give relevant information to the travel community.”
At Iberostar, Battistella was responsible for posting online reviews for the English, French and Italian markets for the 50+ hotels in the EMEA region. “I was in constant contact with the management teams at the hotels to gather information in order to guarantee meaningful responses based on the information reported by users,” she said.
Today, at Barceló, her role is different because on-property hotel staff are responsible for responding. “My main role consists of teaching our hotel teams how to manage and respond to online reviews with periodic training both in face-to-face classes and distance learning. I also assist them when they need guidance on reviews that may critically affect the online reputation both at a hotel and company level.”
How Frequently Should Hotels Respond?
According to Battistella, one of the obstacles to writing quality reviews is that some hotel companies have a policy of responding to all reviews. “Many positive reviews say the same thing,” she explained. “How many ways can you thank a user for mentioning the kindness of staff or the cleanliness of a room without sounding repetitive?”
Barceló’s policy is to respond to 100% of negative reviews, 50% of neutral reviews, and 25% of positive reviews, a policy that Battistella fully supports. She says that reviews must be posted within a maximum of three days, and ideally on the same day. The company also rates review responses on a scale of 1 (very bad) to 5 (excellent).
“Our KPIs are shared during monthly management committee meetings so the entire organization is aware of the importance of responding, the average time to publish a review, and the quality of our responses and public communications in general,” she said.
Who Should Respond—Hotels or Corporate?
“Now that I have been able to appreciate both systems, I believe that both approaches can work: responding on property or by corporate office,” said Battistella. “It really depends on the business model of each company.” Here she outlines the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
Pros of corporate management of responses:
- TripAdvisor and review sites are important marketing channels for hotels. If you have experts in sales and marketing communications, you can guarantee that responses will always be geared towards selling the hotel.
- The people responding should know how to communicate with the markets the hotel serves. “You don’t communicate the same way to a French guest as to a German or Spanish guest,” she explained. “Every nationality has its own holiday expectations and each have their own priorities during a vacation.”
- It’s critical to publish responses in the languages the hotel company serves. At Barceló, that means Spanish, German, English, French and Italian. “Each market is a potential travel community that we want to capture, and we can only do that if we are able to communicate in their language,” Battistella said.
- Hotel teams are busy. They have many different tasks during the day and little time to dedicate to responding to reviews. “Some hotels receive up to 20 reviews per day,” she said. While corporate staff are busy too, they have fewer distractions.
Cons of corporate management of responses:
- There may be less involvement and accountability on the part of the operation team if reviews are being managed at a corporate level/externally. The risk is that guest feedback becomes less of a priority.
- The people in charge of responding may not be sufficiently familiar with hotel operations or knowledgeable of the hotels. This may affect their ability to communicate effectively and reassure the travel community, especially when it comes to complaints.
- There may be a longer delay between the time the review is published and the time the response appears online because the person in charge of responding has to gather relevant information from the hotel team and this can take time.
- Reviews published by guests during their stay may not be noticed or acted upon right away, missing the opportunity to change a negative experience into a positive one by contacting the guests immediately while they are still on property.
Pros of on-property management of responses:
- New reviews are seen immediately and can be answered on the spot (no weekends or bank holiday delays).
- Hotel teams know their hotel better than anyone else and know its strengths and weaknesses. They can explain the improvements that have been implemented and can ensure that negative comments related to a specific issue do not recur.
- There is higher involvement within the hotel team regarding feedback. At Barceló, guest comments are passed through the “cases” tool in ReviewPro for the department involved to act immediately. The same goes for reviews published during the guest’s stay. The hotel team can contact the guest immediately and take action to improve the experience before the guest leaves.
- Hotel teams know their guests and can easily identify malicious reviews and report them.
Cons of on-property management of responses:
- There can be a lack of foreign language proficiency (speaking and writing are two different matters). Therefore, it can be tricky to respond to specific feedback and sound authentic, giving useful information without sounding repetitive.
- Hotel teams may take negative feedback personally because they deal directly with guests. It’s a challenge to not sound defensive and to maintain objectivity, especially when guests post negative comments about hotel staff.
Online Reviews vs. Surveys: How Should the Approach Differ?
We asked Battistella if she thinks hotels should approach responding to guest surveys differently from online reviews.
“Absolutely,” she said. “The goal is different for each type of response. When responding to a review, we communicate publicly to an entire community of potential guests so it has to be a ‘disguised’ sales and marketing language. We respond to reviews to increase our sales. We want to convince people to book the hotel.
“When we respond to a survey, the guest is already a customer of the company so what we want to achieve is to build loyalty with this guest.”
Join us for our next ReviewPro webinar, Winning Strategies for Responding to Guest Surveys and Reviews. Silvia Battistella of Barceló Hotel Group will discuss her company’s review strategy and shares her top tips for effective review responses.