Hotel Experience Feedback (Guest Reviews) – The Big Players Provide an Alternative. By John Hendrie

With the advent of Social Media and all the avenues we have at hand to communicate, everyone is a writer, an advocate, a critic or merely an opinion maker.

LRA Worldwide Businesses have grown, some imploded, from our unique yen to share our thoughts, mostly constructive, some pernicious.  Engagement, relationship building and Feedback are the name of the game. 

In Hospitality we have successful forums which share our insights with the world.  If you liked your dinner, let Yelp and we8there know.  If your stay with a hotel or lodging was mixed, alert Expedia or Trip Advisor.  Operators also want you to deal with them directly with your feedback, so they can learn from your experience, and, through actionable insight, respond to complaints and concerns.  But, the Guest can always bypass this outreach and go viral themselves with Facebook and Twitter.  So many choices to be heard and seen in an industry which badly wants our business and loyalty.

As a Consumer making a decision on a Hotel Destination, we would read with relish the reviews of earlier Guests, which appeared on all those platforms.  What we read would influence our decision to “book” or not.  These reviews were powerful stuff, no longer just AAA recommended (that is old history, another century). 

The smart Consumer would try to read between the lines, look for a trend through the commentary, evaluate the weight of the posted responses – and, then make a decision.  There was always a concern that some of the reviews may have been “planted”, and, indeed, some had, for it is a very competitive lodging landscape out there.  So, the Consumer learned to “filter” their view, relying more on a consensus rather than the specific, although still swayed by horror stories.

Now, we have a new permutation – major Brands offering legitimate Guest Reviews on their own or an associated Brand web site.  Just like the battle with the OTA’s, they want to “bring it home”.

Barbara De Lollis of USA Today and the Travel section has done a nice job of bringing this latest dimension to the fore.  She reported in late October, 2011 that Starwood Hotels had taken the initiative.  On Monday, November 7 Marriott followed suit. 

Confident in their hotels, no matter the Guest Review outcomes, Hotel Executive Chris Holdren, noted “Starwood hopes that by giving customers the chance to write reviews, they'll be more engaged with the company and more likely to book repeat stays.”  The company has established Rating Ranges and categories.  They are starting this new approach with their most loyal customers, members in their SPG Program, believing  that “…those who know their hotels best - will submit reviews most often.”  Plus, any Review will be validated by that Guest’s stay at the hotel, as well as edited for profanity.  But ultimately, once a review has been vetted and confirmed, Starwood will publish it - no matter whether good, bad or ugly, he says.

Marriott is taking a similar approach, working with their Marriott Rewards members.  “Marriott will confirm whether a review writer actually stayed in the hotel before publishing the review, eliminating skepticism that a bad review might come from someone looking to undermine a hotel's reputation for whatever reason.”  According to SVP, Ed French,  “We want people to be more engaged," he says. "And this is what people want to do."  Bottom line, he opines, is that allowing people to air their opinions will help create a more active fan base - something that hotels consider valuable in today's increasingly social-media-driven world.

I think this is a very good step by both Brands – engaging their Guest and dealing with an audience which knows the respective Brand portfolio.  I also like the bold attitude, regarding any shortcomings, which also will be reported.  These Programs will create a great deal of meaningful data, which will need to be managed and integrated, and certainly actionable Feedback, which can be addressed quickly.  Overall, this is a good move to further enhance the Guest Experience.  A return to the fold!


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