The Risks in Relying Solely on Guest Reviews
By Jochen Ehrhardt
Thursday, 26th September 2019

In today’s world, everybody seems to have an opinion about the quality of hotels and there is no shortage of avenues for voicing those opinions, online booking sites, (meta-) search platforms, as well as the hotels themselves encourage hotel guests to share their impressions.

Hotels have long realized that guest reviews are valuable information that needs to be taken seriously and is indeed quite helpful feedback for improving their offerings. However, this is only the second-best guest feedback there is, after, of course, collecting it face-to-face during the hotel stay.

Collecting face-to-face feedback obviously depends largely on management’s willingness to make interacting with guests a priority while at the same time setting a good example for their staff to engage with the guests. One of my favorite GMs has been mingling with his guests during breakfast for 17 years and guess what, he missed just one breakfast in all those years! Bravo. Needless to say, his rate of returning guests is way above the average.

TripAdvisor, as the “inventor” of guest reviews, still boasts the largest number of reviews, however, Booking.com and especially the omni-present Google have been making up lost ground rapidly. While anyone can post a review on TripAdvisor and Google, online travel agencies like Booking.com and Expedia only accept so-called verified reviews, i.e. reviews from guests that actually stayed at the hotel.

In recent years, Meta Reviews have proven a credible and very useful source of hotel reviews, especially those of the inventor and market leader, TrustYou. The credibility of their approach is based on two principles: Aggregating actual reviews from a large number of platforms (the law of large numbers) and working only with those platforms that provide verified guest reviews.

Some ardent luxury travelers who travel once a month on average appreciate the accuracy of such Meta-Review scores and find them “easily comprehensible.” In other words, these meta-review scores accurately reflect the guest experience at hotels.
So, in light of the above, why would hoteliers need to consider anything other than guest reviews?

Predominantly 5-star hotels are also checked regularly by mystery or secret shoppers who typically perform 48-72 hour on-site quality assurance audits consisting of between 800 and 2,000 standards that cover all departments and the entire gamut of the guest experience.

Such QA auditors are typically hired by a hotel group’s corporate office, or, in the case of individual or independent hotels, by the local on-site management. In contrast to most guest reviews, these all-encompassing analyses are not made available to the public, with the exception of the results of the publishing house, Forbes, whose reports are more a marketing tool for the hotels than anything else.

In recent years, a change has occurred in that a number of hotel groups have abandoned traditional Quality Assurance in favor of relying solely on guest feedback.

Guest feedback needs to be based on a large number of reviews from credible platforms that require verified reviews. In this case, guest reviews tend to paint a relatively realistic picture of a hotel’s overall performance as illustrated by their score. Using the same underlying methodology to generate a score makes hotels comparable, thereby fulfilling hotel management’s wish for benchmarking.

Having worked with guest reviews extensively, my verdict is that while they can cover all of a hotel’s departments, they tend to focus on certain aspects that provide a big picture but miss many details. In addition, they do not differentiate sufficiently between service quality and guest engagement or emotional intelligence—a weakness they share with traditional Quality Assurance.

Focusing on guest reviews and jettisoning traditional Quality Assurance, therefore, has some logic to it.

However, quality cannot be compromised, being the very core of any high-end hotel’s positioning and offering: without delivering real quality, a luxury hotel loses its identity and reason to exist.

So how can a high, ideally superior but in any case adequate, level of quality that provides real substance and value to the hotelier be achieved? Quality Assurance that goes beyond a benchmarking exercise based on easy-to-achieve feel-good standards and instead makes substantial improvement through application of demanding standards the priority.

The simple answer is: By combining Quality Assurance that truly adds value with guest reviews from credible sources: this would be the royal road for hoteliers who aspire not only to improve but also perfect their offerings—as well as differentiate themselves from those using traditional Quality Assurance or none at all.

Jochen Ehrhardt (jochen@dna-qa.com) is a Managing Partner and EVP Audits for DNA-QA, an independent Quality Assurance provider, and the founder of TRUE 5 STARS, an online platform that focuses on just the 1,000 top hotels in the world, most of which he has personally inspected.


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