Guest reviews: To respond or not to respond?

Recently my seniors in hotel distribution and channel management class were discussing a dilemma of one of our case-study hotels. What should the standard practice be for responding to online guest reviews? Respond to all negative reviews? All reviews? Fifty percent of positive reviews? 

Many current industry reports have indicated responding to reviews increases your review scores. In addition, more relevant and current social media activity, including posting responses to online reviews, has been cited as increasing search rankings. Our conversation included little discussion about the time it takes to respond or who on staff should respond. Instead the debate concentrated on the notion that responding to all reviews would appear to consumers as less than authentic and that positive reviews did not really require a response. I was puzzled.

Having written a scathing review on TripAdvisor for a stay in Hollywood, Florida, in November 2013, I received an email from the site about the management’s response in January 2014. Someone obviously is not paying attention there. More recently I posted a review for a stay at an airport hotel made through After a week, I checked back to see if management responded. Not only was there no response, but through three pages of reviews, there was not a single response. Someone obviously is not paying attention there.

In pursuit of understanding my students’ perspective better, I looked at the TripAdvisor pages of some hotels we have worked with in the past and some of the big brands in the big city. I noticed some managers responded with detailed specifics when addressing negative reviews whereas the very same managers would respond with a few broad phrases to positive reviews. This issue of what to say to positive reviews was a good portion of my students’ concern. They suggested rote, generic responses would erode credibility.

Having stayed at The Quin Hotel in New York City last fall but failing to write a review, I visited the hotel’s TripAdvisor site. On the first page, every review, positive or negative, received a response. Each response was thoughtfully, specifically referencing the substance of the guest’s comments, regardless of the sentiment. I know The Quin’s General Manager Holly Breuche, and what was amazing is how her voice came through each response. I have not asked Holly if she writes each response, but her genuine care and professional approach came through each comment nonetheless. If it wasn’t Holly writing these, she has cloned her passion for authentic hospitality. Certainly there are many others like Holly who express the “quintessential” in service that creates great hospitality around the world and who, like her, inspire young professionals and serve as a role models for our industry.

My analysis of TrustYou data indicates management response rates to online reviews is growing worldwide. Does every guest review deserve a response? Can hoteliers respond authentically as review volume grows and review sites multiply? Is the culture of responding to guests publicly different than the culture of caring for guests on property? What is your standard of practice?