Do negative hotel reviews make a difference?

Are you in the middle of writing a terrible hotel review? New research shows it probably won’t change anyone’s mind.

Yep, really. In fact, most online hotel reviews mean nothing to future hotel customers.

New research from Macquarie University, published in the Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management, found that review readers basically ignore mixed and negative reviews, placing greater importance on positive reviews.

Author and lecturer at Macquarie’s Department of Marketing, Dr Shahin Sharifi, looked into the influence of positive, negative, and mixed reviews on prospective hotel customers, finding that people struggle to interpret and evaluate mixed reviews. As a result, people tend to place greater weight on purely positive or negative reviews, and the positive reviews always win out – and have the most influence.

However, when a hotel offered a “100 per cent satisfaction guarantee”, mixed reviews became the most trusted, as customers considered the guarantee a signal that positive pieces in a mixed review should be weighed more heavily than negative pieces.

“In today’s interconnected world, where more bookings are made online than ever before, customer reviews can make or break a business,” said Dr Sharifi.

“Understanding the impact of positive, negative, and mixed reviews on their business is crucial for a hotel manager, particularly as managers are spending more time than ever responding to online reviews. Our findings suggest much of this time may be in vain.”

For hotel managers, these findings show that a satisfaction guarantee has no effect on whether a potential customer makes a booking; so instead of expending resources on a satisfaction guarantee, managers should focus primarily on improving the customer experiences. If not offering a satisfaction guarantee, managers should prioritise responding to mixed reviews over others.

“For hoteliers, the most important thing is to focus on providing a good service to customers rather than guaranteeing it,” added Dr Sharifi.

“Positive reviews influence prospective customers more than any other so, as you would expect, to drive future bookings it is best to have as many good reviews as possible. Following that, it is important to respond to mixed reviews as quickly as possible.

“This research provides a solid, analytical foundation from which hotel managers can look to attract more customers from online booking services going forward. Understanding your customer is the key to success!”