How To Respond To Bad Vacation Rental Guest Reviews

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You are off to a great start as a vacation rental property manager. Your property listings are active and you’re welcoming guests to your inviting home with every bit the gusto that each guest deserves. Your digital welcome book is informative and helpful, and you are an impeccable representative of your fabulous destination. Your stewardship is second-to-none, and you are a model host right from the start – and your glowing reviews show it.

But then, it happens… the negative review.

Of course, countless flurried thoughts and emotions instantly rush through your mind. How could this possibly happen? Who would do this, and why? And, most importantly – what are you supposed to do now?

For starters, take a deep breath and count to ten. Step away from your computer or mobile device, and collect yourself before reacting. Whether you are hurt, angry, worried, or just confused, chances are that your instant reaction will be driven by emotion rather than clarity. This can’t lead to a positive result… and yes, there can still be a positive result from this seemingly negative occurrence. Let’s take a moment to put the whole situation in perspective and figure out how to tackle the dreaded negative guest review.

How Does The Review Process Work?

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When guests are invited to leave feedback on a business’ product or service, these online reviews are almost always two-way in nature, so as a host, you are encouraged to review your guests as well!

On some platforms like Airbnb, guest reviews are not published for two weeks, or until both the guest and host have submitted their reviews of each other – whichever comes first. In most scenarios, both guests and hosts are welcome to contest a review, but be advised that most review sites will only remove a review if it violates their specific content policy.

Guest Reviews Matter

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Travelers often seek out reviews from past guests as part of the consideration process when considering a vacation rental. Good reviews give travelers confidence when booking your vacation rental, while bad reviews offer insight into how you may handle things when a negative experience does arise. Reviews can also play a large part in determining your placement and visibility on listing sites like Tripadvisor, Expedia, Booking.com, and Airbnb, where special privileges are afforded to the best hosts.

Your overall reputation might also encompass reviews on Google, Facebook and other platforms that are quite visible in search (like Yelp). Social media reviews and search platform reviews all play a role in reputation management.

Your company name often reveals a lot about your brand reputation, for example this vacation rental manager (see the Blue Sky Cabin Rentals case study here) has earned hundreds of five-star reviews on Google:

blue sky cabins reviews
Almost 700 reviews just on Google has earned Blue Sky Cabin Rentals more brand credibility on branded search terms.

There are approximately 650,000 Airbnb hosts worldwide, but only about 3% of them are designated as “Superhosts”. Among other exclusive rewards, Superhosts enjoy increased visibility on the channel, creating higher earning potential. 

One of the factors to achieving this status is receiving and maintaining at least a 4.8 star rating overall, so obviously it is essential that you consistently deliver a positive experience to each and every guest. Anything less holds the potential to damage not only your online reputation and standing, but your bottom line as a result.

Let’s Review The Concept Of Negative Reviews

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There are a number of reasons why a guest may leave a bad review on a vacation rental. There may have been legitimate issues with the property or the host, or the guest may be misdirecting their anger and disappointment after a vacation gone wrong. With this in mind, it is important to review the circumstances of the guest’s stay, and their feedback (both private and public) before taking any action on a negative review. 

More often than not, a bad review does not come as a complete surprise. In many cases, a guest has already voiced discontent at some point during their stay. 

This gives you an opportunity to address a bad experience before it goes public. Strive to prevent a bad review in the first place. Respond to problems in a timely manner. Communication is key!

Sometimes, a negative review is the result of a guest simply not being the right match for your rental. While you may be quick to take this personally – don’t. With an objective mind, read whatever feedback they have provided, and review it from two perspectives. Is there a general validity to their criticism in terms of an area in need of attention with your property or service? Does your property listing honestly and clearly represent your rental? 

Although many potential guests may hone in on just your photos and skip the details, others are hanging on every word and seeking thorough information on what to expect. Make sure your listing is up-to-date and honest in every respect, and manage guest expectations proactively.

Speaking of managed expectations – make sure to plant the seed for a flawless stay and a 5-star review by welcoming your guest to your 5-star listing (as long as you remain in 5-star standing). Be sure to provide contact information (including email address and phone number for yourself or your property manager in the event that a problem should arise. 

By doing these things, you are not only demonstrating your commitment to being a wonderful (and accessible) host, but you are also making it clear that you earn and expect a 5-star review… and that reminder is quite possibly the thing that will ensure you receive it!

Ultimately, it’s important to know that as much as you can aim for a flawless guest experience, less-than-perfect reviews will happen. The inevitable fluke negative is beyond the control of even the most attentive hosts, but one thing that is always IN your control is how you respond.

Crafting The Right Response

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First and foremost, it’s important to note the difference between private feedback and public response. Respond to private feedback privately, and public feedback publicly – and consider the audience when crafting your reply. Potential future guests WILL be taking note of your reviews and how you handle them. Always strive to prioritize your aim for customer satisfaction and honest representation of your home and services.

Respond to every review, every time – both the negative and the positive reviews. A simple thank you for positive feedback affirms your consistency in communication, and it only takes a moment. Add a friendly note and a few kind words about how you’d happily welcome them back, or how much you appreciate their respect of your home. 

Sometimes, a guest will leave a good (but less than 5-star) review if things weren’t quite up to par during their stay. They may also leave a few details about what failed to meet their expectations. 

Although these details may center on personal taste, don’t deny the legitimacy or value of the feedback. Thank the guest for their comments, and assure them that you are on top of addressing the issues. This shows your genuine desire to meet guest expectations and to maintain a high-quality rental. Your negative review response goes a long way in showing a potential guest that they can count on you if a situation goes wrong, and that you are a reliable host. Even past, disgruntled guests may be willing to return if your response shows sincere sympathy and concern for their unique situation.

Be professional, and be humble. Acknowledge fault when appropriate and always offer a sincere apology if a guest’s stay failed to meet the high standard you offer! Do all that you can to make things right, but always remember that it is okay to defend yourself when necessary. Keep emotions at bay and provide a calm, factual reply. You can share your side of the story without placing blame or being provocative, so be sure to do so under all circumstances. 

If a guest leaves negative feedback related to something that has been repaired or rectified in some way, be sure to mention this in your reply, to assure potential guests that you are quick to handle maintenance requests or areas of need at the property. For example, if the reviewer faced pest problems but you already took care of them, fear not to mention it.

If the situation was the result of miscommunication, you can mention that you have updated your listing or check-in instructions to more clearly address the matter for future guests. 

You can also simply reiterate (politely) that certain details are clearly explained in your property listing or booking confirmation messages if it seems that the guest may have overlooked the information when it was provided to them. 

If you’ve done everything you can do to professionally and swiftly handle a negative review with little resolution from your disgruntled guest, sometimes you have to accept the negative feedback and let it go. It happens to the best hosts, and sometimes there is simply no way to make it right. Rest assured, if you make a sincere effort to provide a superior customer experience with each stay, with exceptional and timely communication, attentive service, a polished product, and professional review responses, your future guests will take notice.

Here’s a framework for responding to negative reviews that helps to find the right steps to take – so you don’t react in an overly emotional manner.

  • Validate: First, you must validate their review (assuming it is legitimate and not just spam).
  • Concede & Apologize: Then, it’s worth conceding and offering a truthful and honest apology.
  • Understand: Moving into the next phase, take their review seriously and understand where they’re coming from. They didn’t want their visit to go wrong either!
  • Build A Bridge: Finally: move towards building a bridge and thank the guest for their review and the opportunity to make things right.

Real-Life Examples

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Let’s take a look at some sample reviews and the resulting management responses:

5-Star Review

“Very nice luxurious stay. 5 stars because the customer service is very responsive. Very private with many amenities. Great stay for any age. Especially children.”

Management Response: Thank you for your fantastic review. We love engaging with our customers in order to make their experience as enjoyable as possible. We also pride ourselves on our privacy, and the many amenities that we offer. We encourage guests of any age to come stay with us, and also have many child related activities available on our premises.Again, thank you for your review and we hope to see you back soon!

Nice show of simple appreciation and a good opportunity to reinforce the amenities and benefits of your location!

5-Star Review

“We had a delightful stay and a brilliant experience. The team were all very responsive and friendly. From booking through to maintenance staff. Any questions I had were answered in a timely fashion and with complete politeness. Never a rude tone in any of their voices. I would definitely recommend it! Thank you!

Management Response: We are so glad to hear that you enjoyed your stay and our team took care of your needs. We look forward to seeing you back soon. Don’t forget to ask about our 10% discount for repeat guests 🙂

Sincere and friendly tone, with a smooth push for the repeat booking. Nicely done!

4-Star Review

“My husband and I (and our 2 dogs) absolutely love it here!!! I would have given the review 5 stars….but…..the service at the bar/restaurant is bad. Really bad. The servers are nice, and seem to be trying, but it is definitely the weak link of this resort. Not sure if they haven’t been properly trained, or what the problem is. We are pretty laid back, easy to please people (and great tippers) and would have loved to order food and drink while we were at the pool yesterday, We saw a server once in about 4 hours. And it wasn’t busy at all. Our first experience was Taco Tuesday. We sat at the bar (again, not super busy) for at least 15 minutes before even being acknowledged. Since you can’t carry in your own drinks, the service really needs to step it up a notch or two!”

Management Response: Thank you for taking the time to review your stay. We are pleased to learn that your family (including all furry friends) enjoyed their stay. However, we are sorry that your experience at the Bar & Grill did not meet your or our expectations. Nevertheless, we thank you for providing us with feedback as we are working to make improvements to provide an exceptional experience to our guests. We have addressed your concerns with our teams and do hope for the opportunity to welcome you back again for an improved experience.

Great example of how to demonstrate appreciation for constructive feedback. 

1-Star Review

“Not happy about having to pay $156 for resort fees for a small waterpark area. Will not be back.”

Management Response: Thank you for your feedback. We are saddened to learn that your experience was less than satisfactory. We apologize that our fees were not clearly communicated to you through your booking channel. We will take a proactive approach to make sure that they have the correct information displayed for future guests.

Fantastic! Always be humble and sympathetic. Rather than angrily stating that the guest should read the fine print, promise to make sure that fine print is as clear as it can be. 

1-Star Review

“Charged me 40.00 for ink on a sheet that was not on linen when we left. They gave us a gift card for the bar and grill that did not work. Will not stay here again. Oh and beware of the roaches!

Management Response: Thank you for your feedback. We are saddened to learn that your experience was less than satisfactory. During your recent stay with us, we did not receive any notice of insects on the property. We always encourage guests to voice their questions and concerns to our team upon discovery, as we understand that sometimes unexpected items may occur. We assure you that if given the opportunity, we work to address and rectify any and all concerns that may be affecting our guest’s experience. Nevertheless, we hope we will have the chance to accommodate your family again with an improved experience.

While apologetic, this response does not do much to set future guests at ease, or to address the very specific issues brought up by the guest. This is a missed opportunity to reassure potential guests that these issues are either unfounded or in the process of being improved. How was this made right?

Take The Next Step
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