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Sales & marketing

Why do travel review sites matter for your travel business – and how to tackle them

6 min read

Travel review sites are either the bread and butter or the necessary evil of the travel industry, depending on who you ask. In each case, the sites are important for any travel businesses’ visibility, marketing, and trustworthiness.

This is by no means a simple issue. Amateur reviewers can have totally different criteria to each other and to professional reviewers. A new business with few reviews faces a much more drastic situation from one bad review than an established business with thousands of reviews leveling the playing field. So what to do and how to tackle the review sites?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of review sites on the web, both local and global. The most relevant global sites for travel businesses are Tripadvisor, Google My Business, Facebook, and online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Airbnb, Bookings.com, and the Expedia group. Which review sites are relevant in your own country? Add them to your list of review sites to consider.

Why do travel review sites matter?

It’s only natural to feel a bit uncomfortable about reviews. After all, someone criticising your business is like they criticise your baby. But the majority of comments on any review site are positive. Most people sympathise with small businesses and want you to do well. Interaction with your clientele builds your image as a trustworthy business. It shows you are genuinely interested in the feedback and not just pushing for a sale.

Most importantly, review sites make your business easier to find. Your services may not be the first ones to appear in a customer’s Google search, but when they search for a particular service in a particular area, you have a much bigger chance of getting noticed if you are on one or several of these platforms.

Most review sites reward you with better visibility in searches if you have more customer reviews, they are recent, and if you answer most of them. So it’s good to be active and encourage your customers to write reviews.

If you are a small business owner and have a lot on your plate already, choose at least one channel. The one that is most important in reaching your potential customers. In order to answer reviews on any platform, you first need to be registered and verified as the business owner on the site in question.

When to respond?

Before answering this question, think about your business’ image, brand, and the tone of voice you have adopted. How do you talk to your customers: formally, informally, or in your local way? Are you always available, polite, funny, or maybe prickly? All this also affects the way you respond to reviews.

The main point is that all the reviews given by customers are visible to everyone searching for information on your business. What do you want them to see? Most customers understand that not every opinion can be positive. Your selling point might be the way you handle negative feedback.

Businesses have different practices when they answer reviews. Some respond only to negative feedback, some respond to all reviews. Just from a humane point of view: why not enjoy the positive feedback and answer those too? Never underestimate the power of a simple thank you or a “Hope to see you back soon”. It makes your day better as well.

Most review guides state you should answer as soon as possible. This can be relevant in case a problem needs to be solved quickly, you need to apologise or give your side of the story to a bad review so that other potential customers get to read your response. But as a small business owner, don’t stress yourself out.
You don’t have to stretch yourself to answer all the reviews right away. Especially if there is a real issue that needs clarifying, it’s best to wait until you have all the details before responding. And in everyday workflow, you know your business and its rhythms best. If most of your customers visit you on weekends, then Monday is probably the best day to go through and answer reviews. If you have ‘answer reviews’ set in your calendar, it gets done.

How to answer?

The business model of Tripadvisor and OTAs depends upon a large number of people using the sites and providing content by giving reviews and stars. It’s critical for them, as well as for your business, that you get customer feedback on these platforms. So they give you clear guidelines on how to answer. For example, you can only reply once to every review and can’t edit your answer afterward. Facebook and Google operate on different terms and give you more options and a possibility to continue the discussion after a single answer.

One rule of thumb is to always answer negative reviews. Common rules of conduct and good behavior apply, even if the criticism you received was unjust. Try not to take it personally, sympathise with the customer. Don’t argue, it rarely leads anywhere. When the criticism is justified, it’s good to mention in your answer that you are taking action. Take it to your team and figure out improvements together.

Why is it so important to answer negative reviews? This is how you prove your trustworthiness to potential customers comparing you with your competitors. People know you can’t always perform 100 %, and they know there are also those customers who aren’t satisfied no matter what. It’s how you treat these situations that either help or hinder you from making future sales.

One key to trustworthiness is also to have as much of the conversation as possible in public view. Facebook and Google give you the option for private messaging but use this sparingly. Private matters, like asking for contact details, should of course be dealt with in private messages. But otherwise think about the image you are sending to other potential customers if you often switch to private messaging. What have you got to hide?

All the review sites have policies to prevent fraud and misuse. They apply to reviewers as well as business owners. The policies keep changing when new issues arrive. It makes keeping up with them more difficult. But the good thing is that better policies work in your favor too. But what to do in the worst-case scenario?

How to survive a review site attack?

Malicious campaigns on review sites are thankfully rare, but still possible. The sites themselves are constantly revising their policies to prevent blackmail or fraudulent reviews, but it’s good to know what to do in case your business becomes a target.

Our tips come from a Helsinki-based pub owner Jarkko Koskinen, who is also an old hand in social media marketing. His business came under a troll attack during the Covid-19 restrictions. The anti-restriction campaigners gave false bad reviews to businesses implementing the ‘corona passport’.

If you want to read the whole story, click here to the Case: Pub Sirdie article.

Jarkko’s rules of internet engagement:

  1. First of all, decide on a strategy and a tone of voice that suits your business and stick to it.
  2. Understand how the internet trolls function, so you don’t waste time trying to appease them. Because no amount of reasoning or apologies help.
  3. Learn to separate the real customers from trolls and take their concerns seriously.
  4. Normalise your marketing efforts as much as possible, and as soon as possible. Successfully negotiating troll attacks can bring you a lot of publicity, as it did for Pub Sirdie. But make sure your image doesn’t become one with your struggle. This kind of fame is fleeting and you don’t want to alienate your regular customers.


Authored By

Hanna Hägglund
Content Strategist at | Website | + posts

Hanna is a seasoned facilitator and wordsmith from Helsinki, Finland. She loves guiding ideas to fulfilment and telling stories that breathe life into otherwise technical language.


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