Dr. Cihan Cobanoglu, director of USFSM's M3 Center for Hospitality Technology and Innovation

USFSM researchers: Online rebukes may bring opportunity

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: August 11, 2016

SARASOTA, Fla. (Aug. 11, 2016) How hotels handle negative online comments might mean more to future bookings than a string of glowing reviews.

USFSM researchers: online rebukes may bring opportunity

Researcher Jonilda Bahja

Hotels with upbeat and sincere replies at sites like Expedia and TripAdvisor can be perceived as genuine and caring toward guests, and that can carry more weight than positive reviews alone, according to researchers at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.

The researchers – Jonilda Bahja and Drs. Cihan Cobanoglu, Katerina Berezina and Bhuvan Unhelkar – surveyed 800 hotel customers to gauge their opinions about online reviews, both good and bad.

All hotels deal with unhappy guests on occasion, including those who vent their frustrations online, but how managers deal with those barbs – including the use of verbal mimicry and emoticons – can make all the difference in how hotels are perceived at booking sites.

USFSM researchers: Online rebukes may bring opportunity

Dr. Katerina Berezina

Perhaps not surprisingly, the researchers found that when managers gave warm replies to “positive” guest reviews the respondents perceived those hotels favorably.

However, their opinions grew more favorable when managers offered thoughtful, sincere replies to “negative” guest comments because the respondents saw those hotels as communicative, eager to please and appreciative of their guests.

The study – supported by USFSM’s M3 Center for Hospitality Technology and Innovation – took six months and involved hotel guests from across the United States. The researchers concluded that hotel managers should focus more on negative reviews than positive ones. Sincere and thorough replies can go a long way toward changing perceptions at booking sites and attracting guests.

USFSM researchers: Online rebukes may bring opportunity

Dr. Bhuvan Unhelkar

Additionally, the study found that respondents were more trusting of reviews on Expedia than TripAdvisor. This might be due to policy differences at the travel sites.

The researchers said that while TripAdvisor seems to allow reviews by non-hotel guests, Expedia solicits reviews only from travelers who stayed at the hotels they reviewed.

This study is currently under peer review to be published by an academic journal in the hospitality field. For more about USFSM’s College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, visit http://usfsm.edu/chtl/.

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