Combating Review Blackmail


Joshua Meehan

May 14, 2014


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Online reviews are a crucial part of a hotel’s appearance online. When a hotel is first building their review base, each entry can carry a lot of weight in how a hotel appears online. With search engines now including online reviews as a way of indexing hotels, travelers are starting to realize the power they have over small hotels. When given such power, they are forced to answer one question: Will I use this for good or evil? Unfortunately, some travelers are choosing the darker path and are wielding the power of their reviews in an attempt to blackmail hotels into giving out discounts or free upgrades.

Chances are someone might eventually threaten to leave a negative review in hopes of getting special treatment or a free upgrade. They will often try to give themselves titles like “Senior TripAdvisor Reviewer” or “Elite Reviewer” on Yelp. This is the first sign that they are trying to game the system and extort some special treatment. Those that achieve these titles are usually legitimate users who take pride in their work and aren’t going to throw their weight around. If someone does attempt this, make sure your staff is trained on what to do.

A well-trained staff is the best defense when these blackmailers come to the desk. Free upgrades or discounted rates are the most common requests in these situations, and we shouldn’t reward this behavior. Instead of saying no, try replying with “I don’t have any upgrades/discounts available tonight, but what I can do for you is…” The key here is to build value in a feature of the room type they have already booked. Try offering a room with a better view or on a higher floor. Depending on your WiFi setup, there might be some rooms with a stronger or more consistent signal. The actual location of a room is a valuable amenity many guests overlook until they get to the door. This can help to give the guest the feeling that they are still getting something special without touching rates.

Some guests won’t stop until they have the keys to the hotel. Nothing outside of a comped stay or the “Presidential Suite” will satisfy them. If they are still threatening a bad review, start taking notes. Often if the guest doesn’t succeed with their first attempt, they will wait until someone else is at the desk and try again and again until they get results. Most PMS programs have notes systems built into each reservation and are great tools for keeping all of the employees aware of the situation. Anyone who can access that account can read about the interaction and act accordingly.

These notes are vital at handling fraudulent reviews if and when the blackmailers follow through with their threats. It’s typically encouraged to respond to reviews early and often since this helps to build a better rapport with your guests. In situations where you suspect a fraudulent review, it’s important not to engage the author. Understandably, you will want to defend your property, but this can encourage their behavior and make the situation worse. Instead of replying, contact the site administrators. Report the review as fraudulent and email them as much detail about the interaction as possible, if it even existed. Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor take their user reviews seriously, and if they find that things aren’t on the level, they can remove the review and ban the account that left it.

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