Marketing is the lifeblood of your business and reviews are the lifeblood of your marketing.
Hence, online reviews are the lifeblood of your business.
Online review systems play and will always play a crucial role in your hostel business.
There’s a reason why I’ve dedicated an entire blog article to the 6 reasons why online reviews are everything for your hostel. If you’ve missed it, make sure to check it out. The statistics included are absolutely stunning.
Did you know that…
- … 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation from friends and family? [Source]
- … the average hostel traveler reads through 6-12 reviews before making a booking? [Source]
Making reviews a priority is a crucial step in becoming remarkable. But how can you improve them?
Let’s dive into it.
How To Get Better Online Reviews For Your Hostel
Let’s start with how NOT to do it.
The Wrong Way Of Improving Your Rating
The most common mistake I see hostel owners make is focusing on improving the individual factors that make up their rating.
For example, Hostelworld has 7 different categories for travelers to evaluate the hostel (as per Oct. 2019)
Many hostel owners sit down, get their pen and paper out and think about possibilities to improve these single factors. In fact, Hostelmanagement even dedicated an entire web page to this topic on their wiki page.
Let’s take the “security” factor as an example:
- Install a card key system
- Buy safer metal lockers
- Install 10 more security cameras
Sounds reasonable, right?
While this CAN increase the individual factor, there are 3 major drawbacks that come along with this strategy.
- The factors change over time
Online travel agencies are trying to create the “perfect” review system. The problem is, there’s no such thing as a perfect and fair system.
As an example, Hostelworld’s factor “Value For Money” is – in my opinion – rather the overall result of all factors involved as opposed to being a separate category.
Plus, what if they decide over time to change it up or remove that factor altogether? After all, different OTAs use different factors… so where should you even start?
- You don’t know if your improvements are really needed until AFTER you made changes
Changing for the better using this method resembles a blindfolded monkey throwing darts. Surely, he’ll make some hits but wouldn’t it be better to know for certain that the implementations are worthwhile in the long run?
However, the main drawback is this:
- It COMPLETELY neglects how customer satisfaction works!
I apologize for being geeky for the next few paragraphs, but this is too important to neglect. Since I wrote my master’s thesis on the topic of customer satisfaction, I encourage you to be all ears for the following few minutes.
I’ll be going quickly over the basics of customer satisfaction and its impact on you and your hostel. Don’t worry. It’s no rocket science and I’ll keep it simple.
How Customer Satisfaction Works
Customer satisfaction is a three-phase process:
- 1) You develop certain expectations
- 2) You perceive the actual service
- 3) You compare your expectations with your actual perception of the service
These three phases overlap and for the most part, they happen subconsciously. However, it helps to think of each phase separately to really understand them.
Let’s take a closer look at each stage.
- #1 Phase: You develop a certain expectation
Multiple factors play together in this stage. The most important influencing factors among others are:
- Previous experiences with hostels
- Knowledge of alternative accommodations
- Personal needs
- Price of the hostel
- Promises from hostel websites, advertisements, etc.
This also means that people who’ve made experiences with other hostels worldwide will judge you based on their past stay. It’s not enough to be the best in your area, as a matter of fact you’re dealing with the global hostel standard. There’s no way around it.
- #2 Phase: You perceive the actual service
The actual perception isn’t restricted to the experience on-site but involves ALL intersections with your hostel!
I stopped counting how many hostel owners complained about guests who left a bad review even though they didn’t stay at their hostel. They fool themselves into thinking that their service is limited to accommodating people.
I beg you – wake up!
If the perceived service consists of one impolite email, then yes, the overall satisfaction is super low – with great justice! This is part of your overall service.
Rather than begging websites to delete these reviews, how about improving your customer service?
The perceived service is extremely subjective. Hence, it is impossible to be everything for everyone. But don’t let this discourage you, there are many proven ways to fix that and we’ll come back to this point at a later topic.
- #3 Phase: You compare your expectations with the perceived service
There are 3 possible results from this comparison:
Obviously, your goal is to create enthusiastic, raving fans.
What’s interesting is that humans tend to have a “zone of tolerance” which is pretty small. If the level of satisfaction is within this zone, we tend to adapt our expectations to the perceived service. However, if the overall satisfaction is outside of this zone, we drift to the extreme!
That’s why you see so many 5-star and 1-star ratings on Amazon compared to 2 and 4 stars. That’s human psychology at work.
Okay, enough theory. What does that mean for you and your hostel?
- 1) You have to go above and beyond!
Yes, go the extra mile. It won’t be enough to do a little bit more than your competition. You really need to stand out and ‘wow’ your guests!
“Easier said than done” – I hear you say. Don’t worry, we’re getting to the meat shortly.
- 2) Concentrate on the overall customer satisfaction instead of single factors!
If your guest is dissatisfied, most likely every reviewed factor will suffer from that. However, if he’s happy, you’re likely to get a good rating everywhere.
Real example: One hostel manager bought another hostel with a 6.5 rating and turned it into a 9.3 within one year. This is what he experienced:
And well, the location has NEVER changed. That’s not just funny, that’s human psychology. Yes, a dirty hostel can make your location worse. Face it.
Just have a look at the Hoscar winners for “best location” or “best facilities”. Without wanting to appear disrespectful, it’s likely that you have experienced other hostels with much better facilities.
Because guess what? It’s their overall performance that brings in high scores like this. It never is a single factor.
Just think about how you give reviews yourself.
When I’m really happy with something, I don’t even read the factors or the questions.
I. Just. Hit. Five. Stars. Period.
And when I’m really disappointed… well, you get the point.
Okay, time to breathe. We’re almost through with all the theory. Promise.
The last thing you need to know about customer satisfaction is that everything you do can be assigned to 2 different categories. Knowing this difference and how they affect customer satisfaction is absolutely KEY when it comes to improving your hostel rating.
- 1) Basic factors: are expected and are perceived as minimum standard (e.g. cleanliness)
Non-fulfillment → extreme dissatisfaction
Fulfillment → no dissatisfaction (but no satisfaction!)
- 2) Wow factors: are NOT expected and lead to an over-proportionate satisfaction
Non-fulfillment → no influence
Fulfillment → enthusiasm / extreme satisfaction
Why is this difference so CRUCIAL for you as a hostel owner? – It tells you where you should focus your efforts on.
Having clean bathrooms is a basic factor. Even if you’d clean your bathrooms once every hour, you won’t ‘wow’ your guests with it. A basic factor just doesn’t have the potential to lead to extreme satisfaction.
The same holds true for free Wi-Fi. How many people will acknowledge that in your reviews? But dare you charge for it! Prepare yourself for a shitstorm. Why? – Quite simply, it’s a basic factor.
In contrast, small unexpected extras that might cost you little to no time, effort, and money have the potential to create a fan! This could be:
- Calling three haircutters in your area to find the cheapest one for your low-budget guest
- Driving a guest to the airport because it’s on your way home and he’s asked how to get there
- Offering a free toothbrush for one category of travelers who tend to forget it
However, the thing is, you could do all these three things for your guest, but if you don’t provide clean bathrooms, the overall satisfaction is limited.
Bringing it all together, here’s the most effective strategy to increase the reviews of your hostel.
The Strategy To ‘Really’ Improve Your Online Rating
- #1 Make sure you meet all the basic needs
- #2 Spend some extra time, effort or money to add unexpected extra services
- #3 Keep this order!
This might sound trivial but once you’ve developed a deeper understanding, this can save you incredibly much time, effort, and money.
There’s no reason to invest in fancy extras before you’ve covered all the basics!
In fact, that’s like planning your wedding when you’re 7 years old. Sure you might be enthusiastic about planning it all out, but go one step at a time, focusing on the basics first and address anything on top, when the time is right.
Any new investments in your hostel probably make you happy and proud. However, any guest that didn’t experience it before the new stuff was added will not feel the difference.
Note that I’m talking about the STRATEGY here. This is your baseline – the foundation. Whereas the different ways of executing your strategy are the TACTICS.
Unfortunately, there’s no cookie-cutter approach to get awesome reviews since every hostel is unique. That said, ‘greatness’ can be achieved by each and every one. It’s not about being ‘perfect” but all about striving for excellence – in all areas.
That’s why, at TheHostelHelper, I award hostels with a “Certificate Of Excellence”.
So how do you achieve excellence?
There are six major tactics that help you get there.
Tactic #1: Truly Listen & Understand
By far the most cost-effective strategy to increase your reviews is to listen genuinely, taking feedback seriously and implementing appropriate solutions.
The “Travellers Oasis” in Cairns clearly has mastered this skill. It has been awarded for being the #1 hostel in Australia in 2019, has an overall score of 9.5 stars on Hostelworld, and 5.0 stars on TripAdvisor.
Here’s one review that grabbed my attention:
A suggestion box! I can’t think of an easier and more comfortable solution to find out what your guests really want. But make sure that leaving suggestions is something fun and natural to do for every guest. Be creative!
Tactic #2: Research Your Target Market
I’ve already dedicated an in-depth blog article about how to research your target market. Hence, I’m not going to repeat myself here in this blog.
There are 7 proven methods to REALLY get to know what your guests want:
- #1 Online Surveys
- #2 Offline Surveys
- #3 Online Reviews
- #4 Niche Forums
- #5 Social Media
- #6 Websites / Blogs
- #7 Your Environment
I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand your guests. It’s the foundation of your hostel design and dictates every single step in your marketing efforts.
The #1 mistake hostel owners make in this area is that they ‘think’ they know their target market. After being in business for a few years, many have their blinders on and stop realizing how continuous yearly improvements is something guests need as their needs change.
Don’t let that be you. Learning about your guests is a never-ending and exciting journey. Once you’ve truly understood their needs, the actual implementation becomes easy and natural.
Tactic #3: Copy Proven Methods
Given that you’ve followed TheHostelHelper for a longer time now, you already know that I believe in copying successful concepts rather than reinventing the wheel.
I’ve recently analyzed all Hoscar winners in 2019 and created a top 10 list of the greatest hostels worldwide. To be able to learn from them, I’ve interviewed every single one of them for their “success secrets”.
Here are a few of – what I think – are the most inspirational responses:
“Everything we do comes from a genuine love of hostels and what we do. I think that (in 99% percent of cases, although I’m sure there are exceptions) guests can tell if a hostel is just there to be a business and make money, or if it comes from a real passion for the industry.
It’s nothing particularly tangible (i.e. any hostel can run events or keep their facilities updated and clean), but more the underlying vibe that makes guests feel as though they’re part of this special community of travelers.”
– Jenny, Manager of the #1 Roadhouse Prague in the Czech Republic (rating = 9.89)
“Stop worrying about making money and worry about offering the best product you can to drive your ratings higher. If your ratings are high, you will probably make money.”
– Brett, Manager of the #4 Adventure Q2 Hostel (rating = 9.8) and the #8 Adventure Queenstown Hostel in New Zealand (rating = 9.64)
“There’s no secret at all, we are the traveler and we just serve our guests with heart and care. Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
– Oily, Manager of the #5 Reset Hostel in Thailand (rating = 9.72)
Again, I won’t repeat the whole article about the top 10 hostels worldwide here. Make sure to check that out. It’s worth it.
However, what you notice about these success secrets is that they’ve made serving their guests the #1 priority in their business. It all boils down to caring and offering a personal experience.
In fact, 70% of experiences are based on how customers feel they are treated. [Source]
This might begin with a personalized welcome email, a warm and welcoming hostel tour at check-in and end with a personalized “bon voyages” email.
By the way, did I already mention that I’m running a “hostel-marathon” in 2020? I believe that you can learn from every single hostel in the world: I will visit and analyze different hostels in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, and the United States to get first-hand insights to share with you.
Telling you that I’m “excited” is an understatement. I can hardly wait!
Tactic #4: Promote But Don’t Exaggerate
Given that you’ve read through the whole article until here, you now know that expectation management account for half of your customer satisfaction.
The challenge is, how can you promote your hostel without setting the expectations bar too high?
The better your ratings get the higher the expectations become. One review from the “Travellers Oasis” in Cairns shows how narrow the path is between promoting yourself vs. still keeping realistic expectations.
“Lovely little place but by no means the best hostel in Australia as they claim on their website.”
Fortunately, there’s an effective wording on how to show your greatness while still being humble. I learned this trick by reading a book called “Ask” by Ryan Levesque. (Outstanding book, but not necessarily a must-read for a hostel owner in my opinion.)
Here’s how NOT to do it:
“We are the XYZ hostel. We are the #1 hostel in Australia according to Hostelworld…”
What do you think and feel when you read that? – “Puffed with conceit, right?“
The problem with this approach is that it’s push marketing. Just think about how you automatically react when someone tries to push you – you push back.
People will subconsciously be more focused on looking at what’s bad about your hostel to prove that you’re NOT the #1 hostel. Ough. That’s not what we tried to achieve, right?
Instead, how do you feel when you read the following?
“If you aren’t active on Hostelworld, then you might not be familiar with the hostel that won the award for being the #1 hostel in Australia for the past 4 consecutive years. Hi there, we are the XYZ hostel.”
Humble, but still impressive.
Another way to achieve a similar effect is to let others do the talking. Use testimonials wherever you can. This is by far the most effective way to communicate. In fact, I advocate that at least 50% of your hostel description are testimonials.
Example for the location of the “Travellers Oasis” in Cairns:
“According to Julia, a guest in Feb. 2019, we are “close to the city center, yet surrounded by much green”. Thomas describes it as “away from the party madness but still close enough” (Oct. 2018). And Martha says there’s “no need to stay at a sleepless party hostel when you can stay in this oasis and just walk ten minutes to a party if desired!” (Dec. 2018). And here’s how to find us: Address, contact info,…”
These are real examples I’ve collected from their reviews. How much more likely are you to read these testimonials compared to a standard description?
And how much more do you trust these statements compared to a “we are located 200m away from the beach” or any other comment by the hostel itself?
Tactic #5: Openly Discuss Reviews With Your Guests
The truth is, very few hostel travelers understand how important reviews are for your hostel. Given that they’re just unaware of it, why not make it a consistent part of your check-in procedure to address the issue?
Let them know how much effort you went through to provide them the best possible service. Simply tell them how much you appreciate any feedback and a sincere review. You might even figure out a way to reward them for their review.
A study has shown that 70% of guests are willing to leave a positive review if the staff was friendly and helpful. [Source]
You can also include in a short sentence that many guests think 4 stars (or 8 depending on the scale) mean “good”, but it actually means “average”. Let them know that your goal is anything but being average. Give them a feeling for the scale that comes with reviewing so that you get the most out of their evaluation.
By doing so you’re also able to reduce well-intended lower ratings.
Tactic #6: Test But Go Slowly
Let’s pretend you’ve received several reviews within the last few months where guests mentioned that they didn’t “feel safe”. So how are you going to improve that?
Well, you could just ask for ideas. The problem is,…
- Steve Jobs
Hence, there’s no way around trying what works.
One of your ideas might be to install private safes underneath each bed. However, before ordering 60 new safes and spending thousands of dollars without knowing if it really helps, why not test this solution just in one room?
This way you get direct feedback and if it doesn’t work out, well, then you’ve invested a few hundred bucks in a valuable experience.
The same principle holds true for all other investments – even ones that cost solely your time (e.g. social activities).
It all boils down to testing, measuring, and improving. #PDCA
Before you leave: Answer this quick question and help our community.
Talking about ‘wow’-factors. What small things have you implemented or changed in your hostel to receive jaw-dropping reviews?
Share your opinion in the comment section below!
P.S. here are my top requested blog articles about online reviews if you wish to take things to the next level: