In September 2010, four hotels belonging to the Library Hotel Collection ranked numbers 1 through 4 among New York City hotels on TripAdvisor, the review site. Ten years later, in September 2020, those same hotels ranked 1,2, 3 and 17.
The Library Hotels are not part of an especially well-known brand. Nor are they particularly luxurious. What they had was a vice president of sales, marketing and revenue named Adele Gutman who was dedicated to keeping the properties at the top of TripAdvisor rankings.
Gutman left Library in 2020 and is now devoted to helping business leaders create a culture of caring, collaboration and continual improvement -- with the intended result excellent reviews on TripAdvisor and similar sites.
Online reviews, said Gutman, have changed the way consumers make travel and purchasing decisions. She said her Five Star Review System can be customized and applied to any hotel or service lead business, regardless of size or level of luxury.
While Gutman had always believed it was a good idea to have guests leaving happy so they would return and tell their friends, the emergence and power of review sites increased the importance of that mission exponentially. And as the hotels under her purview applied themselves to rising in the rankings, not only did they see a huge lift in online visibility and consumer confidence, but they didn’t need to negotiate as much on rate or spend so much time looking for new clients to replace the ones they lost due to dissatisfaction.
In addition, she said, the hotels found it unnecessary to spend a lot on advertising and promotion, and didn't have to engage with lower-rated distribution methods, because they were creating loyal fans who were referring new guests to the properties.
Gutman realized that a focus on reviews was not only extraordinarily effective -- but not that difficult to achieve. It just took a commitment to daily practice. What’s really hard work, she said, is dealing with unhappy customers -- or trying to find new customers because past guests have been lost.
This approach is also more fun and satisfying for employees, who face less stress and are filled with a strong sense of pride.
Gutman now does workshops, consulting and more to help others accomplish what she did in her hotel career. She also has a podcast, with the new season called “Get Great Guest Reviews.”
Reviews, said Gutman, are far more compelling and believable than what a company says about itself. So what is the magic? It’s not incentives for employees, said Gutman. Nor is it polite and professional replies to complaints on review sites. It’s delivering on what you promise. If you say breakfast is being served on certain days and hours, make sure that’s true. Don’t say you’re pet-friendly but not what that actually means. Be honest and authentic about what you are and aren’t delivering.
Instead of simply being transactional, said Gutman, “focus on things we all learned in kindergarten”: Be nice. Listen to people.
She said Library broke down the guest experience into every step of the journey -- pre-arrival, parking, arrival, breakfast, etc. -- and asked “How can we sparkle a little sunshine onto each guest? How can we elevate the experience?”
As for those polite and professional responses to reviews, why not actually fix the problems? “It’s much more important to actually change,” said Gutman, “than to write something pretty.”