How well does Airbnb manage guest reviews?

Every hotelier knows how important online reviews are, and how damaging they can be if they’re unfavourable.

Websites like TripAdvisor are nearly a guaranteed touchpoint for travellers researching accommodation. If a hotel has a below average review score, the amount of bookings it receives will drop. Frustratingly for hotel operators, this may not always be an accurate depiction of the service provided by the property.

In a recent SiteMinder survey, which interviewed thousands of hotels around the world, one hotelier remarked that they believe Airbnb is the only company to get managing online reviews right.

Hotels can often be frustrated by reviews left online because they have little right of reply and can be targeted by fake or anonymous reviews. Because ‘the customer is always right’, if a hotel responds to a negative review in kind, no matter how unreasonable said review was, it only exacerbates the issue. This leaves other travellers steering clear of what they see as a potentially bad experience or unwanted confrontation.

Airbnb has a slightly different system focused on trust and verifications. This could potentially appeal to hotels, but could it be easily replicated?

What are the positives of Airbnb’s review system?

Because Airbnb is part of the sharing economy and there is a close mutual relationship between guests and hosts, the review system reflects this by allowing both parties to review each other.

This means travellers can decide not to stay at a certain property, but a property can also refuse a booking from a traveller they don’t trust based on the reviews left by hotel peers. Essentially, this increases the chances of eliminating fake or unfair reviews.

It’s a process that has evolved and the new review procedure is far superior to the original one. Until 2014, both traveller and host were able to see each other’s review as soon as it was posted and could then write their own.

If a host left a review saying a guest was unclean, disrespectful, or noisy etc. the guest could see this and write a so-called ‘revenge review’, scoring the host low even if there were no issues with the property.

An environment was thus created where hosts and guests would leave favourable reviews no matter the experience because they didn’t want their own score to suffer, impacting accuracy and trust.

Under the newer Airbnb system, neither party can see the reviews until both are submitted.

There is then a two-week window where both parties can reply to the reviews, allowing for more transparency and significantly aiding others in the community to make better booking decisions.

Airbnb also has other measures in place to encourage fairness, including:

  • Verified identification 
    Hosts can require guests to hold verified ID badges before they accept a booking.
  • Guest profiles 
    Completed guest profiles, including pictures, enable hosts to investigate the suitability of guests.
  • Social connections 
    Airbnb users can connect Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. Hosts can tap into this information to see other reviews that have been posted, see mutual friends, and get a sense of the person who is coming to stay at their property.

So does Airbnb have the guest reviews formula right?

There’s still nothing in place to prevent reviews that border on the ridiculous, such as a bad score because the weather was poor during a guest’s stay, for example.

Further investigation will always be needed beyond simply looking at a score. There’s also an argument that removing anonymity from reviews creates the potential for negative feedback to follow a person around forever, perhaps unfairly.

All in all though, it’s a largely equal and beneficial system for the Airbnb community, one that instils a sense of order.

For the contained environment that is Airbnb, it’s almost perfect, but is much more problematic for hotels.

This is because hotels are connected to so many different channels and travellers can create different accounts on all these channels – it’s virtually impossible to recreate the organisation and accuracy that Airbnb offers.

While it’s widely-hoped that in the future guests will have more accountability for their comments, until all travel sites are on the same page, hotels have little option but to roll with the punches and work hard to stay on top of their online reviews.

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