A bad review: the bane of any vacation rental manager’s existence. It’s a smirch on your listing that could have a drastic effect on your bookings. Especially if your listing is new and struggling to generate bookings and reviews in the first place.

There’s no way to just delete them, let’s just get that out there from the start. Unless the review was somehow generated maliciously and without warrant, your listing channel’s customer service is not going to be very receptive. So what can you do? Your best bet is to keep a cool head and go into damage control mode. Right now, we’ll outline a simple strategy for you to deal with the hit and keep moving.

What Not To Do

1. Go on a rage-induced tirade badmouthing your guest.

This is a surefire way to sink your business. Some booking channels, particularly Airbnb, allow hosts to respond to guest reviews publicly. This is not an opportunity for you to give them a piece of your mind.

There’s nothing more off-putting than seeing a host who cannot take criticism in stride. You’re advertising to the whole world things about your personality that directly conflict with everything that makes a good host. If you use your response to deflect criticism or fire back at guests, you’re squandering a chance to turn the situation around.

Also, don’t privately message your guests to voice your displeasure either. There’s a reason for that, aside from it being in bad taste – we’ll get to it further below.


2. Waste customer service’s time trying to get legitimate reviews removed.

If you’re someone who can’t handle criticism well, or prone to emotional responses, don’t take your bad review to the authorities.

Your booking channel’s customer service has to deal with this stuff every day, and unless you have some compelling evidence that a review was posted falsely, don’t bother. They will strike down the matter without a further thought. The review system is there to keep businesses honest and hold them to a standard – hosts using it as a promotional tool is not your channel’s concern.

In the very rare event that you do have some evidence of foul-play, from a competitor or someone lying to badmouth your business, then a claim is warranted. But if you shoot off an emotional response without any reason for a mediator to believe you, you may just kill any chance of having the review dealt with fairly.

3. Nothing.

OK, so you know you’ve gotta keep your cool here, but we’re not telling you to be nonchalant about this. You should care, and you should make steps to address it. It may be hard for some people to swallow, but bad reviews can be the most effective motivators for improvement.

If the review centers around your guest’s disgust for used bar soap in your bathroom, maybe it’s time to switch to pump dispensers. Yeah, it’s petty to trash your business over something so small, but you’ll have gained some valuable insight. Not just insight into that guest’s particular preferences, but the grand archetypical guest – future guests.

Take the criticism in stride and make efforts to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future.

Now, let’s talk about what you SHOULD do!

The Way Forward

1. Do some research.

This both a preventative measure and a damage control strategy. Now, with many booking platforms, you don’t have the opportunity to screen guests by their past reviews. But when you do have that opportunity, you should take it. Some people just cannot be pleased – if someone with a profile full of negative reviews makes a booking inquiry, you’re better off declining them.

In the cases where you weren’t privy to a guest’s past reviews before booking, now is a good time to see who you’re dealing with. If you discover that you’re dealing with a conscienceless nitpicker, you will adjust your approach in dealing with them. Particularly in the next step.

2. Make contact (privately).

Airbnb and Booking.com both allow 48 hours for guests to make edits or remove their reviews. That means you have 48 hours to make an attempt at reasoning. Other booking sites have similar policies as well.

Now, this is a route you should take with extreme caution. You need to take inventory of yourself and their complaints. Make an honest assessment – are their complaints justified? Is there something you could have done to improve the situation? Was it truly just an unfortunate occurrence that was out of your hands?

Composing an Effective Message

Now take a look at their review one last time – was any part of it spiteful? Put yourself in their shoes, imagine yourself as a guest. OK, so if your conclusion is still that the review is unjustified, you’ll have to do something unprecedented: forgive them.

Your message is going to to come from a place of empathy. Remember, this is a strategic move, not an emotional one. You have to execute your plan with a level hand, and that requires some level of understanding on your part.

The purpose of this message is to change the reviewer’s mind without asking them to change their review. With the right words, you may be able to affect a change of heart without begging.

Here’s an example of a properly composed message:

Why not just ask for a change?

Because when you ask someone to change their mind, the default reaction is to double-down. Don’t attempt to meddle with someone’s independence directly. It doesn’t matter if you’ve selected your words carefully, the moment you ask, your message will appear disingenuous. Just don’t do it.

3. Report unreasonable malicious behavior.

First of all, this is a rarity. Don’t go around assuming there’s a conspiracy against you and your business if you get a couple bad reviews.It’s a very competitive business, but please don’t get paranoid about this.

That being said, it has happened before. An Airbnb host decides to book a night in a competitor’s property with the intent of smearing their business. Effectively, they gain bookings while you lose them due to the review. If you suspect this to be the case, do your best to gather some evidence before you report the matter to your listing channel.

Did they use their actual hosting account to book the stay? Have you had previous contact with this person before? Is it a relative of your direct competition? Have you exchanged words with them via your account? Did the conversation make their intentions apparent?

The channel’s mediator is not going to care about your suspicions or accusations. They need something verifiable. If you can’t get that, your chances of getting a review removed are very close to 0.

Another instance where reviews can be removed by channel mediators is when they are unjustifiable / malicious / off-topic. If the complaints are directed at things that are irrelevant to your hosting service, they are invalid and there’s an argument to be made in favor of removal. If a guest leaves a bad review complaining about Disney World being closed, for example. Unless you own Disney World, that’s not your review and does not belong.

4. Make a strategic public response (if possible).

OK, this one’s important. If you’ve reached this step, that means your initial contact was not effective and there’s no grounds for the channel to remove the review. So, you’re left with a permanent mark on your record now.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn it into a win. Obviously, that’s a tall order, but it is possible. Sure, the lower rating may take a bit of time to recover from if you’re still new to the game. But when customers see that review, you don’t want that to be the final word. You still have a chance to convince them you’re a suitable host (at least on Airbnb – some channels don’t allow responses).

So, using our hat-in-hand technique that we learned above with our private message, let’s compose another. This time we’re going to keep in mind that our potential guests are also reading this:

That’s it. So what does a potential guest see? There was an issue before, but it has already been corrected. The host seems like a very humble, reasonable person who cares about his guests’ experiences.

That’s not so bad now, is it?

5. Make adjustments if needed.

Here’s an interesting concept: perhaps your guest’s opinion is 100% correct and you deserved a poor review. That’s a very real possibility you have to consider. Yes, sometimes people are just nitpicking and being petty, but other times…there may be a bigger issue that needs resolving.

You would be doing yourself a disservice by ignoring a piece of good advice simply because it hurt your feelings or reputation. Take a deep breath and try to take an objective look at the situation. Ask yourself if you could have changed something to avoid your guest’s displeasure. Then go ahead and make that change.

Your business will be better for it, and you’ll have grown as a person.

6. Generate bookings, solicit more reviews.

Now we come to the end of this lesson. In the spirit of moving forward, we present you with some advice to help you put this behind you. The only way to get that negative review out of view is to bury it in positive ones. That means the next bookings you have need to count.

You need to make any needed adjustments to your hosting, we know that already. But you also need to take some steps to create more booking opportunities and gather more reviews. To create more booking opportunities, it’s recommended that you follow the advice in the vacation rental marketing article. To generate more reviews, you’ll find everything you need in the Airbnb Beginner’s Guide (don’t worry if you’re using another channel, the advice will still apply).