Opinion.

What I wish I knew: improving guest reviews with one simple change

Ana Castro, Manager of Hotel Sacristía de Santa Ana, a 3-star boutique hotel in Seville, knows a thing or two about guest experience, having been in the industry for over 20 years. It recently revamped its breakfast offering based on guest feedback and improved its review score as a direct result

by Ana Castro, Manager, Hotel Sacristía de Santa Ana

Topic: Guest experience What I wish I knew

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Ana’s hot tips

    • To offer a good service, you should always listen and observe. It is important to be on the move, always looking for areas to improve
    • Hotel Sacristía de Santa found around 60% of its guests have breakfast at the hotel every morning, so implementing changes based on guest feedback, and having these guests revisit and see these tweaks in practice was a real win
    • Establishing a distinct character for your hotel or property and building on it is critical. Look at what competitors do well, or badly for inspiration
    • Read and analyse reviews as though you were a guest yourself

Don’t be afraid to change

Although I saw breakfast as a quality service, the feedback from our guests showed me something different. After analysing their opinions, I decided that the breakfast had to change. At this stage, it was not yet clear which products were not working and which were missing.

I talked to the waiters to find out which items were consumed more and which were less popular. We started gathering suggestions from customers at breakfast and, based on their feedback, we chose new products and eliminated others from the menu. You start learning which guests like what; for example, we’ve seen that Spanish and Italian guests tend to enjoy croissants, cereals and jam, while those from the rest of Europe and the USA like scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages. And everybody loved our almond cake!

But the bread was not popular – guests felt it was too dry and hard – and nor was the apple cake, so we changed these items when we launched the new breakfast offering in autumn 2017. Now we have more varieties of pastries and five different types of bread that we bake fresh daily. We also have two new cakes, as well as grated tomato and Spanish omelette, and better quality sausages and cheese.

The benefits are also clear in terms of the hotel’s reputation, and its profitability; the number of breakfasts has started to increase

Always listen to feedback

The feedback to the new menu has generally been very positive. Guests appreciate the updated products, as well as the freshly-baked items we produce every morning. It takes time to make these changes, and to see results, but the feedback now is greatly improved. The benefits are also clear in terms of the hotel’s reputation, and its profitability; the number of breakfasts has started to increase, so the service is more profitable.

Lobby, Hotel Sacristía de Santa Ana

Lobby at Hotel Sacristía de Santa Ana

Guests feel that what they have paid for at breakfast now has more value, and repeat clients see that their opinion has been taken into consideration – and it really counts. For example, we serve free coffee in the afternoons. On one website, a guest thanked us for the coffee, but said that he would have preferred tea. A short time later, I told him that we had taken his suggestion into account. When he returned to Seville he stayed with us to see if it was true – which, of course, it was.

Food, particularly breakfast, is crucial to the overall guest experience. This is especially true for us as we are a small boutique hotel with few extra services. In many cases, breakfast is the last service that a guest will use, so it helps forge their final impression of the hotel before leaving. Around 60% of our guests decide to have breakfast at the hotel every morning, so it is important that they enjoy it.

Never stop learning

I entered the hotel industry in 1997 as a receptionist in a hotel in Seville. I was curious about quality and management, and for a year I worked as a receptionist and quality coordinator. After this, I worked as deputy director in Huelva. I went back to Seville 11 years ago, where I now work as Hotel Manager at Hotel Sacristía de Santa Ana and I am always learning something new.

In order to offer a good service, you always have to listen and observe. It is important to be on the move, always looking for areas to improve. We do this by talking directly with customers or reading the reviews they write on websites like Booking.com. My main piece of advice to others seeking to improve their guest experience is to learn from the guests reviews, read and analyse them as though you were a guest yourself.

I would advise anyone starting out in the accommodation rental business to establish their distinct character, and build on it. Look around and learn from what your competitors do well or badly, and listen to guests. The greatest challenge for me is highlighting our individual personality, and what makes us different from other boutique hotels. You need to convey passion for your business to your staff, so they in turn can convey it to your guests.

I find it both a challenge and an achievement to look with new eyes at the hotel every day, and to learn and to stay attentive to the changes that are taking place in the market. I feel lucky to be able to work in a place that I love, doing what I enjoy.

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Ana Castro is Manager of Hotel Sacristía de Santa Ana, a 3-star boutique hotel in Seville

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