How to Respond to Negative Reviews to Get More Customer Bookings [With Examples]

Dorene Wharton

You ran a great tour! Your customers were satisfied, and you and your staff declared the visit was a success. Later, you read the group’s online review, and it was…less-than-glowing. It was rather critical on several aspects of the tour experience. 

You take pride in creating excellent experiences; how could you not take this feedback personally? How do you respond to uphold your credibility and your professionalism? 

In this guide about how to respond to negative reviews you’ll find out about:

Negative outlier reviews will happen. 

However, you want to make sure people know that the usual experience with your business is a fantastic one. 

Of course, your response doesn’t just matter to that one unhappy reviewer; the impact of your response affects all the other tens, hundreds, and even thousands of people who will read your public reviews. These readers are deciding whether they will book with you or not.

Your Review Response Can Improve Your Credibility and Influence Readers to Book with You

A whopping 89% of travelers say a thoughtful response to a negative review improves their impression of a business, and 90% say that seeing polite and respectful responses makes them believe the company truly cares (source: an Ipsos Mori survey of 230,000 travelers). So your efforts to improve your brand impression and increase brand trust will pay off. Use this opportunity to show the friendly, customer-oriented, quality brand you’ve built.

9 Steps for Responding to Negative Reviews

Using a systematic process can help you respond to negative reviews rationally and professionally rather than emotionally. I recommend these 9 steps when answering negative reviews:

1. Cool down. Then reply as soon as possible.

When you first read a negative review, it can sting. Take some time to walk away, breathe, collect your thoughts, and gather any relevant details, so you can be prepared to answer. No review is personal; it’s only someone else’s experience.

Respond as soon as possible. Ideally within a few hours, but no longer than 24 hours to minimize the damage.  The more severe the review, the faster you should respond. Be sure to get the back story from whoever interacted with this customer before you respond.

2. Provide a varied (non-canned) response from a senior staff member.

Never use a completely canned or templated response. Even if you draw from previous responses, mix up the wording, because templated responses come across as dismissive. (Remember that new customers are scanning a lot of your reviews; it’s very easy for them to detect copied/pasted responses.) Designate a senior staff member to respond to highlight the importance of the matter. 

3. Greet the guest by name and use a friendly, upbeat and professional tone.

Use the reviewer’s name in your response if it is already shown on their review. This approach helps set a friendly and more casual tone off the bat. Be sure not to reveal any private information; don’t mention specifics about their costs, vacation plans, kids’ names, etc.

Ensure your choice of words and tone is friendly, upbeat, and approachable. You want to show you are the kind of tour company that any reader would want to spend time with. Avoid snarky or sarcastic comments, even if the review was unfair; your goal is to conduct yourself as professionally as any 5-star business should.

4. Reinforce your brand message when appropriate.                

Reviews are a competitive battleground, so they’re another touchpoint where you want to convey your brand message and key differentiators when appropriate.  If your response sounds exactly like what your competitor would write, you may have missed an opportunity to slip your brand message into the conversation, but it needs to be done lightly and carefully. 

Reinforcing your brand messaging is most appropriate when the reviewer shared some positive aspects of their experience. If a review is entirely negative, you want to focus your efforts on only resolving the situation.

5. Apologize and acknowledge their feedback.

Apologize for the situation the customer had that led to the poor experience. Acknowledge any errors on your part or areas you need to improve. The most crucial point here is their review was about how they felt. It is what happened to them, not how you see it. Your review response is never about winning a fight; it’s about a peaceful resolution and managing your professional reputation.

Empathy always wins over defensiveness, so express that you understand their disappointment. However, you can relay some information the customer was unaware of or simply didn’t see on your website. Share this in a gentle and non-defensive manner to show other readers that your normal experience is usually a good one because of how attentive, caring, and passionate you are.

6.  Share how you will resolve the problem.

Everyone wants to be heard. Show the reviewer that their feedback is important to you. Even if you haven’t resolved the problem yet, there are positive steps you can take to address it. 

In some cases, compensation will be an appropriate solution. Remember, one unhappy customer is just one person, which is well worth the expense because all the other readers will see how you positively handled a difficult situation. 

We’ve seen many reviews that have been edited by reviewers after the owner took positive steps to improve the situation. You may not always be that fortunate, but the fact that it happens demonstrates that some people are willing to give your company a chance even after they’ve had an experience they were unhappy about.

7. Invite the reviewer back, when it makes sense to do so.

When you invite the reviewer back, it is a gesture that shows you are professional even when faced with feedback. You also know the quality of your experience is usually a good one – and it’s good enough to invite an unhappy customer back. Of course, if you are in a destination market not everyone will come back -it’s the offer that counts. There are some cases that you may not want to invite a very challenging customer back either, so this step is up to you.

8. Move the conversation offline when appropriate.

Your review readers do not need to see your full back-and-forth conversation on all the very public platforms. Once you’ve covered enough ground that the public can see that you’re handling this situation graciously and professionally, it may be appropriate to provide the reviewer a name (very important), phone number, and email to contact to resolve the situation. 
However, be careful here. One of the worst offenses is putting the entire burden on the customer. They’ve already taken time to contact you by posting on your profile (after already having a poor experience), and there may be enough information for you to start an investigation on your end. If their name, approximate tour date, tour name, guide name, or other specifics were provided, please don’t respond with a stock response, “I’m sorry you had a bad experience. Can you please reach out to us at to discuss this further?” Be respectful of their time, and show that you’ve already started taking action.

9. Communicate and resolve the issues with staff.

A crucial last step is to talk to staff and partners to discuss the complete resolution plan and address the issue so it doesn’t happen again. This can also ensure that if the customer talks to multiple staff members, she doesn’t receive conflicting responses.

Example Reviews and Responses Using the 9 Step Method

A list of steps is always helpful to address a problem; better yet, specific examples solidify the approach. Here are some examples of customer complaints and how to handle different degrees of customer satisfaction. Depending on the nature of the review, you will use many or all of these steps.

1. Response to negative reviews in 1-2 star range

Legitimate 1-2 star reviews 

Review example:  

“We couldn’t enjoy any of the activities we wanted at your park. We were looking forward to the rock wall, the zipline, and the ropes course, and nothing was available. When you advertise walk-ins, anyone would expect to participate.” – Janine 

Response Example: 

Janine, thanks for joining us at ABC Adventures, and thanks for your valuable comments. We apologize that the activities you wanted to enjoy were booked when you arrived. We’ve had some great weather and interest in the park, and we couldn’t control the number of visitors wanting to do the same activities simultaneously. 

We encourage guests to book in advance on our website, but your feedback clearly shows we need to communicate this better. Thanks to your comments we conducted a thorough review of our website and directory listings including Google My Business, and we have adjusted wording to more accurately reflect what walk-ins can expect, and when a booking is recommended.

Our team has discussed ways to improve our communication and booking capacity, and thanks again for pointing this out.  We want to make sure that next time, you get to enjoy the activities you want. Please contact me directly—John at 123-555- 3823, and I’ll make sure you are reserved and booked for the time and date you want. We look forward to seeing you at ABC again.

image of a Scorecard for answering negative reviews with ease

This review should be responded to immediately (within an hour) if possible. This review has gone further with empathizing more with the guest because they are upset with something that could influence others not to book. The extra touch of direct contact with the manager further communicates your desire to ensure this person will enjoy your regular, quality experience.

2. Response to a negative review with limited or fake information

At times, you may suspect a review is fake. Sometimes these reviews are a 1-2 star rating only, or they leave a very short review in dissatisfaction. As long as you can say for sure that the person never booked with you, or you see spammers are posting 1-star reviews on a bunch of other businesses, then gently call them out. 

 Review Example:    “The tour was terrible” – 1 star  – Jim 

Response Example:

 Hi Jim, we were looking into what may have gone wrong on your tour to cause you to have a 1-star experience, but we’re not finding a record of you being on one of our tours. 

If we’re the business you intended to review; we’d love to find out what happened. We care about making sure each experience is fantastic. Please give us a call at 418-323-4523 or send us an email at walkingtours@gmail (.com)

A scorecard to answer a negative review with very limited content

If this was a response from a past customer

Even if someone did legitimately book with you, it is essential to use the second part of this response to find out what happened. You may not get an answer, but it puts the validity of this review into question for the readers.

 3. Response to a mixed review in the 2-4 star range

Review Example: 

“The city tour was just alright. Our tour covered a lot of the popular city sights and history. It was extremely hard to hear the guide since there was a lot of noise in the downtown area at the time. A microphone would help the tour, especially when you had a good storytelling guide. The guide mentioned she had forgotten her microphone! I feel like I missed out on some of the interesting facts about your city.” – Jean 

Response Example: Jean, thanks for letting us be part of your travel plans, and we appreciate you taking the time to share your experience. We are sorry to hear that it wasn’t the ideal experience you had hoped for. Forgetting the microphone was a total miss on our part. At our guide meeting this morning, we discussed this, thanks to your comment. Every tour will always have a microphone and extra batteries stored in a common area to ensure a microphone is always with the guide. Despite this, we are glad to hear you enjoyed our guide’s stories. (We hire only 1 in 10 guide applicants because we’re looking for the absolute best storytellers in the city.) We hope you decide to book a tour with us again, consider the next one on us. Please contact me- Denise, General Manager, at 749-123-4876 to book the tour you were expecting.

A scorecard checklist on how to answer a negative review with a 1-2 star range.

This review is more serious and should demand immediate attention; however, there were some positive aspects -” the good storyteller as a guide,” which allowed the company to slip in some brand messaging because it was positive and appropriate (their focus on hiring great story-teller guides).

4. Response to a 90% favorable review of 4-5 stars

Review Example:  “We loved our zipline tour, this place is great, this is our second time here. The guide challenged my son’s comfort zone and made him feel at ease. The price is a little high, but it’s worth it”  -Steve

Response Example: 

Steve, thanks for your comments, and we’re glad you decided to join us again We’re glad to hear your son felt comfortable to try something new, it’s our goal to help visitors safely and comfortably take on a new challenge. We look forward to seeing you again soon. 

A scorecard to help answer a favorable review with limited negative comments.

In this example, the review is almost entirely positive. Respond when you can, but prioritize the more concerning reviews first. Here was another opportunity to add in a brand message because the visitor experienced it first hand, and it was positive. 

The negative aspect—“The price is a little high”—is small enough to let go, especially that the reviewer provided his own resolution of, “but it’s worth it,” so nothing more needs to be said here.

Develop A Review Management Process

With 72% of travelers always or frequently reading reviews before deciding on where to stay, where to eat, and which things to do, your review management process is critical. You need to ensure all the steps are in place to maintain your brand reputation.

Answering reviews is only one aspect of review management. There are so are many other elements including how to:

  • Answer more complex and specific reviews for your particular tour and activity business
  • Use your brand voice to differentiate your reviews from your competitors
  • Effectively manage time and effort with all your reviews across all your platforms 
  • Ask for reviews to increase your review count
  • Leverage reviews in your marketing efforts to persuade readers to book your services.

Are you looking for a customized strategy to manage and leverage your reviews with excellence?

Looking for help growing your tourism company? Contact us at Blend Marketing; we help tour and activity companies with $2-20 million revenue grow their businesses through a strong brand, good data, and smart marketing.

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About The Author

Dorene Wharton

Dorene is a content strategist and 25-year marketer working in all areas of the discipline for global and national brands, including hotels, tours, and event companies in Canada, Latin America, India, UK, and the USA.

Email Dorene

About The Author

Dorene Wharton

Dorene is a content strategist and 25-year marketer working in all areas of the discipline for global and national brands, including hotels, tours, and event companies in Canada, Latin America, India, UK, and the USA.