Hands Down, The Best Way To Respond To A Negative Vacation Rental Review


Summary: One of the inherent challenges to vacation rental success is that you become vulnerable to numbers: the more guests you host, the more potential there is for a negative review. There is no successful or sustainable company on this planet that hasn't needed to deal with an unhappy client. This is a fact. And frankly, you most likely defied all odds by getting to this point without one, so take pride in your ultra high standards and know that being concerned is a trait of the best owners and managers. You rock! That said, the moment has come and you've gotten the dreaded alert and you need to act.

The sub-5-star review whose sheer existence makes your blood boil. You haven't even read it yet and you want to reach through the computer screen and wring its beady little neck! It is a perfect example of "Things Outside our Control" written by Sallie Mitchell. 

In some cases, the negative review is delusional: A guest who either lied, deceived, manipulated, or just confounded you with stupidity.

In other cases, the unjust review is from a semi-normal yet unrealistic human: Someone who thought your super comfy bed was too hard. Someone with prohibitively high expectations for chinaware. 

No matter the type, you're stuck. You're freaking out. And you need to know what to do next. Follow these four steps and add value to your vacation rental business in the long haul:

1. Relax

The biggest mistake most newbies make when getting their first negative review is responding right away with a knee-jerk reaction, thus letting your emotions get the best of you. But here's the problem: your response will be immortalized in time. And the way you handle adversity (in the eyes of future guests) can either add value to or detract from your character. So relax! Commit to waiting at least three days before you respond. Feel free to vent your feelings in MSWord, trash talk about the guest to your spouse...etc. But promise not publish anything for at least 72 hours. Deal?

2. Reference

You're sure to be outraged by the negative review because you know you run a tip-top shop. But because you are biased, it's valuable to reference the unjust review to a third party judge. Someone who's familiar with vacation rentals and has a good moral compass. They will most likely agree with you -- that the review is not cool. But they may also say, "You know what Matt, I see where you're coming from, but the guest is kinda right. I stayed in that room and it is kinda dark." Come to consensus here because it will be your judgement on public display. Whoever you use for vetting, make sure they are trustworthy and have a good grasp on the vacation rental game. (Shameless Plug: The Inner Circle is an ideal community to consult on these matters).

3. Reach Out

The best way to confront negative feedback is head on, but with technique. In a contest of strength versus strength, someone always loses (and at this point, it's most likely going to be you). So look to work WITH the culprit, not against them by reaching out to the guest -- ideally via phone, but email works too -- and do so with an appreciative tone. One that says, "thank you for helping me improve my vacation rental for others" and not "how dare you disrespect my baby?!?!" The goal of this conversation is duo-fold:

  • Engage the guest in a constructive feedback loop. You should authentically be considering their negative feedback in order to make sure you never receive it again. And they should feel part of the process...appreciated for helping you get better. If you do this successfully, you unlock the possibility to...
  • Ask the guest to take the review down. If you accomplish the first part, you have the chance to reveal how hard you work and how much a sub-par review tarnishes your reputation. Don't get all victimization on them, but be honest and share the impact their negative review will cause.

Note: I have gotten three negative reviews taken down in my vacation rental business using these steps. And I look at it every now and then with a strange sense of kinship: the little lesson that taught me something or the scar that reminds me to be cautious when putting your finger inside a beer can.

4. Respond

If you cannot get the review taken down, recognize that responding to the review (most platforms allow for an owner or manager response) is your big chance (!!!) but it's also on the public stage...so do a few drafts privately before you copy/paste the final version and hit publish. Like Inner Circle member Jan Stevens says, "Consider your response an ad for future guests."

Make sure to be short and to the point. Use a mixture of confidence, respect, and appreciation, peppered with some humblebrags. For instance, state the amount of guests (specifically, do a body count to hammer home your point) you've hosted without said issue. And consider addressing the specific issues within reason: one cool angle is to use anecdote about a time in your life when you went to a famous restaurant/city/hotel and weren't all that impressed...state that even the nicest places cannot please 100% of it's clients...but that the best places sure can try!

Definitely avoid writing too much because rants are associated with being crazy. Avoid getting defensive and don't make anything personal. Fight the urge to make a dig at their character. And don't get too wordy: always say less than necessary...

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.

Robert Greene
The 48 Laws Of Power

Summary & Takeaways

A negative review was bound to happen one day: so it's not the end of the world. Think of it as a builder of character. A dose of democracy to your pretty one-sided guest reviews.

Sure, it's a personal jab at your integrity! But you're also running a business and the longer you're in operation, the more increasing the odds are that someone will leave dissatisfied.

Accept that it happens to the best of us. And prepare for more.

The greatest vacation rental professionals in the world handle adversity with style.

And now you do too.

  1. Thanks for this article, bad reviews happen and we have to be prepared.

    Airbnb doesn’t take down reviews UNLESS the guest:

    – Reviews that do not represent users’ personal experience.
    – Reviews unrelated to the actual reservation (ex: political, religious, or social commentary).
    – Content that endorses or promotes illegal or harmful activity or violence, or is profane, vulgar, obscene, defamatory, threatening, or discriminatory.
    – Content that violates another person or entity’s rights, including intellectual property rights and privacy rights (ex: publishing another person’s full name, address or other identifying information without permission).
    – Content that is proven to be used as extortion.
    – Content that refers to an Airbnb investigation.


    I had a guest lie on his review but it wasn’t taken down since, per Airbnb, that was the guest’s experience.

    1. Great advice, as always, Evelyn. With TripAdvisor, it’s the guest who needs to retract the review — otherwise pretty much no way to get it down 🙁

  2. I think one more angle needs to be mentioned…how to turn a bad review into a plus. This should be especially easy to do in most cases if you have a good number of 5 star reviews already posted. The thing to remember is that future guests will see your response as a template to how you handle a guest’s disappointment (ie, possibly their disappointment should they rent from you).. That is, are you a kind, responsive, concerned owner? Make sure that, whatever your content addressing the specific issue(s), this persona shines through.

    1. Doesn’t it always! I used to have issues responding to emails emotionally too quickly. So I implemented a “take ice cube out of freezer, let melt on counter, then you can press send” protocol. Worked wonders!

  3. It helped me a lot to read Matt’s advice previously about getting across the idea when responding to reviews that there is a way to show you appreciate the guests comments and have now implemented some of the suggestions (such as adding a bit more seating to dining area) or saying that we had to choose great view and location over having lots of space (i.e. not enough room for my family of 8 to visit) or getting a chance to say could see there was reason for less than stellar review (i.e. 4 star not 5), but now have updated kitchen, so think they will be happy to see big improvement next time they visit and mention they should ask for the “returning guest” discount.

    However, do acknowledge that it hurts to have criticism of something we’ve worked so hard to make good, so sure appreciate the plan for not reacting too hastily and love the idea about having a fondness for a bad review that helped see how to do things better.

    I was lucky enough to have a HORRIBLE review from very first people who stayed in my property, before I realized what high-expectations people were going have of VRs (like a hotel, really) and how much money needed to be spent to be “top cabin”, so first that helped me shape up the unit.

    Then after panicking for months (this is why I say “lucky”), was extremely fortunate to find the review somehow had never been posted and apparently disappeared when HomeAway changed their calendering system. I believe it can still be found somewhere on TripAdvisor, but only if a guest put in the street address, which has never happened. Whew!

    Truthfully, it was so bad, based on young guests extremely high perceptions, that it very well may have totally destroyed any chance of this property ever being booked through VRBO and at that time, had not heard about Listing Site Independence. Hope to have LSI before something like this happens again (for example, imagine if guest says “really horrible, old bed linens with stains … especially creepy as infested with black widow spiders” NOT ALL TRUE), but if going to have LSI, I’d better get busy now!

    So again, thanks, Matt!

    Now 4VROwner

    1. While admirable, a perfect clean streak is prohibitively difficult as your business grows. So hope for the best, and plan for the worst.

  4. My favorite guest complaint is when they book and then complain about a known feature or NON feature. For example: they know its a steep driveway, they know there is no air conditioning, etc. Now is a great opportunity to emphasize and reiterate what you have already published on your listing. “Yes, it is true, our driveway is steep and…..” “yes, it is true, with our gorgeous summer weather and all natural air conditioning we suggest spending the day at the beach. We do provide fans to move the air but for a few weeks of the year Mother Nature wins.” It is a real opportunity to look good and the guest …….well……not so good.

    1. The issue is not to look good or make your guest look bad. If you do make a comment like nature won this time future guests will probably think you do t care about the discomfort of your guests.

      1. Really nicely put, Andreas. I agree it’s a chance to handle adversity like a pro and come out stronger on the other side.

  5. I just had to deal with our annual guest from H….. Guests found us on HomeAway and we booked directly. I do not use HomeAway booking and do not put any names on the calendar. I stopped putting names in when they started sending guests junk email. Guest asked to check in early and I got cleaners to clean early on Easter Sunday so they could check in early. Shortly after they checked in they called and said condo was not clean and was not as reviews stated. I offered to either give them a full refund and they could find other lodging or I would have the cleaning staff come in after her Easter dinner and take care of the issues and I would comp them a dinner. They would think about it. Shortly they called back and said AC was not cooling. I checked my wifi thermostat and they were correct. I told them it would be Monday at the earliest I could get a AC tech out. Temp was now 78 and humid in condo. I then checked with the manager of a similar smaller condo next door and it was ready and available and new AC unit. I contacted manager and said I would give them 100% of my rent if they could move into that condo and she agreed. Manager met them at our condo and showed them her unit and the agreed to move. Today I get email from guest bitterly complaining about new lodging and asking if I can still comp them dinner. Since they did not stay at my condo they should not be able to do a review. There are only two guests so smaller condo should not be an issue. It rents for the same price as mine, I’m just more competitive on rates. Should I comp them dinner anyway? Wife says yes just in case they can still do a review. Condo they moved to is not on HomeAway so they can’t do a review on it.


  6. Acting with cool head is the best way.Emotions must stay out then the answer will come out by itself.

  7. On my advise of my spouse I sent problem guest check for $40 to for a dinner. It did calm her down and I am not now worried about her reversing charge on credit card after I paid neighbor full amount for new lodging. She complained every day to new host and admitted to me that our condo was nicer anyway. My cleaning ladies do have different standard of what is clean then my wife & I and many guests. This is a ongoing problem. Small area and not a lot of choices.

  8. A lot of my guests will say to me something like, “if we don’t get the refund we expect, we will make sure to write bad reviews all over the Internet”. Their request of a refund is really unjustified. How should we respond to this?

    1. I don’t know how better to say this, Heidi, but it doesn’t sound like you’re doing a good job of attracting the right kind of clients. This is rooted in your brand and your marketing: the ability to capture what it is that makes you unique, build the right expectations, and ultimately exceed those expectations. When done right, your have immense respect for you. When not done at all, clients view you as a commodity the same as the motel down the street. How often is this happening?

  9. I must have been very lucky to only have to face that kind of dilemma with a man who had broken a bed and a small plastic protection in the pool. Rather to recognize that and accept to pay (not a fortune) he threaten to place a bad review. I didn’t insist and let him go. Sometimes we have to accept that cheap fellows are coming to our places even if rates are high.

  10. If you do choose to respond to a review, keep it simple. Say “thank you,” present your case, and leave it at that. Travelers have already read the Vacation Rental Property description that you wrote – they are reading reviews to hear what others have to say.

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