Business Tips: Guest Comment Forms

Filling out guest comment forms can influence a travel company's future policies. Pros and cons of this marketing strategy.

Filling out those comment forms found in your hotel rooms and cruise cabins can have an influence on future policies by those travel companies.

To illustrate, one hotel chain created non-smoking rooms. Another chain dropped telephone surcharges on some calls made from its rooms. And a third chain created a separate check-in area.

All three changes stemmed, at least in part, from suggestions received on guest comment forms turned in by travelers who stayed at hotels in those chains. In another example, one hotel chain began receiving comments indicating that even though guests could tell that maids had

cleaned their rooms and made their beds, they still believed that their rooms hadn't been sufficiently cleaned during their stay. In checking further with these specific guests, the chain discovered that this pattern of response came from its policy of not allowing maids to touch personal items of a guests such as a razor, toothpaste and such things. Subsequently, the policy was amended to permit maids more latitude to move things around in an orderly fashion.

Cruise lines, similarly, determined that guests wanted more smoke-free areas in the public rooms of their ships.

While these forms provide a way for individual traveler to express their appreciation as well as criticisms, travel companies evaluate the forms carefully to discern consumer patterns and problem areas in their services.

Generally, these forms are self-mailers, designed that way so management at the corporate headquarters sees the guest comments before the general manager of the hotel/ship where the guest stayed. In some instances, the forms may be

deposited in a box in the lobby/purser's area. However, in some cases the forms are reviewed first at the property itself (and not all hotels are, or course, company-owned).

Some forms allow space for guests to write in comments and not just answer a variety of multi-choice questions. Some travelers write in between and over printed questions, not satisfied with just a check mark. All too frequently the space for additional comments is on the meager side which in itself is often a frustration for some travelers once they decide to fill out the form. Some travelers have even appended separate sheets (using hotel/cruise stationery as a rule) to the form to more fully vent their ire.

Most forms allow guests to sign their names/room/cabin numbers if desired; but only some companies will bother with an individual reply if the criticism seems serious enough. The company is generally looking for patterns and trends so the volume of turned in comment forms is important. The forms are generally scored by computer amd their results assessed by management.

Eventually, the comment forms as well as relevant scores get funneled back to the individual hotel/ship et al. And there's always the possibility of some individual follow-up when a name is involved -- but don't count on it.

One chain, though, responds to guests citing a problem that they can expect to hear from the general manager of the hotel they stayed in by mail or phone within two weeks. After another three weeks, a second form letter goes out to the guest asking if they were satisfied with the response they got from the hotel. Another chain required that the individual hotel respond to the guest via telephone or mail within 24 hours if a negative comment was submitted.

As one hotel executive put it: "The guest comment forms are one of our tools to get a first-hand look from the guest's perspective at specific good and bad points at our properties. It's worthwhile for the guest to take time to fill out the form. Their comments really do make a difference and can lead to changes."

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