According to one recent survey, 49% of travellers will not book a hotel without first seeing a review, while over 80% of travellers say reviews an essential part of the booking process. It helps if those reviews are positive. Trouble is, there are on average 238 online reviews for each hotel, and the average customer spends on average only 6 minutes reading the actual comments – so the average review score takes on above-average significance when potential guests make their decisions.

I recently visited Mauritius to check out a five-star beach resort. I didn’t actually stay there, however. Instead I spent the week in a much more modest place at a tenth of the price. Yet the review score for the resort was a Very Good 8.4 while my place was a Fabulous 8.8. The two hotels are obviously not competitors, and by no stretch of the imagination can I objectively claim that mine was better, but the rating comparison offers a few useful lessons.

The question for hoteliers, of course, is what can be done to improve those ratings? Try this checklist.

  1. Promise perfection and then deliver it.

The truth is that the best hotels have the best review scores – sort of. Luxury Branding, a UK-based consultancy, used over two million review scores to create a Top 50 list of the best luxury brands, and found that in cases where a hotel group had luxury, upscale, and midscale properties, the review scores did actually match up quite closely; the upscale hotels never managed to outscore their luxury counterparts. If you’re in this bracket, you’ll already be keeping a very close eye on every aspect of the guest experience, but if you’re not in a position to deliver perfection, let’s move on to number 4.

  1. Control the things you can control.

Most review scores comprise a number of different elements, such as location, staff, Wi-Fi, facilities, etc. The scores can offer very useful feedback, so you should certainly look at the breakdown very closely. If your overall rating is 8 but your cleanliness score is 7, then there’s clearly something you can do about it because cleanliness is directly related to your own actions. Of course, some of the score components are not so easily controlled, which brings us to item 3.

  1. If you can’t control, mitigate.

You might think there’s not much you can do about things like location, if that’s what’s dragging your ratings down. After all, you can’t physically move your hotel, but you can make it easier to get to and easier to find. You can provide a shuttle service to nearby attractions or to public transport links. You can help your guests to arrange taxis and make sure they aren’t overcharged. You can provide comprehensive transport advice. You could provide bicycles. You could arrange a general tidy-up of the surrounding area to make it more appealing. You could also invest in bigger signs so everyone can find you more easily. You may need to get creative, but if guests can see that you’re making an effort to address a particular issue, they’re less likely to hold it against you.

  1. Be nice.

This one sounds obvious, but how many guests actually get to talk to the hotel manager or owner? One GM recently explained that as he walked around his property he would see people tapping away on their phones and wonder if they were posting reviews about problems he would be only too willing to solve if they would just talk to him first. Being seen and being accessible around the property can nip many potential problems in the bud, but more than this, if you can build a positive relationship with guests it is emotionally much harder for them to give you a poor score. With the personal connection, your guests are no longer wholly basing their review on your hotel and all its flaws – they’re partly thinking about you instead. Turn that to your advantage.

While undoubtedly important, none of these four approaches can fully explain the differences in review scores, and they certainly can’t explain why my basic Mauritius accommodation outscored the luxury five-star resort. The final point, however, does.

  1. Exceed expectations.

The review score is essentially a measure of the extent to which your hotel achieves or exceeds your guests’ expectations. If you promise the moon and fall short, your scores will not match up to those of a property which promises little, but turns out to be actually quite OK. This means that your marketing department, if you have one, is actively working against you! Their job is to make the hotel look good to draw the guests in, but if you can’t live up to the image, your guests’ disappointment will translate into lower ratings. Managing expectations is therefore vital. If you’re ten minutes from the beach, don’t tell everyone it’s five. If the Wi-Fi only works in the lobby, don’t claim it’s available in the rooms. On the other hand, when guests find their room has a weak Wi-Fi signal when they weren’t expecting one at all, you’ve just made their day.

When it came time to rate my hotel in Mauritius, it was easy to see why the scores were so high. It claimed no facilities, so couldn’t be faulted for not providing any. It was more comfortable than it looked in the photos. The owner was delightful and the Wi-Fi worked better than advertised. It was clean, and the location was convenient. It was better than I’d been expecting in every category, and therefore I liked it and gave it another good score.

And the five-star resort? Absolutely fantastic, but review scores are all about exceeding expectations and as those familiar with the effects of altitude will confirm, the higher you go, the harder each step becomes.