Guest complaints in the hotel industry

Guest complaints are inevitable for any hotel – the only question is, how will you handle them? 

A hotelier who disregards guest complaints is one who will quickly build a poor reputation, whereas a hotelier who efficiently addresses issues will rapidly improve their service for all future guests. 

A key strategy for providing fast and effective resolution management is to stay one step ahead. This involves being across what the most common guest complaints are within the industry so that you can create a plan for managing them in the short term, and improving them in the long term. 

Here’s a little more about the most common hotel complaints, where and when you can expect to find them, why it’s so important to handle them, and how you can deal with almost any situation. 

Less hotel complaints, more 5-star reviews

There's already a lot going on in your life as a small hotel manager. Improve your guest experience and reduce complaints at the onset.

Learn more

Common hotel guest complaints

Anyone who has ever stayed in a hotel, motel, or BnB has likely already encountered some of the most common hotel guest complaints. Here are the top five things guest complain about hotels:

1. Noisy neighbours or noise complaints 

Easily one of the most common complaints is in regards to noisy neighbours, as a single noisy room can result in multiple complaints from surrounding rooms. Unfortunately, when people travel they are more likely to be on holiday or celebrating, leading to far more parties than usual. 

Dealing with noise complaints is a multi-step process. The first is to warn all guests of quiet times when they check in, as well as notifying them of the penalties should they break those hotel rules (such as fines and eviction). 

The second step is to have security or night shift immediately address complaints by visiting the room in question and warning them to quiet down immediately, with a reminder that a second visit can result in fines and/or eviction. 

It is also beneficial to have a supply of earplugs on hand in the chance that noise outside the hotel might disrupt a guest’s sleep. If outside noise is common, such as if the hotel is located above a busy bar, guests should be warned of this ahead of time to manage their expectations. 

2. Dirty rooms or poor housekeeping

Busy housekeeping staff do their best, but the occasional stray hair or dusty area is still a possibility. 

How you deal with dirty rooms depends largely on when the guest reports it. Should they report it immediately, you can either ask if they would be happy for housekeeping to do another sweep of the room immediately or once they go out, or in severe cases, you may be able to move the guests to another room (and quickly double check the new room for cleanliness beforehand). 

If the guest reports a dirty room upon check out, it’s more likely that the issue is less severe. However, it’s still important to apologise, note down the issue, and mention it to the housekeeping team as something to be more careful of in future. 

3. Heating and hot water problems

Many hotels around the world struggle with having enough hot water to service a building full of people largely having showers at the same time. 

Unfortunately, this is one of the harder complaints to handle as there is little you can do for the guest immediately. You can check if the issue is only affecting their room, in which case you can move them or send maintenance in. 

You can also apologise and offer a complimentary benefit (such as free breakfast, room service, or a discount). However, it’s best to have a plan in place to improve the situation in the long term, such as upgrading the plumbing, so the guest can be assured that it will be fixed should they wish to stay again in the future. 

In the meantime, place notices in the showers respectfully asking guests to keep showers brief to avoid shortages. 

4. Breakfast-related issues

Hotels that offer breakfasts can be a big drawcard for busy travellers who want to be able to start their day with a meal without needing to venture out and find an expensive breakfast elsewhere. 

On the flip side, offering breakfast can leave your staff open to complaints regarding guests’ preferences. 

Some guests will complain that the breakfast hours are inconvenient – either too early or too short in most cases. Others will complain that the options were not wide ranging enough to cater to different tastes and dietary needs. 

The solution requires several approaches. One is to manage expectations from the start so that guests know exactly when breakfast occurs, and what options to expect.

You can also make breakfast optional, with a small nightly discount for guests who opt out for whatever reason – this gives them more control over the situation if they know they won’t be able to make the time slot, or if there’s nothing at the buffet that interests them. 

Finally, if many guests complain about the same aspect, such as preferring a muesli option for example, it should be a quick fix to alter the menu. 

5. Electrical outlets

Older hotel rooms can sometimes have just one or two electrical outlets per room, and this simply isn’t enough for the modern traveller. 

The short-term fix is to supply powerboards in each room, whereas the long-term fix is to make minor renovations to the rooms to increase the number and improve the placement of outlets in each room.

hotel guest complaints
How to handle hotel guest complaints | Learn how a boutique B&B addressed complaints about their booking process

Where to find guest complaints

It’s important to remember that a guest won’t always go out of their way to complain as soon as the issue arises. So, it is a good idea to dedicate time to seeking out guest complaints so that you can make improvements. 

Firstly, include a quick question regarding whether there were any issues with the room or the stay upon checkout. This can help to catch issues that were not urgent enough to bring up at the time, but inconvenient enough that a guest would mention them if prompted. 

Similarly, you can also ask for feedback in a follow up email after the guest checks out. 

Guests will also often leave their complaints on booking websites and Google. If they booked your hotel through VRBO for example, you’ll find your reviews and feedback there. If you don’t already have a Google Business Profile, you can set this up for free and see reviews (and respond to them) as they come in. 

Finally, a pro tip is to look not just at your own complaints, but also at the complaints of you competitiors. This can give you an idea of common complaints that you should work to avoid, and of what you can highlight in your services that will help you stand apart from other hotels.

Not to mention, you might be able to learn how to better handle your own complaints from their responses.

Importance of addressing hotel customer complaints

The reality is that for every guest who complains, there are many more guests who don’t bother mentioning anything. Rather than complain or cause a fuss, they will simply book elsewhere next time. 

That’s why it’s absolutely vital to take every complaint seriously, and take the time to seek out complaints. 

When you take a complaint seriously and make improvements, you are preventing receiving the same complaints in the future, as well as the countless guests who may quietly begrudge something and choose to book elsewhere for their next stay. 

Managing complaints effectively and efficiently can also rectify customer relationships and prove that you genuinely care about the quality of their experience. This way, you can turn a poor experience into a positive one, encourage repeat stays, and benefit from the positive word of mouth that could come from your efforts. 

Lastly, it’s also important to manage complaints for potential guests who are still researching accommodation options. When you respond well to complaints on public forums, such as on social media and Google reviews, other guests will see your responses.

By being polite and proactively managing the issue, you are proving to potential customers that even if they have a bad experience in your hotel, they can rest assured that you will react constructively and rectify the situation. 

Handling guest complaints in hotels and the hospitality industry

Handling guest complaints needs to be done with grace, patience, and a genuine desire to improve.

1. Stay calm and simply listen 

A lot of the time, a guest needs to feel heard as much as they need the issue dealt with, so try not to jump ahead to a solution before they’ve had a chance to voice their concerns.

Once they have communicated the issue, that’s when you can take a moment to apologise, offer an immediate solution, and explain what will be done to avoid the issue ever arising again.

2. Take a record of every complaint

This will not only prove to the guest that you’re hearing them and taking the issue seriously, but it will also help highlight any ongoing problems that need more attention if the complaint comes up regularly. 

Dealing with complaints effectively should also be a major part of staff training, both for new staff and ongoing professional development for existing employees. Provide them with the most common complaints, the solutions they can offer, and how to address guests calmly.

You can use role playing to practice helping them stay calm when a guest does complain, and have them shadow you as you manage a complaint. 

3. Communicate your plans for improvement

Even for major issues such as a lack of hot water, it’s better for them to hear that you have a renovation planned next month than to hear that nothing is being done at all. This will help the guests to feel the issue is being taken seriously.

Give staff the discretion to offer complimentary services or products, or to offer future discounts or immediate refunds for serious incidents. Talk about the situations in which each option would apply ahead of time. 

4. Look after your hotel staff

Confrontation can be challenging for many people, and especially in the face of aggressive guest complaints, it can seriously shake an employee’s confidence.

If possible, ask a senior staff member to step in to take over the situation, give the staff member a short break following the confrontation, and always check up with staff following the incident. Make sure they know you trust them and support their decisions, as this will help to help build their confidence in the face of future problems. 

By enabling service staff to feel more confident in managing complaints, this will also improve employee retention as staff feel supported in their decisions and protected from difficult guests.

Simplify daily hotel operations

See how you can manage hotel operations with ease, proactively reduce guest complaints, and gain more bookings.

Watch a quick demo

Example complaint handling procedure for hotels (in person)

As an example, imagine a guest comes to the reception desk soon after checking in to complain about the room smelling like smoke. 

These are the key steps a receptionist should follow to handle the complaint: 

  • Stay calm and listen carefully to everything the guest needs to say
  • Ask what the ideal solution would be for the guest to get an idea of the root of the problem (perhaps they just want someone to see to the room, or perhaps they would feel more comfortable with a new room)
  • Write their complaint down so they know it is being taken seriously
  • Apologise for the inconvenience and professionally sympathise with the issue (“I certainly wouldn’t want to deal with the smell of smoke in my room either”)
  • Show your willingness to resolve the issue (“Don’t worry, I will get this sorted for you immediately”)
  • Provide options to give the guest control – such as a discounted rate, sending in housekeeping to freshen up the room with an odour eliminator, or offering moving the guest to a different room 
  • Immediately action the solution, making it a priority
  • Follow up to confirm the issue has been resolved and ask if there’s anything else you can do to end the interaction on a positive note (“Now that you’ve had a chance to settle into your new room, I wanted to check in and see if you’re comfortable there, and ask if there’s anything else you need?”) 

Responding to written complaints

Responding to written hotel complaints has its own unique difficulties.

In some ways, it’s easier than a face-to-face complaint because you can take a moment to carefully think about the options and how to respond, but it can be more difficult because the guest isn’t in front of you so you can’t gauge their emotions from body language or tone, and you can’t use your own body language and tone to help diffuse the situation. 

Try these steps for responding to written complaints: 

  • Carefully read the complaint and make sure you understand the root of the problem (politely ask for clarity if you are unsure) 
  • Begin your response by using their name and thanking them for their feedback 
  • Do not use a canned response, which can come across as cold and corporate. Reply specifically to their concern by reflecting some of the language they have used to make it clear that you have read their comment 
  • Apologise and sympathise with the issue 
  • Offer a minimum of two solutions if possible, and ask them how they would like to proceed
  • Action the solution
  • Follow up 

Handling hotel complaints on social media and online

Handling guest complaints in a hotel can be extra challenging when the complaint is shared online. These complaints can be trivial, commenters can be extra rude when hiding behind a screen, and in this public forum, other guests can be watching and judging your responses. 

Use these tips to best handle hotel customer complaints on social media: 

  • Only delete comments if they contain abusive or unsavoury language (you can also block or ban trolls who are abusing you or the business in serious cases) 
  • Respond to every complaint to show that you are listening to customer feedback, even if you can’t do anything but apologise 
  • Respond to the guest publicly, using their name and specifically addressing their concern (do not use a generic response) 
  • Let them know that you want to resolve the issue
  • If the solution is a simple one, offer it immediately in your public response
  • If the solution is more complicated or requires a conversation, ask the guest to call or email directly (provide a number and email address) so you can address it properly 
  • Always be polite, no matter how angry or aggravated they become 
  • Take a breather before responding to baseless complaints and respond with facts rather than emotions 

Tips for handling complaints in hotels

When it comes to handling complaints in a hotel, there are some guest complaint tips that apply to every scenario. 

1. Remember that it’s not a conflict

The first thing to remember is that a guest’s complaint is not personal. It’s not you against them. It’s you working to solve a problem with their input. Making it clear that this is your stance will help to keep everyone calm and focus on a solution rather than finger pointing. 

2. Take the time to completely understand what the guest wants

There are times when a guest will complain about one thing, but also largely be upset about something else. Getting to the bottom of the issue and determining exactly what they want from the situation will help you work toward the correct solution (rather than put a band-aid on a greater issue). 

3. Deal with issues as soon as conveniently possible

Don’t leave a complaint sitting in your inbox for a day before responding, and don’t dawdle on taking action to fix a problem. The longer you wait, the angrier the customer will get, and the harder it will be to find a suitable solution. 

4. Take responsibility

By shirking any blame, you’re telling the guest both that there’s nothing to be done – and that you won’t do anything about it. Even if it’s a noisy neighbour causing the complaint, take responsibility for that neighbour so you can take action. 

5. Stay calm

No matter how red in the face a guest becomes, you must keep your voice and tone level and even. Depending on the situation, you might even keep your tone upbeat and happy, because it’s tough for anyone to yell at someone who is listening so attentively, empathising, and so cheerfully working to solve a problem.

Your calm, upbeat attitude can diffuse tense situations most of the time, and it’s important to be a role model for staff for keeping their cool during confrontations.

By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of Little Hotelier, the all-in-one software solution purpose-built to make the lives of small accommodation providers easier. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at Little Hotelier. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance, and, ultimately, value for small accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations (and live their life).