Are Negative Vacation Rental Reviews A Cause For Concern?

I would find it hard to argue that there is any one more influential factor, as it relates to long-term vacation rental success, than having good social proof (i.e. guest reviews) about your property.

Positive guest reviews – not unlike old-school testimonials used by most businesses around the globe – are probably already a hugely powerful component of your marketing. Every owner or manager knows that the more positive reviews they have, the more credibility they have with future guests.

And in analyzing reviews over the course of several years, I thought I had come to one main conclusion: that quality always trumps quantity.

Which is to say, when soliciting reviews from travelers, I had always professed that it’s better to cherry-pick the absolute most satisfied guests to write the review, leaving the remainder to fill out a survey on how you could improve [Read: Eliminating Negative Feedback].

After all, your review page is precious and we wouldn’t want any blemishes on your immaculate reputation, right? A negative review could take down an entire organization!!! (I know because on Trip Advisor, my rentals have 258 positive reviews and 1 poor review.)

Well, not so fast...

In a recent survey using Zipinion, I asked 100 people “When selecting a vacation rental, which option would you choose? Vacation rental "A" with 30 positive reviews and 3 negative reviews or Vacation rental "B" with 5 positive reviews (and no negative reviews)?”


Results: An astounding 87% of respondents chose vacation rental “A” citing a myriad of reasons why:

  • More sheer reviews usually means more insight
  • Sometimes the negative reviews you have to look over because sometimes people will give a negative review for no reason
  • Rental “A” is obviously rented more often (thus more popular) because it has many more reviews than rental "B"
  • 5 reviews could have been the 'friends and family' group. 33 reviews, is a large enough pool to ensure real customers
  • I prefer a lengthier review history. More people telling similar stories is more convincing and reassuring
  • I want to know both the good and bad of what I'm getting into (which is why I appreciate some of the negative reviews)
  • To have a few negative reviews is expected these days. You can't please all of the people all of the time. I would skim the good and read the bad
  • I would never choose the rental with 5 reviews. People don't review a rental if it was ok. It has to be great or really bad to get people to post a review
  • I prefer a much larger sample size. A few negatives are inevitable
  • I like to see what people think is negative about a place or thing before I commit to it
  • It’s all about the most positive reviews. Rental “B” just hasn't had time yet for the haters to come out
  • Even though there are negative reviews, through experience, I know that some people will write negative reviews for the smallest things. I've seen 1 star reviews on Amazon because the shipping took a little longer than expected. With 30 positive reviews, rental “A” is most likely the better choice

Of course, there were a small percentage of individuals who chose rental “B” and here were some of their justifications: "I prefer a 100% positive rating compared to rental A’s 90%," "Generally speaking I always opt for the rental with the highest (100% 5 star) review percentage," "Rental "B" might be a new rental and thus a lower price," "Rental “B” is most likely a new rental and so the owners will be trying extra hard."

But what I take away from this survey is the following:

Vacation rental success, as it relates to guest reviews, is about both quality AND quantity. The good news is that one or two (or three!) bad reviews aren’t going to deplete your attractiveness as long as you have a disproportionate number of good reviews. The bad news is that you need to acquire enough good reviews to offset the occasional bad apple.

Most importantly, we can conclude that vacation rental “shopping” is mostly about comparison. Which is to say, your “grade point average” is irrelevant if it’s not competitive with those of your competitors.

So there you have it: continue soliciting great reviews, don’t get freaked out if you get a couple bad ones, and if you’re mainly focused on a listing site like VRBO or FlipKey, be sure to keep an eye on the review GPA of the rentals around you as those might be the biggest influencers of all.

Matt Landau is the founder of Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and VRLeap, two free resources designed to help vacation rental owners and managers increase their bookings. Pick up a copy of his latest book, The Eureka Effect: How Good Vacation Rentals Become Great for free while supplies still lasts.