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Guests complaints: beware of the generation gap

To better address hotel guests complaints, you need to take into consideration the generation gap

I don’t know about you, but I believe the general feeling within the hoteliers’ community is that guests are complaining much more today than they did in the past.

According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) this is not only a feeling, it is a fact: Some 66% of consumers surveyed in 2020 said they had experienced a problem […], up from 56% in 2017, when the survey was last conducted. Unhappy customers are more likely to publicize their negative experiences than they did in the past: Customers with complaints are increasingly using email, live chat and social media—43%, compared with 12% in 2017”, the WSJ adds.

What’s more, according to smallbizgenius, “it takes 12 positive experiences to compensate for one unresolved negative experience. Expensive.

On the other hand, CCMC explains that only 10% of happy customers will relate their positive experience on social medias. 66% vs 10%. In other words, they are more complaining guests willing to voice their opinions worldwide against a large majority of happy consumers remaining quiet.

Does that mean that guests service quality decreased in the same proportion complaints increased? Not at all! It is the way guests’ expect their issues to be handled that changed. According to a 2019 Zingle study, “42 percent of respondents say they would return to a hotel if it were able to turn a poor experience into a positive one by solving a problem immediately, and an additional 52 percent would certainly consider it. The important word here is “immediately”. Guests do not want to wait to see their problem solved.

Interestingly enough, the study also found that 45% would prefer to report the issue through SMS, eMail, or a messaging application, versus over the phone or in person. 58% of Gen Z respondents (individuals born between 1997 and 2012) would prefer to answer via text while 56% of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) would. As expected, only 36% of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) would share this opinion.

Obviously, it is not the quality of service that changed. It is the way customers are feeling about issues and how to handle them that is dramatically different.

We cannot use the old guests complaining tactics anymore: What worked with Baby Boomers and following Generation X is totally useless with Millennials and ever more so Gen Z!

This is where the issue lies: We, hoteliers, haven’t taken enough into consideration new generations expectations and habits. Because a great share among us at top positions belong to the Baby Boomers and X generations, we thought that what was told us when we joined the industry so many years ago is still valid today.

Anyone working for an international brand at a rank & file or mid-management position has been trained to handle complaining guests by…

  • First isolating them (especially if they share their complaint loudly and / or angrily)

  • Then listening,

  • Emphasizing,

  • Apologizing,

  • Offering a solution and finally

  • Following up.

It is very well when guests go to the Front Desk or the Duty Manager to voice their issue. Baby Boomers and Generation X will certainly do. As seen earlier, a great majority of following generations in the best of cases will contact the hotel management by SMS, eMails, or social medias, not willing to meet face-to-face with a hotel representative. Hence, baring us from applying the traditional ‘handling guests complaints’ approach.

And what to say of those guests who complain exclusively online, and most likely after they checked-out:

  • Social media pages

  • Online review sites (TripAdvisor, Yelp,…)

  • Third-party booking sites (,,…)

This is the reason why it is important for hotels / hospitality brands to send guests a short survey as soon as they check-out, asking them to share their experience. The response rate is usually quite low, between 20% and 30% according to Qualtrics, but at least it is a sure way to start communicating with unhappy guests. But...

How to handle those younger customers who stubbornly refuse to engage conversation directly with the hotel (including through hotel surveys) and prefer sharing their experience online?

Answering them systematically is the key – wherever they are communicating, or any other platform.

Unfortunately, only few hotels are making this type of communication a priority. According to Revinate, in 2020 only 33% of hotels worldwide responded to guests online comments (10.6% down from 2019). Not all hotel categories respond the same way: 57% of luxury hotels responded to guests comments, while only 11.8% of economy properties did. On the other hand, hoteliers tend to pay more attention to 2* reviews (36%) and 5* comments (35%).

This shows that while hoteliers are well trained and equipped to address older generations guests’ complaints, they are mostly clueless when it comes to handle newer generations. Of course, platforms like strongly entice hoteliers to reply to every single comment that are made about their properties. Usually, hotels use a ‘fit them all’ set of answers that defeat the purpose, while ignoring other platforms and social medias. Properly handling this newer way of communication requires dedicated employees and is time consuming. Nevertheless, it is upmost important, as not managing these criticisms properly may prove being extremely damaging:

  • Revenue loss An unhappy guest will not come back to that hotel. On the other hand, attracting a new guest is five times more expensive than a returning customer. Therefore, all must be done to retain existing guests.

  • Damage hotel’s reputation Before booking a hotel (or buying a new item), more and more consumers check online comments made by previous guests. If they see low ratings or too many negative comments unanswered or not properly addressed, they will most likely bring their business somewhere else.

  • Bad SEO ranking Major search engines (Chrome, Bing,…) associate Web sites to comments. If they see a majority of negative comments, they will automatically retrograde that hotel’s Web site / page so low in the search results that no one will ever find them. Hence easily losing potential business, as customers will not be aware that hotel even exists!

We, as the hotelier community, need to rethink they way we deal with guests, not only when it comes to complaints, but in general. Baby Boomers, like their fathers, were happy to be recognized at the local level and having their needs addressed in a very personalized way.

Younger generations see the world through very different glasses and want to be treated the way they expect. End of story. Therefore we need to understand and recognize their expectations to properly address them.

This is exactly what we are doing, at Amsa Hospitality: We understand that the world is changing and that we must change with it. As our company’s vision clearly states, we respect the ‘old fashion way’ while at the same time we know that to be and stay the ‘hallmark of Arabian hospitality’, fully online with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, we need to be at the forefront of changes, starting with our daily lives and interpersonal relationships to better implement them in the way we work and develop Amsa Hospitality to new highs.


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