Prefer to listen & watch? See the video version here.
I have very mixed feelings about 5-star reviews. And, to be clear I strongly feel that they give zero indication of the actual quality of a tour...
However, we can't deny that reviews are important to a business (the more reviews, the higher up in the search results, which means more bookings, which means more work for guides...) and the number one thing I'm asked by Tour Operators is "Can you get my guides to get more 5-star reviews", so it's a topic worth spending some time on.
Over the years, I've talked to tons of guides in all different regions and there are a few commonalities amongst those with high review rates.
In this article, I'll give a simple, 3 step formula that will get you consistent 5-star reviews (including the more sustainable 'bare minimum' version, and an 'above & beyond' version if you really want to go for it).
Three simple steps to a 5-star review.
Step 1- Give an amazing tour.
The good news? People give 5-star reviews to average tours all the time, so it's not going to be that hard to impress them. But impressing them is the key.
If you give an amazing, mind-blowing, vacation-making tour, then your guests are going to be desperate to do something for you in return (which is where Step 2 comes into play). But it has to be really above and beyond, otherwise, it's a bigger ask.
Above & Beyond: This might seem obvious but, the more spectacular the tour, the more out of their way they're willing to go to give you that review (for example, creating a Trip Advisor account).
Step 2- Ask for the review & explain why.
So many guides feel awkward or aggressive asking for reviews*, but it must be said out loud. Simply emailing them the link (Step 3) is not enough.
How you bring it up depends entirely on you and your style. I always recommend playing around with a few different ways to see what feels good. The more transparent, the better. The most important part is that you say, out loud, the words "5-star review".
For example, "If you enjoyed the tour and would be happy to give me a 5-star review I would really appreciate it...."
"...As a small business, we rely on 5-star reviews to get us bumped up in the search engines. The more we show up, the more work I get."
"...My manager bases my yearly review off of these reviews, so any extra 5-star reviews really help."
"...We're having a little competition and my colleague Brian is ahead of me by just two 5-star reviews!" (this is what I personally used on my tours, and it was always true, Brian ALWAYS had more reviews than me no matter what I did...)
"...Because my Grandma reads all of my reviews." (really, the guide I knew used this all the time & said it really worked for him!)
Above & Beyond: Mention the phrase "5-star review" more than once.
This is a bit trickier to do well, but it's all about planting that seed in their head. The more they hear it, the more likely it is to stick;
"I'm glad you like this bar so much! If you happen to leave a 5-star review and mention them, I'll make sure to show it to the bartender, she'll love that!"
[said in a wink-wink joking manner] "I'm glad you liked the bar- that'll make a great sentence in your 5-star review!"
Step 3- Send a follow-up email.
I could write an entire article about the art of the follow-up email, but to keep it simple, it's a must for getting reviews. Many tour operators have this built into the tour, often asking guides to collect emails from guests. So I'll break my personal tried & true method down into two parts; getting the emails, and what to put in the emails.
Getting the emails.
I'm a big fan of minimizing the amount of work done by the tour guide outside of the tour (unless they're being paid for their time). So for me, it's all about using a template, but making it sound as if it's a brand new idea.
The trick? Making that email something of value to them.
I personally use a list of places we've been on the tour (including tour stops & places I've pointed out along the way). Here's what it looks like;
The email template.
Note- the review link should be for the specific tour on the specific site you want the review. Don't make them search for your tour on Trip Advisor. They should open the link & immediately be able to start writing the review.
Thanks for being such a great group today! I'm so happy it wasn't too cold.
Just a little reminder, if you loved the tour and are just dying to leave me a 5-star review :) here's the link & thank you!
Here's the list of places we've been as promised, as well as a few other spots I pointed out. I hope you can go back to visit some of them & that you enjoy the rest of your time in my city.
[copy & paste list of places with addresses, recommendations, etc]
Above & Beyond: Send individual, personalized emails ("Dear Javier & Lihn..."). Takes more time, but the guides who do this get more reviews.
You can also send two emails.
The highest reviewed guide I've ever met credits his success to two-emails, and, obviously, giving an amazing tour (shout-out to Lukas in Prague!).
The first email can be the one I've mentioned above, something of value for them while they're still on their trip.
The second can be sent a month later (once they're home), telling them that you hope they had a great rest of their trip, and just wanted to send a little recipe/movie recommendation/photo for them to remember your city. And, of course, you sneak that same review link in for "those who haven't had a chance yet".
From the guides that do this not a single person has ever written back to angrily ask the emails to stop BUT every time at least one or two more people will review.
*If you're still feeling stressed about how you will be perceived, hop on a free tour when you can. Free tour guides often have to make a really hard sell for other tours, and you can see as a guest, it seems totally appropriate and rarely awkward (if done well)