Skift Take

Both Sonder and Vacasa need to clean up customer service issues, but they are probably not so acute as to give investors much pause.

Will negative chatter in user reviews about Sonder, the hotel and short-term rental business, have any impact on its expected public market debut in 2021 through a special purpose acquisition company merger?

We took a look at Trustpilot’s user review ratings and review scores for Sonder and Vacasa, the property management company that is likewise slated to go public this year, to gauge guest sentiment and stay quality. Trustpilot, which collects user reviews in categories ranging from travel to insurance, is one of the few review sites covering travel to produce an overall company score and not one just for individual hotels or short-term rentals, as Tripadvisor does.

Trustpilot User Review Data for Sonder and Vacasa

CompanyNumber of ReviewsProfile StatusTrustpilot CategoryRatingsReview Score
AvantStay247ClaimedVacation RentalExcellent4.5
Vacasa5,343ClaimedVacation RentalGreat4
Vrbo11,3212ClaimedTravel AgencyAverage3.4
Sonder120UnclaimedN/ABad1.5
Airbnb8,119ClaimedVacation RentalBad1.4
Booking.com27,607ClaimedTravel AggregatorBad1.4

In the chart, you can see that Trustpilot rated Sonder as “bad” with just a 1.5 out of 5 review score. The caveat is that there were only 120 user reviews of Sonder, and the company hasn’t “claimed” its profile. Companies such as Vacasa, which generated a “great” rating with a review score of 4, may have an advantage because when they claim their Trustpilot profiles they can solicit reviews from guests as opposed to just attracting them organically, as was the case with Sonder. Trustscores, said spokesperson Dave Robertson, take into account review frequency, when these critiques were written, and a Bayesian average.

Some 120 reviews for Sonder on Trustpilot — Vacasa attracted 5,343 reviews — isn’t adequate to draw definitive conclusions about guest sentiment, but there has been sufficient negative conversation about the quality of Sonder stays, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, to take a closer look.

In a review on Trustpilot about a Sonder stay in Dallas, the guest complained about arriving to find the air-conditioning not working, an unmade bed, and “trash was still in the trash cans and towels were left all over the bathroom.”

Another reviewer expressed anger about a filthy room.

As with Tripadvisor, Trustpilot has few means to determine whether the review writer actually stayed at the property, but Robertson said the company has tech tools and teams working in the background to ensure the review is the real deal.

We also randomly looked at reviews of three Sonder properties on Tripadvisor that scored 3.0, 4.0 and 4.5 out of 5. The review headlines for the Sonder I V Palm Springs in California ranged from “Unclean, hotel not finished, no staff” to “Perfect Getaway Spot.” Sonder Chambers in New York City had reviews touting it for “Friendly service and great place,” as well as “Minimalist, convenient, affordable.”

On Airbnb we perused reviews for three Sonder properties at random with ratings of 4.51, 4.8 and 4.93 that characterized a Sonder room in a boutique hotel in South Florida as an “awesome place, very private and mellow,” for example.

For its part, Sonder told Skift that “traveler reviews are important feedback tools for Sonder, and stated that on the three online travel agencies that generate the majority of Sonder’s online travel agency bookings, the average rating score on its listings are 4.36 out of 5.

Sonder said that it prioritizes responding to negative reviews written on its most-important online travel agency distributors and has teams “dedicated to taking action when needed to remedy and resolve an issue for our guests.”

About its 1.5 rating on Trustpilot, Sonder noted that it only received 120 reviews there “compared to more than 73,000 across some of the major OTAs (online travel agencies),” adding that other hospitality companies received similar 1.5 ratings. In the Trustpilot chart in this story, you can see that Airbnb and Booking.com each generated 1.4 ratings while AvantStay and Vacasa drew 4.5 and 4.0, respectively.

In their potential SPAC debuts, Vacasa is slated to have the larger one at a $4.5 billion valuation while Sonder aims for $2.2 billion — but none of this is certain.

On Trustpilot, Vacasa was the subject of mixed reviews. A review of a Vacasa-managed property in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina characterized the property as nice but needing additional tender loving care.

.”We had to wash the pans before we could cook in them, the refrigerator leaked water on the inside, the stove was outdated,” the guest wrote. “The place could have been cleaned more diligently, that is not a reflection on the owners is more on the cleaning crew.”

Vacasa responded to that review, writing “We have followed up with the local property caretaker regarding your experience. We hope to have the opportunity to better serve you in the future!”

A review on Trustpilot about a Vacasa property in Oregon complained about the wi-fi, adding “Be sure to bring some good pans if you are planning to cook. Because good lord the options are not good.” Vacasa responded that wi-fi was not featured at the property, although it has cable TV, and “we will inquire with the owner about any updates for new cookware.”

We randomly read Vacasa property reviews on Tripadvisor with scores including 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0 out of 5. A recent review on Triopadvisor of The Patricia Grand, Oceana by Vacasa in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina implored “this place needs a deep cleaning.”

We saw reviews of three Vacasa properties on Airbnb that ranged from 4.11 to 4.94 out of 5.

Allison Lowrie, Vacasa’s chief marketing officer, said “reviews represent one important signal, and we take them seriously to identify ways to improve our business or to know when we’re operating at desired levels.”

Asked whether user reviews bear on investors’ decisions, Lowrie said: “We can’t speak to specific investor motivations, but as investors are also consumers, it would make sense that reviews can present them with an important data point into how a company approaches its customers, product development and overall brand.”

Homeaway co-founder Carl Shepherd said investors take a company’s user reviews into account but they do so in a broader context that includes “company age and other metrics of customer engagement.”

Said Shepherd: “But in the end reviews or lack thereof will be secondary to more fact-based signs of customer engagement — repeat visits, and customer churn will give an investor far more insight into the company’s potential than the review count.” 

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Tags: alternative accommodatiions, avantstay, investors, ipo, short-term rentals, sonder, spacs, trustpilot, ugc, user reviews, vacasa, vacation rentals, vrbo

Photo credit: A Sonder property in Vancouver, Canada. Sonder has drawn negative user reviews from time to time on some platforms. Sonder

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