First some history and background – I’ll keep it brief.
TripAdvisor began in 2000, and soon launched the new concept where guests review the hotel in which they had just stayed. Today TA claims to be the world’s largest travel site with over 300 million members, and over 500 million reviews of not just hotels but also restaurants, attractions and all sorts of travel related businesses.
At the outset there are certain things to understand. TripAdvisor is no longer just a review site but a mega-search engine for hotels as well as other travel options. So if you now go onto TA to seek a hotel in a particular location, you can certainly look at the guest reviews on the TA site. But TA will also offer you the same hotel on a number of other sites at various prices. And when you click on any one of those sites and are taken there, you’ll see the reviews that are exclusive to that particular site.
So how how valid are these reviews, and what do we need to be aware of when evaluating them? Sometimes the reports on a hotel can be quite conflicting, so who is telling the truth? Is the hotel as great as some say, or is it a dump as claimed by others?
The thing to keep in mind at all times is that each review is just an opinion based on a stay at a particular time, in a particular room, in the property under review. The guest may have been having a bad day, they may have struck an unhelpful staff member, the A/C may have broken down…there are all sorts of reasons for a guest giving a bad review. Or the guest may just be a difficult person who is rude, demanding, and not very nice – there are some of those about and some put up reviews on these sites.
And of course the reverse is true – for all sorts of reasons a guest may over-rate the hotel.
Firstly let’s have some fun and put the reviewers into several categories and evaluate each one’s validity. Then I’ll finish this blog by giving my tips on what to look for in hotel reviews.
First time travellers. If you can see from the info supplied by the site that it is their first review, then they may be staying in a hotel/motel/apartment for the very first time. Also they are not hard to spot from their comments, and sometimes they are overly critical or easily impressed.
“Professional” reviewers. You can spot them by the number of reviews and their level of badge. Yes the more reviews the better your badge – just like the stars you got at school! This type of reviewer can often be identified by the sometimes pompous manner of expression, and the way that they take themselves so seriously – and talk down to the reader. They often make valid points, but can often go on too long and nitpick. Just remember that just because they have stayed at lots of hotels, does not automatically make them a good “hotel inspector”.
Miserable travellers looking to find fault. Some people go on holiday so that they can spend their time complaining. The room was small (but cheap), the staff didn’t carry their luggage (in a 3 star hotel?), the lift was small (it’s heritage listed). And my favourite – the toast was cold. Some of their comments may be valid, so look for comments about matters that are important to you.
Upgraded guests. People who have been upgraded for free to a superior room or suite are naturally very, very happy and can over–rate the hotel. This can be a real trap when reading reviews so look out for it. Treat their comments with caution if you are booking a standard room.
Liars. Yes it is a sad fact, but when some people are dissatisfied with a hotel and complain to the staff, they then bend the truth in terms of the response by the management. This can be often seen when the management replies to the review giving their side of the story. Sadly, there are dishonest people out there, and some turn up on hotel review sites.
People who make it clear that they have wealth and are used to the better things in life but are staying in cheap accommodation. When the company pays they stay 5-star. But when they pay they stay 3-star but still expect 5-star! They are hard to satisfy, and can be very critical without good reason.
People who are fair in their comments and explain in detail why they say what they do. They will often give generous praise where it is due, and they sound like nice people. I’m sure that you and I fit into this category.. well I do anyway. 🙂 I take most notice of them.
So what factors do I think you should take into consideration when looking at hotel reviews?
1. What is important to you? Is it location, star rating, style, room size, facilities ? Then look for comments about those things. If enough people are making the same comment about a particular facet of the hotel, then it is probably true.
2. Room type. When reading reviews of a hotel make sure that you are looking at reviews of the same standard/category that you are considering. Some hotels, especially traditional ones, often have a very wide variety of room types from basic to palatial.
3. The most recent reviews are the most valid. I look in particular at the last 3 months. I wouldn’t bother with reviews over 12 months old. In recent times there may have been new management or a total refurbishment which can make a big impact on comments. Also the reverse is true – hotels can go downhill rapidly, so again look at recent reviews. If there aren’t any it may just be that things have been quiet, but take care.
4. Response by management to critical reviews. If management fails to respond to bad reviews, then I would be giving the hotel a miss. They don’t care about reviews or the comments. If the management genuinely addresses the issues raised, perhaps apologises and tells what they are doing to rectify, then I may let them off the hook – as long as there is not a pattern of similar complaints. If it is clear that the response is the same worded reply to all complaints, then that is as bad as no reply!
5. Dining. You will often see people critical of the cost of meals in a hotel. If it is breakfast then they should have paid an inclusive rate when booking. My rates to travel agents have always included breakfast as do most tour operators. If you are booking online, then look for a room and breakfast rate. It will generally be cheaper than paying extra when you get there. Yes you may be able to get it cheaper down the street, or you may not be a breakfast person. Either way, give it some thought. Dinner in a hotel can be expensive, especially in a 5–star, or if staying at an isolated hotel or on an island! I do like the facility of room service when I am too lazy/tired to leave my room.
6. Location. If you want quiet, look at comments about noise, especially if you will be staying in the centre of a city. Be aware that locations near major train stations are often down-market (but not always), and look out for nightclub and red light districts. If you are in the country be aware that birds can be noisy at sunrise!
7. Rating. On TA I look at ratings over 8 out of 10 but on Booking.com I look for a rating over 8.5. For some reason it seems to me that the latter seems to be a bit more lenient. Why? Just my experience.
8. Ranking. This is a very tricky one. We certainly all look at the numerical ranking of the hotel compared with the total hotels in that location so how does it work?
A hotel gets its ranking from TA according to a closely guarded formula which takes into consideration the quality of reviews, number of reviews over a given time, and how recent the reviews. I see some hotels getting consistently absolutely top ratings by guests, and still not getting even in the top 10 or 15% in their location. I am told it may be because of insufficient reviews of that hotel over a period of time in comparison with other hotels, but I am not convinced!
Therefore if it is a hotel that I may be considering and it is in the top 20%, then I am still prepared to consider it by looking closely at the reviews. Experience has told me that it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the top 10% to be good, and you will even see award winners down there below the top 10%. So the TA ranking is still all a mystery to me, but I am not alone.
9. Look at a number of review sites for the same hotel, as well as the hotel’s own site. When you’ve looked at quite a number you’ll know whether it is for you or not..
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