There’s no arguing about the powerful influence the world’s most popular travel review website, TripAdvisor, has on travellers planning where to stay when away from home. There’s nothing more compelling and revealing than reading about first-hand experiences by independent guests as opposed to the slick and sanitised marketing material on a property’s website. However, some of the reviews may leave people even more confused than when they first started their research.
One of the confusing aspects of reading reviews is the sometimes huge variation in experiences and ratings. Someone may submit a review saying a particular hotel was the pinnacle of luxury, offering unsurpassed service and facilities that were second to none. Yet the next review, perhaps written by a traveller only a few days later, criticises the property as being akin to “Fawlty Towers”, with serious faults in their room, incompetent staff and being the hotel from hell.
How do you make a reasonable judgement in light of such conflicting reviews? There are a few things to keep in mind.
- There are two sides to every story and somewhere in between is the truth. Look carefully for any “management responses” to reviews guests have made. Some bad reviews can simply have their roots in basic misunderstandings between the manager and guests, simple booking errors, conflicting expectations, or once-off incidents that were beyond the control of all involved.
- Compare apples with apples. There’s usually a range of room which are appointed to different standards at an accommodation property, and you should ensure that when assessing the actual room, you only read reviews that pertain to the standard of room you intend to book. If you’re booking an apartment penthouse, the scathing reviews of the small budget rooms are not a good guide as to what to expect. Similarly, reviews of a hotel’s refurbished presidential suite are not very useful if you’re planning to stay in the hotel’s older and cheaper basement rooms.
- Some people expect too much from where they are staying. You don’t book into a cheap 2 star hotel in a city’s back streets if you’re expecting a king size bed with luxurious linen, a marble ensuite and silver service meals. Some guests look for the cheapest accommodation, expect it to be as good as 5 star, and when it of course isn’t, unload their frustrations on TripAdvisor.
- Fake reviews do exist. While TripAdvisor has methods in place to detect fake reviews, no method is ever 100% fail safe when it comes to dealing with huge numbers of contributions by the general public. There’s around 50 million reviews on TripAdvisor and that figure is growing phenomenally. For a start, TripAdvisor doesn’t verify if guests actually stayed at the place they are writing a review for. Secondly, there is no verification of the unfavourable incidents people report, unless a management response has been posted. And thirdly, given the huge influence TripAdvisor has, the temptation of some property owners to post a few bad reviews of their competitors or glowing reviews of their own establishment may be too great to control.
- People are more likely to submit reviews of extreme experiences. Think about what motivates people to write reviews for TripAdvisor. Some believe their stay was so horrible that they want to tell the whole world about it and get revenge back on the establishment for ruining their time away. At the other end of the scale are people so impressed and pleased by their whole holiday experience that they want to provide glowing feedback to the management and tell the world about how wonderful everything was. Yet in the middle of all this are people that have fairly normal experiences where things going smoothly and there is nothing noteworthy to report other than they checked in okay, the room was what they expected, and the staff were pleasant. Not strong motivation for rushing onto TripAdvisor to tell the whole world about, is it?
Consider those points when looking for reviews about where to stay on TripAdvisor.
A worthwhile bit of advice that’s been floating around for a while in regards to TripAdvisor reviews is to ignore the very best and the very worst reviews, and give most weight in your decision-making process to those reviews in the middle ground.