There has been much debate recently about fraudulent hotel reviews on TripAdvisor. The site now even posts warnings against some hotels.
If this 800-pound gorilla of online travel with more than 20 million reviews is really being manipulated, can we continue to trust it?
I’ll declare my hand upfront and admit I’m a TripAdvisor fan (for a contrary view, please feel free to click here).
So I feel that some of the site’s critics are missing the point: namely, that TripAdvisor is one tool among many. And it’s up to us to use it well.
In that spirit, this “user guide” aims to help you find a great hotel with TripAdvisor:
- Search Tripadvisor from Google. I love Tripadvisor, but not its internal search engine! I find it faster to type “London hotels TripAdvisor” into Google to link directly to the site’s London hotels page in ranked order.
- Check the number of reviews. This is shown below “Traveler Rating”. For a credible hotel rating there should be hundreds of reviews. If there aren’t for your destination, you’ll definitely need to check other sources.
- Prioritise recent reviews. Hotels are dynamic beasts. Changes in management and staff, renovations, new facilities, etc. are very frequent. Give weight to more recent reviews if there’s a good sample.
- Click on the reviewer. How many other reviews have they given? What’s the pattern of ratings? Common sense will tell you if it might be a fraud. Also check if their background is similar to yours – a businessman’s view may matter less if you’re a young family.
- Ignore outliers. If the review is too gushing or ultra-negative in isolation, take it with a pinch of salt. This doesn’t always mean it’s false. Your gut will tell you if it sounds dodgy in the context of others.
- See reviews in the context of price. You’ll find mostly 4 and 5 star hotels in London’s top 50. But given their rates, they darned well should be in the top 50! You may get best value when you spot a 3 star hotel where staff seem to think they’re working at a 5 star e.g. Apex City of London Hotel in the current top 10, based on over 500 reviews.
- Look for a specific pattern. It has more weight if a hotel has a sea of positive comments which focus repeatedly on specifics (e.g. quality of bed, staff friendliness with real examples, etc.). It’s easy to label somewhere “superb” or “awful” but harder to give examples.
- Search smartly. Slice and dice your TripAdvisor search in insightful ways. Cast your eye to TripAdvisor’s left margin as you scroll down to browse hotels by neighbourhood, amenities, brand and consumer profile (e.g. top London hotels for seniors, honeymooners, families, etc).
- Look beyond the headline ranking. Before dismissing a hotel, explore the specific attributes on which it fails. For example, a mediocre restaurant may not matter if you’re not planning to eat there. Location can be more critical than comfort: who goes to a destination just to stay in a hotel? You could save big bucks at lower-ranked gems.
- See how management responds. When choosing hotels to feature in London Hotels Insight, we give high priority to how management handles complaints. To TripAdvisor’s credit, it lets you see how hotels respond directly to reviews. This tells you a lot about the hotel.
- Check other guest review sites. There’s a host of information out there to supplement your TripAdvisor research. Many hotel booking websites also carry guest reviews. Beware of generic, unchanging information which sounds like it came from a press release.
- Use blogs. This blog’s entire mission is to aggregate information from guest reviews to save you time trawling through them. We pre-select London hotels with good guest reviews near key attractions. And there are many other travel blogs out there to research any destination.
- Use Twitter. Here’s a list of some great Twitter travel resources, courtesy of the Velvet Escape blog. Twitter lets you ask anyone’s opinion on a hotel in real time. People often respond instantly. If you need a hotel in London, do follow London Hotels Insight on Twitter.
The main thing about TripAdvisor is that it’s just one resource, albeit an especially useful one. You need to be sceptical to get value from it.
For anyone not yet convinced about the site’s value, I urge you to close your eyes and imagine what the world was like before TripAdvisor.
Doing that exercise myself I vividly recall dodgy hostels in Thailand, dirty bathrooms in Italy and creaky beds in Venezuela.
The truth is that TripAdvisor makes travel more accessible, despite its flaws.
It’s a tool for hunting down value, making you confident of finding a decent place to stay for any budget pretty much anywhere in the world.
Before TripAdvisor we had to rely on self-serving travel agents or professional reviewers with their own (often subconscious) bias, or guidebooks that were out of date before they reached the printer.
Even my trusty old Lonely Planet guidebooks (which I still cherish) are barely used now there is such a wealth of up-to-date reviews online.
Given TripAdvisor’s huge content, there will always be misleading reviews. But I think most online travel consumers are savvy enough to pick them up.
And the problems are not as widespread as some people make out.
Most hoteliers realise the foolishness and futility of trying to manipulate their reviews, particularly in a hotel scene as dynamic as London’s.
A hotel stay is a personal experience. What you may love, I might hate and vice versa. Even genuine reviews should not be taken at face value.
That’s the real power that sites like TripAdvisor put into your hand: ultimately, it’s you who decides!