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The problem with “expert” hotel reviews.

by Rajul on July 30, 2010

Are "hotel expert" reviews in newspapers or ezines any more trustworthy than the ones you find on TripAdvisor and other guest review sites?

There is a lot of argument about the problems of online guest reviews on sites like TripAdvisor.  We’ve got involved ourselves with our popular TripAdvisor User Guide and numerous debates on Twitter.

But few seem to challenge hotel reviews by so-called “professional” reviewers.  We tend often to see them as unquestionable “experts” who take a broader view of a hotel and relate it to others in the same category.

One of the biggest proponents of such a view is the blog of veteran travel publisher Arthur Frommer, who is always quick to point out the shortcomings of TripAdvisor and user-led review sites.

In my view however, there is just as much to be wary about with those hotel reviewers who typically work for glossy magazines and big newspapers.  For example, you might ask yourself:

  • Who is paying for the hotel? Professional reviewers are frequently gifted an expense-free stay and a premium room which will naturally colour their perception of the hotel.  This isn’t always disclosed.
  • What makes them specially-qualified? I find some professional reviewers a bit too certain and sweeping in their judgement.  After all, how can they hope to understand what all parties want from a hotel (e.g. a businessman as opposed to a family with young kids)?  At least on TripAdvisor I can take a broad sample of opinions with a pinch of salt, instead of reading just one which claims to be the gospel.
  • The writing style can be too elaborate.  When you’re deciding whether to book a hotel, you often just want due diligence on the facts and a quick overview.  To be fair, some reviewers are OK with this but others try too hard to create a “story”.  While this can sometimes be a blast to read, it’s not always useful in choosing your hotel where you need more mundane issues to be addressed e.g. is it a free WiFi hotel?
  • Reviewers almost always focus on “nice” hotels.  This is natural – it’s obviously more fun to stay in them, especially when not paying yourself!  There’s often little coverage of budget or even mid-range hotels.
  • Beware of the influence of PR.  Hotels often hire PR agencies to approach journalists and entice them into writing good reviews.  They increasingly approach bloggers with the same mindset which is why you should always be wary of any hotel review you come across anywhere.

For the record, London Hotels Insight never accepts money or freebies to stay in a hotel.  We far prefer aggregating a big sample of guest reviews instead of sticking to our own narrow opinion of a particular hotel.

And so the killer argument in favour of TripAdvisor over reviews written by journalists is sample size – the only real way to protect yourself from bias.

Of course, professional hotel reviews can sometimes be an entertaining read and occasionally provide real insight.  But are they really a good basis for deciding where to spend your hard-earned cash on your next trip?

You need to treat them with care and recognise that the person writing it may be a completely different human being with totally different needs to your own.  Or they could just be having a good (or bad) day!

That’s why I personally prefer to find people with a similar profile on TripAdvisor and read their reviews – a good smattering of them too.

The TripAdvisor London hotels page – currently topped by the Milestone Hotel (which London Hotels Insight has analysed in depth) – is therefore as good a place as any to begin your London hotel search.

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