Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Can we still trust hotel ratings?

It's no secret that one of the most (if not the most) factors in selecting a hotel is customer reviews.  Whenever Dr. Springfield and I book a hotel, our last task before booking is a thorough read-through of reviews on Tripadvisor, Expedia, and maybe even a few local or specialty websites Bedandbreakfast.com
Last week there was a great article in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of honesty in hotel ratings.  They point out just how important good ratings are for the successful operation of hotels--and the subsequent desperation proprietors display in maintaining them. 
Of course, that means that some hotels will post fake reviews to boost their ratings (or hurt their competitors).  A travel research, PhoCusWright, is quoted in the article as removing the reviews of a "small national brand of hotels" (without saying which brand), because their data were so suspicious.  Also talked about is fiverr.com, a website where a less reputable establish can find someone to post favorable hotel reviews for as little as 5 dollars.
So what to do in a time where reviews (or even overall ranking) could be tainted by false reviews or overly baised reviewers?  Personally, I tend to look at the bad reviews first.  Good reviews tend to all look same, but unsatisfied customers are often unsatisfied for different reasons.  Next I try to distill the negative comments down to a list of drawbacks to the particular hotel.  Then I can evaluate whether those drawbacks are relevant for me (e.g., an outdated gym), or whether they are understable given the nature of the hotel or the price point I'm looking in (e.g., complaints about the size of a room if I'm looking in midtown Manhattan, or the lack of a turndown service when the hotel is less than $100 per night).
The bottom line is, buyer beware.  Know that any review, even if it's not fraudulent, is going to be biased by the review's writer.

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