How do you determine what hotel to book in a city you’ve never been, where there aren’t chain hotels you’re used to staying at or where you aren’t familiar with the particular properties? Let’s assume it’s a hotel and not a home rental you’re looking for – where do you go for information?
There’s a robust discussion in social media about TripAdvisor – and whether it’s still relevant. The answer is yes – if you follow a simple formula to use it correctly.
Richard Kerr, formerly of The Points Guy and founder of the AwardTravel101 Facebook group (the first Facebook group ever sold) and currently with Bilt Rewards, asked on Twitter whether TripAdvisor was still relevant. This is a question about TripAdvisor, but I think also about internet reviews more generally – about the broad aggregation of largely anonymous product reviews and on a site that’s monetized away much of its original community-building.
Is TripAdvisor still relevant? Honest question.
— Richard Kerr (@KerrPoints) February 15, 2022
TripAdvisor is relevant for two things,
- Large numbers of reviews, often very recent
- These often include photos
I hate that TripAdvisor has buried the reviews a bit. There are tons of fake ones but those are usually easy to spot. Ignore complaints with over the top negativity that lack specifics. I don’t rely on a single negative experience. I look at consistent themes across reviews and photos (again, excluding outliers that are likely fake).
There isn’t one single site that’s better for this than TripAdvisor. You can go to TripAdvisor and other places for reviews, but it’s hard to get a broad swathe of traveler opinion without it.
If someone I know has reviewed a hotel, that’s better, because I know how they think and how to attenuate their reactions relative to what my own would be. That gets at something important. TripAdvisor ratings are mostly irrelevant and there’s certainly nothing worth parsing between being best, second best, or fourth best in a city that has more than a handful of hotels.
Often the best-ranked hotels on TripAdvisor are cheap, or good value, not necessarily ‘the best’. And great properties are downgraded for reasons that have less to do with the property itself and more a mismatch of guest expectations. One example I’ve used for years was seeing a one star rating given to the Ritz-Carlton Central Park because room service breakfast was expensive. Well, yeah. Because it’s the Ritz-Carlton Central Park.
Again, look for consistent themes regarding specific complaints. If plenty of guests complain about stained carpeting and furniture and mold in the showers that’s more likely than not to be true and good to know. If people downgrade a hotel’s rating because “it was terrible I’m never staying here again” ignore that because the reviewer didn’t provide any basis on which you can know if their reasoning matches yours at all.