Love it or hate it, TripAdvisor can be an incredible useful tool when planning your travel. As a forum made up of user-generated content it is of course incredibly subjective and many people discount it as useless. Personally, I think TripAdvisor shouldn’t be so easily disregarded but it should be read in certain way to get the best out of it for you. For the purposes of this post, I’ll be telling you how I use TripAdvisor from the perspective of a luxury traveller. FYI I have no association with TripAdvisor or any other travel forum and this post is written totally independently.
What are the main reasons to use TripAdvisor:
- It’s the world’s largest travel site and contains 600 million independent reviews meaning there is an almost endless spectrum for researching your next trip.
- It’s written by travellers not travel professionals or journalists meaning that a very raw opinion is given. Whilst a professional might use polite synonyms such as ‘initmate’ and ‘cosy’ a TripAdvisor contributor will just say a room is small!
- Reviewers can be very specific down to which room they stayed in which really does help when booking.
What are the main reasons to exercise caution:
- There are 70,000,000 members of TripAdvisor and 315,000,000 monthly users compared to 2,700 employees at TripAdvisor and only 270 employed to prevent fraudulent reviews.
- Accusations of racism and perversion are made on a regular basis as well as claims of food poisoning, assault and theft. The people who post those claims will for the vast majority of the time have no evidence that they even stayed there let alone that these things happened.
- People can make up fake names and email addresses. Even fake venues that don’t exist have been added to TripAdvisor and made their way up the rankings. You’ve probably heard the story of how a garden shed became a best rated restaurant on TripAdvisor.
- Things like the size of a room, quality of food, service levels are subjective and relative.
- Hotels can be penalised or receive negative reviews based on being too costly. This may not apply to luxury travellers who are looking for something ‘reassuringly expensive’
- Hotels can pay for a ‘Business Listing’ package which will give them greater visibility on the site.
1. Use the Rating as Rough Guide.
Regular users of TripAdvisor will know that users can give a rating of 1 to 5 bubbles to hotels and restaurants depending on their experience with five being the highest and one the lowest. Now if you take the example of a luxury, five-star hotel that has been open for a while you can bet the majority of people will give it a five-bubble review. And why is this? That’s because TripAdvisor has 315,000,000 monthly users and the reality is 300 million people do not stay in luxury hotels on a regular basis. A luxury hotel is generally a special treat for a special occasion, birthday or honeymoon and if a five-star hotel is not the norm for that person than the likelihood is they’ll find it amazing and give it five bubbles. By contrast a regular luxury traveller might find more flaws in the room, service and food and not agree with this rating.
For example a five star hotel that I found terrible (and will remain nameless) has 559 five bubble or excellent reviews on TripAdvisor whereas I would have given it a three bubble or average review. There are only 37 average reviews for this hotel so if I based my choice on the majority of positive reviews, I personally would have been disappointed. Now I can see why this hotel would be rated excellent by some – the rooms were huge, the beach was beautiful and the service was friendly. But I found the grounds and decor in poor condition, the food was terrible, the service not five star and the pool and public areas were crowded. For this particular hotel the descriptions the two and three star bubbles reflect my feelings much more than the five bubble reviews.
So personally I look at the two, three and four stars bubbles first and read the five star bubbles with caution. One bubble I also read with caution as they are usually very bad one offs, for example for the aforementioned hotel a couple found a very poisonous snake in their room! A person that gives an average rating to a five star hotel will generally be more discerning and I feel like will give a more trustworthy opinion. Also make sure to check out the manager’s response to see if they give a credible explanation or if they come back with a passive aggressive ‘apology’.
Also remember hotel rankings are not actually based on the quality of the hotel. The hotel will appear higher in the rankings compared to a local counterpart based on number of reviews this mean that I personally find these comparative ratings to be unhelpful. The best restaurant in town can appear to be the local coffee shop while the three Michelin star choice gets buried in the rankings. Looks at hotels in London for example, the Nadler in Victoria is a room only four star hotel and comes up higher than the Ritz and the Dorchester, two of London’s finest luxury hotels.`
Also remember that the bigger and more commercial the hotel the more five star reviews it will have. Fact: Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas is the hotel with the most five-bubble reviews with over 9,500 but it is also one of the world’s biggest hotels.
Also remember to check the date of a review and don’t give too much credence to one that is over two years old. A hotel could have taken on board previous criticism and made the necessary changes.
2. Check out the Reviewers
A great way to see if you can trust a particular reviewer is to look into their background on TripAdvisor. Click on their name and you can see their history.
Have they stayed at a hotel that you’ve stayed at before and also loved it? If that’s the case you can probably trust that you’ll also like the particular one you’re researching. You can also check where they’re from as people from the same country might have similar expectations to you. In certain countries people have super high expectations, so you can cross reference that too.
Users can also select one kind of traveller they are eg ‘beach goer’ ‘nature lover’ ‘vegetarian’ ‘family holiday maker’ so you can keep your eye out for people that use the tag ‘luxury traveller’
If a reviewer has little or no track record for reviews, there’s a chance they’re fake and have only added a review to boost their own hotel or defame a competitor. Alternatively it could be real but that reviewer would probably lack the experience that a frequent traveller has. A reviewer can also be given ‘helpful votes’ and the more of these they receive, the more likely they are to be trustworthy.
3. The Pictures
A picture can’t lie but it can be misleading. If I ever ask Mr S to look at a potential hotel for a holiday, rather look at the varnished perfection on the hotel website – he’ll go straight to TripAdvisor. Personally I like a happy medium of looking at bloggers photos which are beautifully taken and stylised but still show the reality of the hotel more than the actual website.
I find the ‘traveller’ photos that are grainy phone snaps, often featuring unmade beds and half eaten breakfasts rather off-putting. I would certainly recommend looking at the photos but again look with caution and cross-reference with a blog post or Instagram if you can.
When researching a particular hotel start looking of patterns. If most of the reviews say the food is bad, its loud at night and there’s a funny smell in the kitchen then chances are this is true.
5. How I use TripAdvisor to Book Hotels
TripAdvisor is always my last port of call when researching hotels and personally I never use it for restaurants and activities. I’ll use my usual luxury travel resources to narrow down hotel choices to about three and then I’ll compare them on TripAdvisor. I pretty much ignore one and five bubble reviews and focus individual reviews with the in between scores but still know to take reviews with a pinch of salt (such as people complaining that the beach was too sandy); I ignore the rankings. I do look at the traveller photos but I always compare them to bloggers photos, Instagram and YouTube videos.
I also make sure to check the interactive forums to see if my hotels choices have been mentioned there especially if there are people who have been to both or all the hotels and compare them. I always cross-reference these forums with my favourite luxury travel forum, FlyerTalk, as I trust the people on there really know what they’re talking about.
Do you use the infamous TripAdvisor? If so do you have any tips?
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