Hotel reviews come from a variety of sources. Trusted travel experts, agents and professional organizations may have delivered in the past when travelers chose an unfamiliar hotel so, naturally, people continue to utilize the resources for their future decisions. Others might check in with TripAdvisor or online travel sellers Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, Orbitz and Hotels.com. Whoever travelers are checking in with, it’s big business with mixed results.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the hotel review equation is difficult to navigate. “It’s hard to overstate how important customer reviews are [to hotel sales],” said Douglas Quinby, senior research director at PhoCusWright Inc., a travel-research firm.
Reviews often highlight a stark difference between commonly rated factors like the “value received” and whether a hotel “exceeded expectations” from one stay to another.
Oh, and those reviews that jump off the page as being just too good? Reviews that sound like they were written by a hotel manager looking for business? They might very well be.
In a study of hotel-review websites last year, PhoCusWright decided to remove one small national brand of hotels because the data was suspicious. “The volume of reviews was off the charts and the [rating] scores were off the charts,” said Mr. Quinby. He declined to identify the hotel brand.
Which reviews should you trust? Probably not TripAdvisor.
In February, the United Kingdom Advertising Standards Authority ruled that TripAdvisor’s advertised claim of “trusted advice from real travelers” was misleading, because fake comments could be posted without verification.
TripAdvisor says it has technology to filter reviews, weeding out problems and that customers and hotels themselves are able to police the site for fake or inflated reviews.
But do they?
“When reviews don’t match up with reality, consumers return to the site to post reviews of their own experience,” said Adam Medros, vice president of global product for TripAdvisor in the Wall Street Journal report. Hotel owners sound the alarm either when another hotel is suspected of adding in fake reviews.
“It just works,” said Mr. Medros. “The site wouldn’t have grown as it has without users coming back and saying the information was useful.”
Travel-guidebook legend Arthur Frommer told the Journal that he began printing reader letters about hotels in the 60s. After a few years, he realized that hotels were writing him letters about themselves. “I was being gamed,” said Frommer. “Hotels are so dependent on reviews that of course they will generate their own. They would be crazy not to.”