Travelers turn to seller sites for info

Where do you go to get information on destinations and travel? Well, you obviously come here – at least you did this time. And, we appreciate it. Despite the value of independent sources of travel news and deals, it’s the seller sites that are attracting all the action. Social media is moving the travel market, according to the latest research from industry research firm PhoCusWright, with user-generated content on online travel agencies (OTAs) leading the charge.

In 2008, hotel reviews on OTA sites accounted for only 52 percent of traveler-written reviews, with traveler review sites (not associated with an OTA), such as TripAdvisor, accounting for 46 percent of reviews written. Last year, the OTA sites were good for 74 percent of the hotel reviews that showed up on the web.

“Traveler review sites – led by TripAdvisor – created and drove the growth of the traveler hotel review category, demonstrating the potential role of user-generated reviews in the trip-planning process,” said Douglas Quinby, senior director, research at PhoCusWright. “The travel industry obviously took notice, and the major OTAs have remarkably stepped up their game in capturing reviews from their customers and incorporating the content into their hotel shopping path. Travel companies must keep a close eye not only on review sites such as TripAdvisor, but the growing volume of review content on OTAs as well.”

How to spot fake (and real) hotel reviews

Two decades ago, hotel reviews came solely from travel brochures and word of mouth. You’d see the fantastic photo of the property, and a brief description. The actual hotel would usually remain a surprise until you arrived. More often than not, the place would look nothing like what you had expected.

The Internet has changed a lot of that, and hotel reviews are usually refreshingly honest. That said, hotel reviews are also an ever growing source of fake and misleading information.

When anyone can post a review, you’ll run into overly positive remarks, as well as an abundance of negativity, most likely because people only tend to voice their opinion when something was bad.

AOL Travel has compiled a list of 10 ways you can determine whether a review is fake. Some of the tips are pretty logical (reviewers with no track record), while others are things you’d not normally think of.

Sites like TripAdvisor are adding warning messages to reviews that may not be entirely honest, and newcomers to the review market like Oyster Hotel Reviews are building their entire business around professional reviews.

So, next time you are shopping for a hotel, pay close attention to the reviews, you’ll be amazed how much misinformation there is out there.

Gadling hotel review – Hotel Arista, Naperville, IL

The Hotel Arista describes itself as “eco-chic”, and after my first stay here, I’ve got to agree with that description. The hotel is located in the western Chicago suburb of Naperville. About 45 minutes from downtown Chicago, the hotel is easy to reach as it is right off the expressway.


How the Hotel Arista does “green”

The Hotel Arista is the first LEED certified hotel in Illinois. Being LEED certified means the hotel underwent a extensive “green audit” by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Thankfully, staying in a “green hotel” does not mean you need to sleep on hay and brush your teeth with ash and salt. In fact, the majority of green efforts at the Hotel Arista were very well implemented, and some of them actually made my stay even more enjoyable.

The green initiatives are twofold – the majority of them are behind the scenes, while others are out in the open.

In the public spaces, almost all lighting is LED, greatly reducing energy usage. Room climate control is only activated when a guest checks in, which means the system no longer needs to heat empty rooms. The hotel restaurant recycles all its cooking oil, and the chef grows his own herbs in a garden in front of the hotel.

In the rooms, wall control panels instantly control all the lights – these panels are next to the door, in the bedroom and next to the bed. With one push of a button, all the lights are dimmed. All rooms feature large floor to ceiling windows, greatly reducing the need for additional lighting. In addition to this, some of these windows can be opened, allowing fresh air into the room.

The toilet is a dual flush model, all bathroom paper products are partly recycled and the sinks feature low flow faucets.

To me, one of the most impressive methods of recycling is that the hotel supplies all its left over newspapers and magazines to a local shelter as bedding for the animals and their unused in-room amenities to a local homeless shelter, along with sheets, table linens and other items. Newspapers are delivered in a cloth bag, hung from the door each morning, instead of plastic liners.

All these initiatives mean the Hotel Arista uses 31% less water, and 21% less energy than a comparable property, and as I mentioned earlier – you never get the feeling you are being forced to be “green”.

Geek heaven

The Hotel Arista takes in-room technology to a whole new level – and was one of the best equipped hotels I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. My room was equipped with 2 42″ flat panel HD TV’s, one of which offered an easy access connection panel.

The TV channel lineup was equally impressive – offering a huge lineup of HD channels, including multiple premium movie channels. Additional features on the TV included a full hotel amenity guide, bill preview and room service menu.

A third TV is in the bathroom – behind the mirror. A splashproof remote control means you can fill the tub and watch the news.

The desk is equipped with a Cisco 7875 color IP touch screen telephone. The phone was updated with software offering instant access to maps, news, weather, voicemail-to-email interface and a full interactive hotel guide. The bedroom has a cordless IP phone.

Hidden behind the desk was an Ethernet cable offering access to the hotel broadband service. Speeds during my test were excellent – almost 30 mbps down and 25 mbps up. Wireless access is also offered, with a good solid signal and great speeds. The Ethernet cable could do with a label or some other way to let guests know where to find it.

There were no outlets above the desk, so I had to use the only spare outlet under the desk and use my own splitter to charge my phone and power my laptop.

The hotel offers a great lineup of extras for in your room – during your stay (or even before you arrive), you can request a Wii, Wii Fit, a DVD player and a variety of chargers and cables. This is the first time I’ve actually seen Blackberry chargers available for guests.

The Wii in your room is fantastic if you don’t plan to venture outside (and during my stay, the weather kept me indoors). My Wii was delivered in a Nintendo carrying bag, and came with Wii Sports and the Wii fit platform.

Thanks to the front panel hookup, I was up and running in about 5 minutes. There is something oddly cool about playing Wii Sports in a large room with floor to ceiling windows on the 12th floor.

Hotel amenities

The hotel has several on-property amenities, including an in-room spa and an award winning restaurant. A fitness center offers most of the equipment you’d expect from a good hotel health club, including showers and lockers. In addition to this, the staff can deliver fitness equipment to your room.

The hotel lobby is well designed, and features a discrete check-in desk and spacious “living room” with complimentary coffee and newspapers. Hotel staff were always around willing to help with doors and luggage.

In-room comfort

To be comfortable in my room, I only need a couple of things – a good bed, decent climate control and an easy to set alarm clock. The room provided two out of three. Like many hotels, the Arista installed the iHome iPod alarm clock, but since these are probably one of the most complicated to program, I opted to set an alarm on the Cisco IP phone (which was much easier to program).

Climate control in the room was very good – each room had its own thermostat. Guests who hate dry air can request a humidifier.

The bed was great, and the modern look and feel of the hotel meant I got a nice comforter instead of the horrible hospital style sheets found in other hotels.

Next to the bed is a control panel for turning off all the lights, and switching to nightlight mode, and on each side of the bed is a flexible nightlight. With one push of a button, all the lights dim and your nightlights can be turned on.

The minibar had a limited selection of beverages, and several snacks. Prices were surprisingly decent at just $4 for soda and $6 for most alcoholic beverages. Next to the fridge is a small snack tray and coffee maker. The hotel refers to its minibar as the “Nosh Box”, and items are located in the minibar, in the bathroom (bath salts) and next to the bed (face mask, sleep aid, intimacy kit).

Unlike most hotels, the minibar at the Hotel Arista can be designed to fit your personal needs. You can request more (or less) of products, add your own personal favorites, or request your own cocktail kit.

The bathroom in my room featured a stand-alone tub and a walk-in shower. Bathroom amenities are from the Gilchrist & Soames brand, and offered everything from a shaving kit to mouthwash. In other “green hotels”, I’ve noticed a trend towards wall mounted dispensers, but I still prefer good old tubes and bottles, so I was happy to see the Arista stick to these.

One of the more convenient features in the bathroom is floor lighting – dim light shows your way to the toilet for those middle of the night trips to relive yourself.

The Naperville area

Opening a luxury hotel in Naperville may have some people scratching their heads – the location is not exactly conveniently located anywhere exciting. That said – there is something to be said for staying away from the city.

At just 45 minutes from downtown Chicago, it is perfect for a romantic getaway.

For just $289, you get a 2 room king suite, Champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, a couples in-room massage and breakfast for two plus early arrival/late departure. That is at least $300 cheaper than a similar package in a downtown luxury hotel.

Within 10 minutes from the hotel are the Aurora premium outlets, where you can treat your significant other to something from the Coach (or Sony) store. Just down the road from the hotel is the Fox Valley mall, with over 180 stores.

And finally, starting at just $309, you can combine your stay with a round of golf at a local course.

Final thoughts

I’ll be going back to this hotel – even though it is within driving distance of where I live, it offers the kind of peace and quiet in a luxury surrounding we all need every now and then.

Their romance package is extremely well priced, and any couples in the area should seriously consider saying “I love you” in the luxury of their own two room suite.

The green features are perfectly balanced – you know they are there, but you don’t feel they get in the way. There is ample free parking around the hotel (including plenty of street parking).

You’ll find the Hotel Arista at 2139 CityGate Lane in Naperville. Their web site is at

Gadlinks for Wednesday 8.5.09

We have some pretty wonderful Wednesday offerings for you faithful Gadling readers — one that comes from our very own blogger, Katie Hammel, so let’s get started!

  • Katie offers you not 10, not 20, but 28 (!!!) ways to save money for traveling. I didn’t even know I spent my money in more ways than one! [via BootsNAll]
  • I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been underwhelmed by a travel destination because my expectations of the place were too high. This article about tourist traps for real travelers helps us understand this phenomenon. [via OpenTravel]
  • Gadling just wrapped up Hotel Month, so I guess I’ve had hotels on the brain. Our witty friends over at Travel Rants give us several things to consider with regard to the future of quality hotel reviews.
  • If you own a Kindle or are willing to lug these doozies around, they make for great travel reads — especially if you’re on a very long journey somewhere. [via Vagablogging]

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks HERE. launches today

Oyster Hotels is a brand new website for hotel lovers and business travelers alike. They offer undoctored hotel photos and candid reviews on over 200 hotels and are continuing to grow.

How have they accomplished this? They’ve been sending journalists to hotels since March of last year — and they happen to be run by a team which includes alumni Andy Laucius and Eytan Seidman. And what are they big on, besides honesty? Integrity. “Oyster Hotel Reviews adheres to the highest editorial standards; it does not accept compensation or incentives from hotels, and pays for all travel expenses.”

(You can find job info here.)

“Quite simply, travelers today have no reliable source to rely on for hotel information,” says Elie Seidman, founder and CEO of Oyster Hotel Reviews. “The vast majority of hotel descriptions and photos circulating on the Internet originates in the hotel’s own marketing departments and gets reproduced over and over as legitimate truth — but it’s often highly misleading.”

Naturally, you know you can trust Gadling (or why are you reading this?), but sometimes the only information you can find on a hotel is an anonymous review or an incomplete website. So, whether you’re staying at a schmancy hotel or the cheapest place you could find, it’s worth searching your lodgings on, even if just for a quick gander at the pros and cons before you book — or after, to make sure you don’t miss out on some great amenity!

P.S. Pop culture addicts click here and check out their Celebrity Sightings sections.