Can We Really Trust Online Hotel Reviews?
What’s the first thing you do when choosing a hotel to book?
You probably read the reviews.
Online review sites are a go-to tool for many of us seeking to assess hotels, restaurants, attractions and anything else we may be thinking of spending money on.
But are reviews always trustworthy?
When you’re looking for the very best hotel in your destination city, how do you know which reviews are legit?
Whether you’re looking for boutique hotels in New York City or a resort in the Caribbean, the resources you use to find and book your next trip matter.
This post outlines the good and the bad of online hotel reviews and provides some tips to help you get the most out of online review sites.
What To Look For When Reading Hotel Reviews
First, keep in mind that everyone who leaves a review has their own set of personal preferences and priorities — and they may not be the same as yours.
For instance, let’s say you’re in charge of booking a hotel for a corporate conference in Hawaii. More than likely, what matters to you and your team most will be to find lodgings near the conference center and the airport.
You may be less interested in reviews that talk about the check-in experience (though that should factor in, too!). Instead, you might want to scroll through and specifically look for opinions of past guests who stayed there for business and needed to travel to and from the hotel and the convention center or airport.
Conversely, if you’re going on vacation in Cancun and need a strong Wi-Fi signal and helpful concierge staff to plan your sightseeing, you’ll look for leisure guest reviews about specific hotel services.
Where Online Reviews Help
What did we do before sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp?
How did we know which Denver hotel had the best view (that would be The Art Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton), where to book an oceanside room and find a great rooftop lodge in Waikiki Beach, or which Portland restaurant served the best burger?
Online review sites give us access to millions of reviews for establishments around the world. Guest reviews can help us make better decisions about where to spend our travel dollars on our next getaway.
Never before have customers had so much access to information before making a purchase.
But with so much access to user reviews comes responsibility. Poor reviews can have a major negative impact on a business, and they’re not always justified.
Where Online Reviews Can Go Wrong
Unfortunately, like all information on the Internet, online reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Here are some reasons to be wary of online hotel reviews.
Some Reviews Are Fake
This means real guests spend their money on vacation rentals and other travel expenses based on misleading claims.
Hotel owners pay people to post sparkling reviews of their properties, and sometimes they even post negative reviews about their competitors.
Review sites like TripAdvisor use algorithms to try and detect fake reviews, but they don’t catch everything.
In fact, because of the fake review problem, TripAdvisor was forced to reword its advertising that suggested its reviewers were all real customers.
Let’s dig deeper into how review sites manage reviews ahead.
Reviews Are Sometimes Censored
Not all reviews get published, and it isn’t always because they are fake. Those aforementioned algorithms can sometimes filter out legitimate reviews. Businesses can also bend the rules to get reviews blocked.
For example, a review on a hotel that mentioned changes to the brand’s loyalty program could wind up being flagged as “irrelevant” content and blocked, either automatically or because the business reported it.
Reviews Can Be Outdated
Times change and so do hotels. Rooms get renovated, new owners take over, management turnover occurs. What doesn’t change? The reviews.
Even if a hotel has made drastic changes, its old reviews will stay on the sites indefinitely, even if they’re no longer accurate at all.
Not All Review Sites Are Created Equal
There is a difference between a review site and a travel booking site that hosts reviews.
For example, TripAdvisor is a review site. Anyone can sign up and post a review. Reviews and users are not vetted.
But many travel booking sites only allow verified customers to post a review of something that they purchased through the site. These reviews are more trustworthy, because they couldn’t have been posted by someone like a disgruntled neighbor (or a relative of the owner).
How Travel Sites Vet Reviews
Even a policy limiting reviews to verified customers can go awry. For example, people could book a stay on the website to get the ability to leave a review, and then cancel the reservation. If the guest cancels directly with the hotel, it wouldn’t necessarily be on the site’s records.
That’s why some online booking tools ask hotels to verify whether a customer actually became a guest. If the customer doesn’t use the reservation, the hotel can mark them as a no-show, and they won’t be able to leave a review.
Of course, hotels are busy, and it’s likely that some of these fake guests could slip through the cracks.
A lot of pieces have to work together to ensure that every single guest review is real. While travel sites no doubt do their best, it’s easy to see how a system like this can easily be victimized by fraudulent behavior.
9 Tips for Using Hotel Review Sites
Despite the warnings above, the vast majority of online reviews are generally trustworthy. However, it’s harder to say whether you’d have the same experience as the reviewers.
Here are five tips for getting the most out of hotel review sites:
1. Check More Than One Review Site
Don’t base your entire decision on one site. Check TripAdvisor, Google, Yelp and the site you’re using to book (like Hotel Engine).
You don’t have to read every review, but at least glance at the star ratings for a better overall picture of a property. Some sites may have more recent reviews than others, or more reviews from a certain type of traveler that better matches your profile.
2. Don’t Trust Overly Glowing or Overly Critical Reviews
If a review sounds like it was written by the hotel owner’s best friend or worst enemy, it probably was.
It’s rare that any experience is 100% good or 100% bad. Be skeptical of anyone who tries to claim that the hotel did nothing right — or nothing wrong. It could be a malicious user or a bot.
3. Look for Hotels That Have More Reviews
More reviews = more reliability. And for the most part, fake reviews are more likely to be found for small, new, independently owned properties trying to drum up business.
Hotels owned and operated by major chains do not have to create fake reviews to attract customers. Many built a reputation long before online reviews existed!
4. Look for Recurring Themes
If you notice that most reviews for a specific property mention its great location, odds are, it’s legit. If only one or two out of the dozens say the location is convenient, that’s less reliable.
5. Put More Weight on Recent Reviews
Recent reviews are more likely to accurately describe the current state of the hotel. If you read a bad review of a hotel from several years back about the state of the building, room amenities, and unfriendly staff, there’s a good chance that those issues have been remedied.
6. Consider the Review’s Length
Fraudulent reviews are generally shorter. Longer, more detailed reviews indicate that the reviewer is writing about a real-life experience.
7. Know What the Hotel Offers
If you’re booking a budget-friendly hotel and read reviews that the hotel doesn’t offer every single convenience, this should not be a huge surprise. Consider the hotel’s price range, star rating and location — and don’t put stock in reviewers that appear to have rated the hotel based on unrealistic expectations.
8. Check the Hotel’s Response
There are two sides to every story, and reading a review will only tell you half, so it’s a good idea to check out whether the hotel management responded. These responses may offer some insight into whether the guest’s experience really went down as described.
They can also show you how attentive the hotel staff is. Sometimes, problems occur that are simply outside of anyone’s control. When a review describes an unfortunate occurrence but receives a prompt, apologetic reply offering the guest a refund to make it right, this may actually be a good sign that the hotel really cares about their guests and providing a great experience.
On the other hand, a hotel that doesn’t respond to any reviews (good or bad) indicates a lack of engagement. A good hotel should be routinely checking their reviews to learn what they can do better — and responding to show their dedication.
9. The Reviewer’s History
You will notice that reviews on sites dedicated to travel reviews come with little snapshots of information about the people leaving the reviews, which can give you a sense of whether to trust the review.
The most crucial aspect of those is how many reviews the reviewer has left previously. Is their first and only review glowing or a roast fest? Odds are this is a scam review and should not be taken seriously.
Navigating the world of hotel reviews can be complex and time-consuming.
Remember to keep our tips in mind to better your chances of spotting genuine and fake reviews.
When you book on Hotel Engine, you can check out reviews from guests that have come before you, and leave your own. But the best experiences to trust are your own. That’s why you can easily favorite properties you’ve loved on Hotel Engine — and hide ones that you haven’t.
With over 700,000 hotels to choose from worldwide, you’re sure to find one that meets your standards on Hotel Engine!
Audrey Fairbrother is the Content and SEO Manager at Hotel Engine. She spends her days writing about all things business travel, researching topics that are important to Hotel Engine’s audience and cultivating the company’s brand voice. When she’s not working, Audrey enjoys spending time with her family, and hiking in the nearby Rockies with her dog, Albie.