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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Don't judge a hotel review by its cover

I had a friend e-mail asking about the best source for hotel reviews. My personal favorite is Trip Advisor, but that’s not really the reason to write. I highly recommend using sites such as Trip Advisor and Yelp for great user reviews from travelers and locals alike on the best in hotels, restaurants, shopping and sites.

But please don’t base your final decision off one review. I find that especially true when researching hotels. I used the following example in explaining to my friend that concept.

In researching hotels for San Francisco a couple of years ago, one of the most recent hotel reviews was a complaint about the hotel based on the soap products. Yes, that’s right, soap products.

I am not a luxury traveler so maybe I don’t understand how the proper free soap products at a hotel can make any difference. But this woman went on and on about how pathetic this hotel’s service was simply based off the wrong soap brand.

Needless to say I quickly skipped to the next review that gave me more important information: how clean the room was, the friendliness of the staff, which rooms to avoid because of street noise during the night. That’s the kind of information that really helps me make a decision.

Now, for those of you who don’t frequent travel forums, you might be wondering what to look for. Well, the most important thing to me is consistency. If one person says the check-in counter staff was rude but the next 20 reviewers rave about the exceptional service they received upon arrival, I’m going to chalk that up as either an isolated negative experience or a reviewer who is just a bit too sensitive.

Pay attention to trends. If five out of 10 reviewers say the room had a musty smell to it, I’m going to assume this property is questionable at best, and probably has inconsistent cleaning staff, is possibly under renovation or some of the rooms are better than others. I would then weigh the positives of this place against this uncertain negative. If I decide to stay there, I make sure I inspect the room and ask for another one if I don't like it.

When we traveled to Rome nearly five years ago, I did a very exhaustive search on Trip Advisor for a hotel that offered the following: Good location, clean room and a decent price. I found all those at a property located three Metro stops from the Spanish Steps. The location wasn’t the best; the train shut down for construction each night at 10 and there weren’t an abundance of restaurants in the area. But for a quick three-day trip to Rome that saw us rising early every day, it was perfect.

The hotel, in fact, was perfect to me despite the majority of reviewers saying the staff was rude and even tried to rip them off with false charges from the room’s mini bar. We actually did encounter false charges for using our mini bar. But they were more than happy to wipe the charge from the bill following my explanation of using the refrigerator to store leftovers.

My point in all this? Don’t judge a hotel off one review, or even three. There are still rare properties out there that don’t have too many reviews to use to form an opinion, but I usually find those to be in smaller towns I might only be staying a night in while passing through town on a car trip. Let the masses form an opinion for you.

1 comment:

  1. Trip Advisor is my fav. I've gotten pretty good at sifting through the ridiculous reviews to get to the relevant ones. I've seen several reviews criticize hotels for stupid things like towels not being fluffy enough. Seriously? If that's your only complaint, I think I can handle it.

    Another thing that I don't let deter me from a hotel are rooms described as "too small." We've stayed in some really posh sardine cans, but so what? It was super clean, marble in the bath, down comforter, etc. Small rooms aren't a big deal to us.

    Besides our usual MO is to use the room to sleep and bathe in, that's it. My demands are that it be clean and comfortable. As far as the entire property, staff that aren't rude and a good location are about all we ask. I mean, how much time are you actually spending there?

    The big red flags I look for are uncleanliness, bugs and bad smells. I also look for how many reviewers mention these things. More than once and I'm alarmed.