We are power-users (if there is such a thing) of TripAdvisor® and we are both rated as “Top Contributors”. We meet people who claim all of the reviews are fake, who just look to see which hotel is #1 or who read the reviews and react negatively or positively to things that don’t really have anything to do with them.
But you read us, so you’re superior to those people! Here is our advice on how to use TripAdvisor®.
What matters the most to you? The basic requirements we start with are free wi-fi (Blonde) and an acceptable swimming pool for swimming laps (Brunette). Then consider other things that matter. Do you want to be in the city center? Away from it? Do you want 24 hour room service or care more about a coffeemaker in your room? How about an airport shuttle or car service? A spa? A golf course? Evening entertainment?
For Phuket, where we stayed in the property pictured above, in addition to our two basic requirements we wanted to be away from the noise of the town, to be able to use our SPG points to reduce the cost of our vacation, to have a variety of dining options on the premises and to have a free shuttle service when we wanted to get to town.
We were there almost 2 years ago and it’s interesting to see that the TripAdvisor® comments then and now are quite similar. People laud the location, the pool, the free wi-fi and the private beach. They also cite the often confused front desk staff, complain about the prices of the meals in the restaurants and aren’t pleased by the large number of large Russian “guests”.
We had the same complaints – especially those Russians! But for us the positives outweighed the negatives because it delivered on what mattered to us and the other things, though not thrilling, weren’t news or showstoppers for us because we’d been forewarned.
How recent is the review you’re reading?
Yes, dear readers, that is an 11 year old picture taken with Blonde’s first ever digital camera. If you’re researching a hotel look to check the dates of the reviews you’re reading. Sometimes we go to some fairly remote outposts (Ningaloo Reef, Australia anyone?) and look at a review and react to it before realizing it’s three years old. If it’s really old the property may have another name now, have gone out of business or no one stays there.
Awareness of TripAdvisor® is ubiquitous enough internationally by now that if you don’t see a review from the last month throw a caution flag at your computer screen. (One exception to this, which we generously grant, is that if it is a seasonal property. Then if you see glowing reviews for when they were closed you should throw a “Gottcha” flag at your computer screen.)
Throw out the extremists (this also applies to the U.S. Congress and Republican presidential candidates)
Someone will be complaining that it rained during their stay, the prostitute they brought back to their room overcharged them (again) or that there was a fish that bit their toe at the beach (honestly just read this one). Throw these reviews out – they’re undoubtedly chronic complainers who can’t separate what they didn’t like, from what the property could be expected to control.
Others will be raving senselessly about how WONDERFUL!!!! ♥ everything was! The linens were clean!!! The food gave them orgasms!!! The manager said “Hello” to them, BY NAME! Calm down everyone. These people are either too easily pleased to be discerning reviewers or are posting phony or at least hyped-up reviews as a “favor” to the property. (TripAdvisor®does a fair bit of work to ensure that they weed out fake reviews but there obviously isn’t any economically feasible way to do that entirely on their scale.)
Review the reviewers
Before we rely much on any one reviewers’s word we look to see how many reviews they’ve done. If this is their first then you don’t have a clue if they’ve traveled very much or have experience comparing properties. If, like us, (ahem) they are frequent reviewers (preferably ranked as Top or Senior) and have gotten a lot of “helpful” votes on their reviews then pay attention. You can click to look at their profile and you can also send them an email asking for more information. We often get requests for more info on our most recent reviews and reward the person by going into more detail than they can endure.
Does management respond to the kudos and complaints?
This is a biggee. If they don’t respond then they are indicating (whether intentionally or not) that they don’t care what their guests think. (Or they care but are too understaffed to respond and that’s not good either.)
And if they always put the exact same answer to everything then you only know they’re good at cutting and pasting. But if they respond to reviews (the majority) in a fairly individualized manner and are accepting and not defensive or deflecting of valid critical comments then they at least have the sense to make it look like they care and they probably do.
Some comments must be horrible for them to try to answer politely. A good one was the manager saying he was sorry that the cost of the lamp, mirror and sheets the couple destroyed on their “spoiled honeymoon” was more than they thought the goods were worth! Oh the story behind that story! And when someone complains about the weather and the manager doesn’t tell them where to put something where the sun don’t shine you have to admire the restraint.
Know your hotel terminology
Not surprisingly we seem to have to learn the same lessons a lot but we’ve finally learned some terms to look out for. If a property is described as a “design” or “high concept” hotel it means the rooms will be so dark you can’t read a magazine or even make out the TV remote. It also means there will be so many switches and programs that you will spend a large portion of your time figuring out how to set the alarm clock, close the blinds and get some modicum of privacy in the bathroom.
If it’s “quaint” or “charming” it probably hasn’t been updated since the Eisenhower Administration, the rooms smell musty the wi-fi is non-existent or never works and the staff has a lot of ear hair. “Secret gems” usually means you can’t find the place and once you do you’ll wish you hadn’t. Some of these can only be learned by experience but look for patterns!
No hotel can guarantee the weather, save your marriage, make you look like the person they use in the ads or probably even meet your every criteria. (If they do, you’re an easy grader.) But they should meet your primary objectives and expectations if you spent the time upfront on TripAdvisor®.
No, TripAdvisor® doesn’t know we wrote this and they didn’t give us any perks. Drat.