Well howdy there folks! It’s me, your resident travel guy/person here – Andy – and today well, I thought I would share with you some experiences I have had recently.
You see, I have been actively planning and booking travel for next year. Still wanting to keep most of it under wraps for now because who knows what disaster will befall the travel industry between now and whenever it may be that I leave, but suffice to say I was looking to book some hotels. One of the cities I was investigating in terms of hotels was Varanasi, India, where I visited back in 2004 and have featured in various posts on the blog.
Past trips to India have been backpacking trips, and so I would tend to turn up in a place and then work out where I would be staying. That was then and this is now and it seems I have become much more of a control freak. I plan and plan and plan until I can plan no more. I actually feel bad about it at times, I’ve lost a bit of freedom and ability to take things as they come I feel. But in other ways I feel a lot safer knowing my hotel is booked and I got one I believe I will be happy with.
Now, Trip Advisor is the ultimate I guess in hotel aggregate sites. I must admit, I use it to get ideas and maybe shortlist hotel names, but I have never booked through Trip Advisor I will always go to a site such as Booking.com for the actual booking. It has been helpful in planning this trip but I have to say, and I am well aware you can’t trust every review online and Trip Advisor is known for fake reviews, I was quite surprised firstly at the poor selection available in Varanasi, and secondly at number of hotels that clearly to me seem to have good reviews.
And I wanted to talk about what I saw and what I thought were immediate red flags when going through the reviews. Interestingly enough when I went back a week or two later to find these reviews for writing this blog, many of them had disappeared which I guess means Trip Advisor may be onto these things, which is good to know. Anyhoo, my tips for you –
1/ Always Read the Reviews
Look, this is the most obvious thing I can say but don’t just base your choice on the overall score because that is an average score across the board and if you have enough fake 5/5 reviews that is going counter a lot of 1/5 reviews and give you a medium to high-ish score overall. See what is said and look out for generalisations – will cover this in another point below. But read the reviews especially the negative ones to see what the issues are for the people who were not happy. Perhaps they are issues that don’t concern you at all. Or perhaps they are huge red flags.
2/ Look for the ‘Gap’
Okay so this for me is a big one. I find it impossible to believe that you can have a large number of 1/5 reviews and an even larger number of 5/5 reviews. And then nothing pretty much in the middle. Straight away I feel suspicious before I have even read a single review. What is going on? It just doesn’t seem possible. People loved it or hated it passionately? No sir. Big red flag, no 3/5 reviews?? Don’t buy it for a second.
3/ Generalisation and Language of 5/5 reviews
Personally, when I review places I am very reticent to give a place the maximum score. How can something be 100% perfect? And I categorise. By giving 5/5 on Trip Advisor you are basically saying it’s perfect in EVERY aspect. Location, cleanliness, service, value for money etc.
Then you read reviews like ‘Everything is very good, very friendly and clean and good breakfast’. Or one I saw a lot ‘Very delicious food’. It just doesn’t ring true, and yes I understand that some of these reviews are written in English even though it’s not the reviewer’s first language, so we have to make allowances for that. Then you look along the 5/5 reviews and you see that the reviews are all saying basically the same thing in the same way. Or at least a number of them. And then you notice my next point…
4/ Number of Reviews
Everyone who does reviews on Trip Advisor, and I’ve only done a handful because well, I generally review on this blog and now on my vlog it’s enough already! But the number of reviews people give is a tell. And one thing that really got me suspicious was looking at 5/5 reviews and seeing each one of them done by a reviewer who had done a grand total of (drum roll)…. 1 review. Or sometimes 2. And when review after review is done by a one timer, well, that’s probably the biggest red flag of all. Sometimes a place doesn’t have many reviews, that is often because it is new, which is harder to be critical of.
5/ Response to 1/5 Reviews
These are the ones I found hard to find when I went back, but I was totally shocked to be honest. You have to combine the issue with a lot of 5/5 reviews. You then choose to look at the bad reviews and discover that everyone who didn’t like the place has a scathing response from the management. In fact what I found was a lot of responses to bad reviews where the management apparently remember the patron clearly and then go ahead and attack their character in a very personal way. This is really not the way to respond to a bad review. It paints management in a bad light. I think far more highly of a management that takes responsibility than accuses the patron of being a bad person, rude etc. Yes, sometimes you get a bad customer who is never going to be happy. And they will leave a bad review. Attacking them though does not reflect on them, it reflects on YOU.
Also, this shows that the management is taking Trip Advisor very seriously (and in fairness, a few bad reviews could really effect your business) and then you look at the positive reviews and realise there is just not something right about the place. Also, you see the positive reviews mentioning the staff and especially manager by name, saying how wonderful they are. This really raises a red flag in my eyes.
And so why? Why have fake reviews? And how is it done? I don’t know for sure, but my feeling is that management asks their friends and family to write reviews. People who have never written reviews before and so signs up for Trip Advisor and leaves a single review, hence it’s just a 1 review reviewer. Perhaps they are even told what to say. I don’t know (for sure).
Are their cases of fake accounts? Yes I would say so. If you take Trip Advisor seriously enough to actually attack people who drop bad reviews, you are mega concerned about it and if you’re just getting a new hotel off the ground good reviews may be central to you getting business. Because let’s face it, it’s the 21st century and when people look for hotels and guesthouse, they look on the internet and scores and reviews are more influential than they have ever been. I also read an article recently saying some places are PAYING for positive 5/5 reviews on Trip Advisor, and others saying critical reviews have been removed from Trip Advisor on the insistence of the hotel – not sure how true these are but they are certainly not unimaginable.
The problem is with fake reviews diluting the truth, you really can’t be sure what you are getting. I would say I am more influenced by bad reviews then good reviews. Having said that, on the flip side of it all, if you are really angry about a place you stayed, you hated it, they gave bad service, you are more motivated to actually review something than if it was good. A higher percentage of people who were really unhappy with a place are likely to leave reviews than those who were happy with it.
Anyways, navigating hotels and reviews on the net is not as straight forward as we might like it to be. Although I still do enjoy it! What do you think? Have you ever encountered clearly fake reviews online for hotels? What would prompt you to leave a review? Do you have any other tips to spotting a fake review? Let me know in the comments! Take care wherever you are in the world, and May the Journey Never End!