Oct 162011

In my last post I promised to share my secrets for getting the most from Tripadvisor and using it for maximum advantage.  I believe I also mentioned that I would share my tips for spotting fake or suspicious reviews.  Despite the increased presence of fake reviews, I still believe Tripadvisor is the most powerful travel planning tool on the Internet.  Read on if you want to learn my inside tricks.

How I Research a Hotel or Resort

Photo by Frank Gourley

The first thing I do when looking for a hotel or resort is make a list of the top 10-15 lodging options in my destination of choice.  When you open the “Hotel” page for a destination, you will notice that there are four lodging choices:  Hotels, B&Bs / Inns, Specialty Lodging & Vacation Rentals.  Don’t forget to search all categories.  I’ve found some hidden gems in the B&Bs / Inns category as well as the Specialty Lodging category.  At this point, I’ll exclude properties that don’t meet my personal criteria.  Examples would be properties that aren’t beachfront, properties that are too large (I like smaller, more intimate properties), properties that are all-inclusive (not my style), etc.

Starting with the first property on your list, begin scanning the reviews.  You may instantly notice that many reviews mention that the beach is crowded or that the food is mediocre.  If these issues are deal breakers for you, cross this property off your list and move on to the next.  Use this scan of the reviews to narrow down your list.

Don’t forget to pay close attention to the user submitted photos.  These photos often tell the real story.

Sueno del Mar, One of My Favorite B&Bs in Costa Rica - Photo by Frank Gourley

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to 3-5 properties, it’s time to really get down to business.  Study some of the longer, more carefully written reviews.  Take a look at the reviewer’s profile (this is important). How many reviews have they written?  Do they post photos with their reviews? Do they share a similar travel style with you?  You can learn alot about a reviewer by his/her profile, so pay close attention.  I assign a higher weight to reviews written by a reviewer who:

1) Has written multiple reviews

2) Has been a member for several years

3) Travels to destinations that I like

4) Has a history of writing both positive and negative reviews

5) Makes positive contributions to the forums

Also, have you noticed that the hotel or resort that you are researching has an overwhelming percentage of reviews written by reviewers with only one contribution?  For me, this is a red flag.  I call these one-hit wonders.  I tend to cross off hotels with too many one-hit wonder reviews.  While there is no hard and fast rule in this case, it raises enough suspicions for me to be skeptical of the accuracy of the reviews.

By now you’ve done a good amount of research, but how do you make your final choice?  This is the stage where I rely on two very powerful tools – the forums and the private messaging function.

Locate the forum for your destination and do a search on your lodging choices.  If you have specific questions about the hotel that don’t appear in the forum search (such as, how far are the rooms from the beach), ask them on the forums.  You will find that most forums have a friendly atmosphere with helpful members.

The private messaging function is extremely useful when you have questions about a review.  Under each review is a link that reads “Ask (user name) about (hotel name)”.   If you click on this link, it will create a private message that you can send to the reviewer.  Don’t hesitate to use this function selectively.  Most reviewers and contributors are more than happy to share their experience.  I’ve used this function over 30 times, and I don’t think I’ve once sent a message that went unanswered.  And conversely, I’ve received many of these messages myself, and I am more than happy to take time to answer a fellow traveler.

So there you have it.  I’ve spilled my Tripadvisor secrets and shown you all of the tools under my belt. Remember that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to evaluating reviews and harnessing the power of Tripadvisor.  My strategies may be completely different than those of other users.  But this is what works for me, and I hope you find it helpful.

Are you a Tripadvisor user?  I’d love to hear about your experience with the site.  Do you find the reviews helpful?  Do you participate in the forums?

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