Do you believe everything you read about a hotel?  How do you know the reviewer hasn’t received preferential treatment and been given the bridal suite? Or perhaps been privy to hot and cold “we’re here for you” service because the management knows a positive review can put the hotel on the map.  After all, business is down these days and consider advertorials akin to all’s fair in love and war.

Once upon a time, when publications had money to burn, reviewers were forbidden to take freebies from hotels or restaurants. The joke was that reviewers would go all out to be incognito. They’d wear (perhaps) weird outfits, sport bizarre hats to hide their persona, pay with assorted credit cards and invariably ask for something unusual to test the establishment’s know-how. Some critics adopted Greta Garbo’s “I want to be alone” credo. It’s rumored that Michelin inspectors would do inspection tours alone and perhaps another one would show up at a later date to confuse matter as well as the personnel.

‘Oyster Hotel Reviews launched recently, bringing clarity and authority to the difficult task of choosing the right hotel to stay at while traveling.

Oyster Hotel Reviews maintains hundreds of original reviews and more than 50,000 undoctored, original photos of the hotels of New York, Miami, Aruba, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Many more locations will be added to the site in the months ahead.

Since it was founded in March 2008, Oyster Hotel Reviews has spent the past 15 months dispatching a staff of experienced journalists with credentials ranging from the New York Times to Men’s Journal, The Village Voice and Conde Nast Traveler, among others, to anonymously stay in hotels, investigate them methodically and in depth – and take hundreds of photos so that readers can see the hotel in depth before they go.

The Internet is overloaded with thousands of hotels and resorts who misrepresent themselves, via exaggeration and even outright misrepresentation on the Web. The leading travel booking sites simply recycle photos and property descriptions they receive from the hotels themselves. Frequently, anonymous users reviews and add sometimes biased reviews leading even great hotels to receive one star ratings and vice versa.

“Travelers today have no reliable source to rely on for hotel information and hotel reviews. Reading hotel websites and anonymous reviews, people can’t discover the truth. There are tremendous differences between what our reporters bring back and the marketing distortions of the hotel industry,” said Elie Seidman, founder and CEO of Oyster Hotel Reviews. “The vast majority of hotel descriptions and photos circulating on the Internet originates in the hotel’s own marketing departments and gets reproduced over and over as legitimate truth – but it’s often highly misleading. By pulling back the sheets and revealing what you’re really going to get, Oyster Hotel Reviews will fundamentally change the way people make hotel decisions.”

“We understand that hotel stays are one of the few things you can’t try before you buy – and usually the most expensive part of travel expenses.” added Seidman.

Oyster Hotel Reviews Hotel Investigators experience every hotel they review. They visit and stay in the hotel anonymously. They sleep in the beds, swim in the pools, eat the food, interview the guests, and shoot hundreds of photos. Every review looks at service, design, dining, cleanliness, nearby nightlife, and even the thread count of the sheets on the beds. In addition, the site considers the specific needs of different types of travelers, including families with children, honeymooners, business travelers, golfers, pet owners, and those on limited budgets. To assure that consumers get apples-to-apples comparisons, Oyster Hotel Reviews reporters evaluate hotels on 70 different quantitative and qualitative dimensions.

Having unbiased and unsubsidized reviews is good.  We all agree with that and applaud this new sites’s goal. But, how do we know we agree with the reviewers’ taste as to what’s good and bad and is it yours? Are you still going to consult other travel sites, magazines as well as friends for second opinions? I know I’ve seen some hotels that have received raveews but they’re not my cup of tea. For that matter, I wouldn’t stay in some of these “designated” hotels if I had my choice.

Please post what you think. Is there anything such as a rating hotel site that’s 100% on target?  I’d wager no. But, I’ve been wrong before and will be again.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris