No, it’s not to my mind all the fakes, although that is a continual problem. Yet another article, this time England’s Travel Weekly indicates.
The article notes that the Sunday Times posted an article that talks about sites where hotels are offering to pay writers for fake reviews. I have heard stories of hotel guests being offered freebies like meals or drinks to write a positive review. But, this is the first time I have heard about ads soliciting fake reviews.
I sense that there is another issue that’s potentially a bigger impediment to online review credibility — generally only the extremes prompt travelers to write.
Speaking from personal experience, and I’m a part-time travel writer, I don’t usually write travel reviews after staying at hotels. It’s not an aversion to the idea, but there are only so many hours in the day, etc.
I know that some travelers are religious about writing reviews of all their hotels. But most people don’t work that way. They write if something is fantastic and they write if something is awful.
Plus, if you read between the lines “fantastic” may have more to do with who they were with at the hotel or one great gesture by an employee. “Awful” can be one employee’s rudeness, getting sick, or having a hotel not upgrade a discount room.
I’ve also noticed that Priceline and other “opaque site” type bookings engender a lot of comments, either from people who are thrilled to get a decent sized room with indoor plumbing for a good price, or from people who don’t read the fine print saying that bedding and views cannot be specified.
Recently, I wrote a review where the hotel was good but not fantastic. But, honestly, the reason I wrote it was because the hotel, an airport Marriott, had so many poor reviews.
I wanted to simply add a positive opinion. “Yes, it is an older property and the bathrooms aren’t big,” I wrote, “But the staff was nice, the rooms were perfectly comfortable and the bedding was new.” I concluded, “Travelers with an early or late flight would have a decent stay at a relatively reasonable price.”
My sense is that Tripadvisor realizes the problem too. Because they have been sending me regular emails since, telling me how many people have read the review, how many think it is “helpful,” etc., informing me that if I keep writing I will be a higher level contributor.
As far as combating the problem, Tripadvisor and other sites would say that people just need to start writing more reviews to help their fellow travelers and themselves — that is essentially free labor.
Failing that, my advice is simply that as much as possible, take aggregate opinions over individual reviews and try to read between the lines. In addition, get opinions from multiple sources. If you have a travel agent, ask them if they have any special resources. (Some travel agents, for example, use Star Service, which is still opinionated since it’s written by individuals, but they are paid and assigned the reviews.)
Consider that even in the age of seemingly unlimited user-generated content, look at actual professionally written guidebooks. Finally, if you really are just looking for a clean, comfortable room, remember such rooms don’t usually inspire rants or raves.