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I caved…

June 28, 2010

About a month ago, I wrote a post about an upcoming vacation.  In it, I declared my desire to go “community free” and plan a vacation using just one of our Frommer’s travel guides.

You can tell from the title of this post how well that went.

I don’t mean that I didn’t get what I wanted from the guidebooks.  They were fine for what I needed.  What happened was indecision. 

My husband began expressing doubts about our choice of hotel.  We selected a hotel based on past experience and the write ups in the Frommers guide.  Fine, right?  Wrong.  Mr. IT was reading the Trip Advisor and Yelp sites and saw a lot of negative comments about our hotel.  I was then sucked in and began reading them too.  I couldn’t stop!  One bad review, followed by a so so one, followed by a really awful one.  Rinse and repeat.  Then I started to panic. 

These people have JUST been at the hotel.  Their horrible experiences will be MY horrible experiences!  And so on, and so on.

This is no good, I thought.  So I went onto some of the Trip Advisor community boards and asked if my hotel choice would doom me to failure.  Most people said no, the hotel we selected was more than fine, and just what I needed.  I relaxed, slightly. 

And you know what?  When we got to the hotel, everything was fine.  We were even given a complimentary upgrade.  We loved everything about our stay. 

Which brings me to the flaw in sites like Trip Advisor.  Reading what may be a one-off review isn’t always the best way to get travel information.  I’m reminded about a dinner with our travel publisher where he talked about a recent hotel stay in Miami.  I’m probably not getting all the details right, but the spirit is there.  He booked a room at a hotel for one night and then read the Trip Advisor reviews.  Several things stood out:

* Hotel was in a dodgy neighborhood

* Hotel smelled

* Hotel was too dark

* Hotel charged a ridiculous resort fee

OK, he said.  I can manage.  It’s only for one night.

When he got there, the hotel was in an older historic neighborhood, not exactly heavily populated at night like the clubbier South Beach hotels were.  The lobby was dimly lit, which he considered to be “mood lighting” and rather welcoming after a long day of travel.  There were lovely and fragrant flowers in the lobby, perhaps the “smell” that one reviewer referenced.  When he went to find a towel to take to the pool, they asked him for a $7 deposit that would be returned when he brought back the towel.  Yes, they called it a resort fee, but it was anything but one.

There you have it.  A digital age version of you say tomato, I say to-MAH-toe.

It’s all about perspective on these sites.  What was for one person a horrible stay turned into a great visit for another.  It’s all in what you are looking for at the time, and that’s what you can’t always get from a site like Trip Advisor.  It’s one reason that I will continue to turn to my Frommers (yes, and other publishers too) travel guides when I plan a trip.  I can also see getting into interactive conversations on the community boards within Trip Advisor where you can get a little deeper into a conversation to figure out things better. 

Guess I better pull out the Frommers guide to Singapore and Malaysia.  I’ve got some homework to do!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2010 12:04 pm

    We ran into a similar situation as a family who must relocate for my husband’s job every few years as what one person thought was a “great” school was a school I would never even put on my radar. After one puzzling experience regarding a “great” preschool that I did not feel was all that “great.” I learned to ask, “What makes it great? What do the teachers do that you think is wonderful?”

    There is no universally acceptable standard of “great” and like you wrote in your post, perceptions can be very different too.

  2. Steve Hayes permalink
    June 28, 2010 1:24 pm

    While I tend to reference TripAdvisor, etc. when planning trips, I also try to take a lot of it with a grain of salt for a few reasons:

    * People are more apt to give something a negative review than a positive review. You just feel more inspired to tear into a place that you don’t like than praise one you do.
    * A lot of the negative reviews revolve around either a specific negative experience (bathroom drain is slow, stain on the pillowcase, etc.) or seem to be where people have too high of an expectation for a place. Sorry, the comp breakfast at the Super 8 won’t have an omelet chef there waiting for your order.

    I try to look for overall trends. Are there more positive than negative reviews? Where does it rank in the city compared to other reviews? Are there any big issues a hotel can’t control (location, etc.)? When I post reviews there, I try to stay on those big issues as well as things that all guests will likely experience rather than dwell on some specific issue.

  3. July 6, 2010 9:49 am

    It all depends on the person leaving the review. I normally look at what the person’s review is about, and most negative reviews are bases upon expectations and not the actual service given at the time. As Steve said, you look at the overall trend of the reviews. More negative than positive and what is it about?

  4. July 7, 2010 1:17 pm

    When I look at the hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, sometimes the “Trip type” field helps me gauge the reviews. People who are on a “Couples” trip are probably looking for something different than a “Solo Travel.” When I was in Paris, I just wanted a clean, safe place to crash since I was traveling alone and wouldn’t be spending much time in my hotel. If I were on my honeymoon, I would have wanted a totally different type of hotel.

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