Many of the guest reviews published on hotel booking websites are bogus, written by review factories or employees or friends of employees of the hotel. There is no surefire way of knowing if a review is real or fake, but there are some useful warning signs.
Faced with finding a hotel to stay at upon my arrival in Bangkok next week, I am faced with a dilemma that I don’t often face: I’ve got to find a hotel to stay at for a few hours following an arrival in the wee hours of the morning.
How do I avoid a fiasco such as this …
What I Was Promised Online…
And This Is What I Got …
That’s right! I booked a room at a lovely boutique hotel in Bangkok on line. When I arrived at the hotel, however, I was told the hotel was overbooked – despite the fact that I had already paid for the room on line.
I was told I would be accommodated in an “even better” hotel and was taken there by shuttle. When I arrived, I was horrified to discover that it was in the throws of a noisy renovation. But more on that later …
In Urgent Need of an Airport Hotel
And now, back to my story (and the purpose of this post) …
After flying on Emirates Airline from Hong Kong to Bangkok, Thailand, I will need to check into a hotel past midnight and check out of the hotel a few hours later because my first “real” destination is Pattaya, where I will spend the next seven nights.
I say I don’t usually face this dilemma because as a travel writer/travel blogger I’m usually traveling on a press trip (in which case accommodation is arranged for me) or I make arrangements through my many contacts in the travel industry.
If I’m making my own arrangements, other factors often come into play. But I don’t usually book rooms online, and I don’t rely too heavily on the guest reviews posted on booking websites such as TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, or Expedia.
While I DO often consult such websites to do research or gather background information, I’m usually more interested in objective information such as the hotel’s location.
If I’m doing a travel guide for football fans, for example, I will list the hotels closest to the stadium and clearly state that inclusion should not be interpreted as an endorsement.
Readers should do their own “due diligence”, to use the legal term. I just short-list some properties, but it’s up to the readers themselves to determine which hotel is most suitable based on what’s most important to them in terms of location, budget, and facilities.
Back to My Dilemma …
I’m sifting through hotels located closest to Bangkok’s impossible to pronounce Suvarnabhumi International Airport, and my number one criterion is distance. I want a hotel that is as close to the airport as possible.
My second criterion is price: I don’t want to splash out a lot of money on a room that I’m only going to spend a few hours in.
My third criterion is transportation: does the hotel offer a complimentary shuttle service between the airport and the hotel?
Based on my first and third criteria, it’s a no brainer: Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport is located next to the airport terminal and it offers a free shuttle to and from the airport.
Based on my second criterion, however, it’s far too expensive. So I keep looking.
I do see lots of possibilities: there are plenty of very reasonably priced hotels near the airport so then I start trying to figure out if they offer a complimentary shuttle and/or pick-up service.
Now it becomes a bit more complicated. If I reserve the room and arrive past midnight, will there be someone in a uniform waiting for me in the arrivals area of the airport terminal holding a sign with my name on it?
Or will I have to call the hotel, hoping that my mobile phone is able to get through, and ask them to send a car and driver to pick me up?
I start sifting through the comments of one of the hotels I have short-listed and discover that the shuttles operate only once an hour.
“Oh,” I think. “This happened to me upon my last trip to Manila.”
As it turned out, I had JUST missed the last shuttle and faced a 50-minute wait for the next one, and I didn’t feel like standing around for 50 minutes.
So I took a taxi, instead. Translation: the complimentary airport shuttle wasn’t really much of an advantage for pick-up. However, it DID seem to make sense for departure the next day.
Before going to bed, I could check the schedule, reserve a seat, and then find something to do until it was time to leave, either reading the newspaper in the hotel coffee shop or working out in the hotel gym.
I decided to “hang out with the locals” and had breakfast at the McDonald’s that was located next to the hotel.
For arrival, however, I am coming to the conclusion that it might be simpler to just take a taxi to the airport. Unless, however, I will face one of the horrendous lines at the taxi rank that I’ve faced at Bangkok’s other airport, Don Mueang.
All of which brings me to the topic of this blog post: how much value do hotel reviews on booking websites such as TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, and Expedia really offer?
Obviously, they helped me think through this process of how important a free shuttle service is, reminding me of unfortunate experiences I have had in the past.
It was one review that indicated that “a taxi from the airport took about 10 minutes” that made me think it might be simpler to just jump in a taxi than stand around waiting for the next shuttle for who knows how long.
But how could I know that this information was accurate? That’s when I remember that I read somewhere that as many as 80% of online hotel guest reviews are bogus.
And I’ve been told by hotel general managers that they have sometimes been subject to blackmail.
“If you don’t pay us US$2,000, we will post a negative review of your hotel on TripAdvisor,” the GM of a boutique hotel in Bali told me.
“How do you deal with that?” I asked.
There was nothing they could do, he said. They could not succumb to blackmail because this would not only be costly, it would also encourage the practice.
They could only hope that the positive reviews posted by actual hotel guests would outweigh the fake ones posted by rip-off artists.
Before continuing to search for a place to stay at upon my arrival in Bangkok, I decided I should investigate how to determine if a guest review was legitimate or bogus.
I’m summing up my findings below and mixing in my own personal experiences staying at hotels throughout the years.
How to Determine If a Hotel Review Is Legitimate
- Don’t rely on one or two reviews. Read as many as possible. Dig deep, and that includes going back in time, to see if there are any trends.
- Discount the best and the worst reviews. One and five-star reviews end to be bogus. Focus on what the “middle of the road” reviewers have to say. These are more likely to be genuine.
- Don’t rely on just one website. Consult at least three. And take into account if anyone can post a review (such as TripAdvisor or Hotels.com) or if only guests that booked their rooms on that website can post a review (Expedia).
- Beware of hyperbole, superlatives, exaggerated language, ALL CAPS, and exclamation marks! Bogus reviews tend to include words such as “the best” and “amazing” and “spectacular” and “really” and “very” a lot. They are long on exaggeration and short on description because it is hard to describe a hotel if you have never been to it.
- Beware of highly detailed reviews without photos. These are often written by reviewers that have never been to the place.
- Beware of reviews that mention things that the average guest wouldn’t notice.
- Look for reviews that are descriptive, giving details on the hotel, the room, the amenities, and its facilities. Think of things that you wouldn’t normally find in the hotel’s website such as the number of electrical outlets near the desk or the room’s colour scheme. Does it mention the size of the bathroom, if there is an outlet near the mini-bar to plug your water kettle into, or if there is is a convenient place to put your luggage?
- Beware of reviews that focus on WHY the reviewer stayed at the hotel, using “I” and “we” a lot. This is often an attempt to add authenticity by someone that has never actually stayed at the hotel. Because they can’t give an honest evaluation of the hotel, they focus on why they stayed there (a made-up vacation or honeymoon or business trip).
- Pay attention to how the manager responds to negative reviews. Is it professional or condescending? Also, there might be another side to the story.
- Check out the reviewer’s profile. Is this the only hotel he or she has reviewed (questionable) or have there been many reviews by the same reviewer of different hotels within a very short time frame (very questionable)?
Regarding the last point, if the review is highly positive and it is the only one that the reviewer has ever written it usually means one of two things …
- He or she hasn’t stayed at many hotels so their ability to give a fair appraisal might be questionable; or …
- He or she is an employee of the hotel, the friend of an employee of the hotel, or someone that has been paid by the hotel or its hotel group to write the review.
If the review is very positive and there have been MANY positive reviews by the same reviewer within a short period of time this should send up a red flag.
Review Factories pay reviewers to write bogus reviews, and they will often turn out from 10 to 50 reviews within a 48-hour period.
And keep in my that the same caution should be applied to overly negative reviews, as well. Sometimes hotels will plant negative reviews to badmouth their competitors.
One more thing: check out to see if the reviewer only reviews hotels belonging to the same chain or hotel group. If so, his or her credibility might be suspicious.
What’s interesting is most people asked to separate genuine hotel reviews from fake reviews were NOT able to do so. But a computer algorithm was created, which was more than 90% accurate.
The last time I booked a hotel room using a booking website, I booked a stay at a hotel in Bangkok for just one night on Hotels.com.
I was staying with a friend, who lived very far from downtown, where an evening festival was going to be held.
I wanted to check the festival out. Since it was taking place in the evening, I decided that rather than trying to catch a taxi back to my friend’s place late at night, it would be simpler if I just booked a room near the venue.
I found a lovely hotel at a reasonable price at Hotels.com, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I arrived. It far exceeded my expectations … until I walked up to the front desk and tried to check in. The hotel had no record of my reservation.
I was asked if I had made a copy of my booking. Fortunately, I had, but I had to search for it. When I returned to the front desk, I was told that there had been a computer error and my room had been double-booked.
“Not to worry!” I was told
“We’ve got a car, and we’ll put you up in an even nicer hotel at no extra cost!”
Along with a couple of other guests, I was taken to a much less desirable part of town, where a hotel that was in the full throws of a very noisy and dusty renovation project awaited.
Clearly, I was not amused, and I refused to stay there. I was convinced to check out the room. When I saw it, however, I returned to the lobby and a lengthy argument ensued.
I demanded to be upgraded to a better hotel and refused to accept a mere refund, pointing out that I had also splashed out on a taxi ride to the hotel and would now have to splash out on another trip back to my friend’s place. And there was the waste of my time.
Eventually, the hotel arranged a stay for me at a serviced apartment across the street. And I didn’t attend the festival. I had lost interest.
Bait and Switch
So here’s the rub. I believe I was a victim of “bait and switch”. I was “baited” by the picture and description of one hotel on a hotel booking website and then “switched” to another hotel that was simply unacceptable.
They assumed that I would have no option but to put up and shut up.
I wrote a detailed description of what had happened in a guest review on Hotels.com, but it was rejected because I hadn’t “reviewed the hotel” but rather given an account of a “personal experience”.
I’ve never understood why my review wasn’t considered valid. Surely a hotel that would carry out such an unscrupulous practice should be named and shamed.
But my honest account of what had happened was rejected. And it DID make me question the reliability of guest reviews published on hotel booking websites.