How to assess travel reviews

15 Comments 17 October 2013

good hotel reviews

Our private terrace and pool. A perfect space for relaxing after dinner, watching the cruise ships leaving the caldera, and stargazing.

Do you read reviews before booking a hotel or resort? Do you check out what different people say before booking holidays?

How do you decide if the reviews are actually useful to you?

This summer I went to a fabulous hotel in Santorini. I spent days researching which hotel to go to because this holiday was for my husband’s 50th and because if you’re spending money you want to know you’re getting your money’s worth. I read through hundreds of reviews of the many hotels on Santorini. I felt I was becoming an expert at deciding if a review was worthy or not.

But of course you never know for sure until you get there yourself.

Finally, I narrowed the choices down to about three, showed them to my husband, and together we chose one based on several points in reviews as well as reading and rereading the hotel website.

We loved it. We chose well. And much of that was down to the reviews (and the hours I spent reading through them.) Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a standardized system for reviews? Then you could check out the main points that concern you about locations and reviewers wouldn’t feel so lost when trying to say something good or bad or both about a place.

I found several things that most of us already know:

1. You can’t please everybody.

Some people you can never please.

2. Not everyone reads the brochure.

Complaining that the room ‘felt like a cave’ in a hotel that is indeed carved into the side of a volcanic island, reads a bit odd. Especially as many of the hotels have this feature, celebrate it on their websites and show many photos of these rooms.

3. Some people actually think about what would be useful to others when writing a review.

Because our hotel was on the very steep side of the caldera, there were a lot of steps to our white cave rooms. One reviewer thought to mention this–not to complain but to just mention it because not everyone can or wants to cope with a lot of steps for various reasons.

Some of the many stairs on the way to our room.

Some of the many stairs on the way to our room.


So how do I sort through reviews to make some sense of them?

How to assess hotel reviews

1. Check out the reviewer’s other reviews.

On TripAdvisor and some other sites you can do this. If they are frequent complainers, maybe they’re never happy.

2. Read between the lines.

If the reviewer is complaining that EVERYONE was rude to them, it might have been them and not the staff.

3. Compare to other reviewers.

If no one else complains about staff rudeness at the same time, again, maybe the problem wasn’t the staff.

4. Appreciate that unique situations can happen.

A burst pipe at the same time as a staff shortage on a day when a big event is going on might mean the staff doesn’t get to the pipe as soon as they should. That’s not great and I’d be disappointed as well if I were the customer. But it doesn’t mean your stay will be like that.

5. Keep in mind why you want to go to that area.

If you’re going to that hotel because you want to seclude yourself from the world and only see a few people during the day, then the features of the room and surrounds will be even more important than if you’re going to do lots of wildlife sightseeing and spending a lot of time outside the hotel. Find reviewers with similar needs to you for the most relevant reviews.

6. Ignore the stars.

Seriously. A cumulative rating of stars at the top of the page based on all the different star ratings of the reviewers is not always that accurate. I’ve seen reviews where people have said ‘I would put more stars but it was raining the whole time and we were really disappointed.’ Seriously?! Yes. What they say is more important because that’ll give you a much better idea of the quality of the place.

7. What about fake reviews?

We’ve all heard about how friends (or enemies) of hotels put up fake reviews. Sometimes they’re easy to spot–gushing reviews in the middle of a load of complaints; other times not so easy. This is why reading a lot will help you more than just scanning a small handful.

8. Ask!

Sometimes review sites provide the opportunity to ask the reviewer a question. If they mention that ‘there are better places in the area’ but don’t say where, send them a message and ask if they could tell you the places they had in mind. Then you can check out reviews of those places and make the comparisons yourself.

9. Check the date.

A review from five years ago may not accurately reflect the situation today.

10. Make use of Google.

Don’t rely on one website, search around for other independent review sites.

Evening view from our terrace.

Evening view from our terrace.


And as a bonus I’ve decided to also add a few tips on writing reviews.

Tips on Writing Hotel Reviews

1. What would you want to know before going to this hotel or resort?

2. Which rooms do you think were best and why? It is very important to add why because it will help people assess if your reasons are important to them too.

3. What was good and bad about your stay? Few reviews can be perfect and it’s more believable if it’s balanced. Remember it’s really helpful to write about the immediate area, not just the hotel/resort.

4. If you had a complaint about it, did you go to the staff? If not, why not? If you did, how did they deal with it?

5. Be brief. Please.

6. Photos are really helpful to describe what you mean.

7. Don’t talk about personal gripes. ‘Our holiday was ruined because it rained the whole time,‘ is not a valid complaint for a hotel review. But a really helpful comment would be: ‘It rained more than usual for that time of year and we discovered that there isn’t much to entertain you in this hotel if you’re stuck inside but we found these X, Y, Z attractions nearby useful.

8. Who is this hotel suitable for? Couples? Families? Older generations? Business?

9. What was especially nice about this place?

10. As mentioned in number 3, include information about the local area such as which restaurants or bars were good, and why, or which wildlife parks or other activities were good (or bad) and why. Was there something special about the local town or did you prefer the next town over? Although these comments aren’t specifically about the hotel or resort this info can be an important part of making a decision about which hotel to choose.


I hope this helps! But if you have any other suggestions for either writing reviews on travel sites or assessing how helpful a review can be, please do leave a comment!






Your Comments

15 Comments so far

  1. I find the main problem with consumer reviews (and this goes for hotels too) is that people only tend to comment if they absolutely loved, or absolutely hated the product/place. You don’t get any in-between. And for all you know, the person slating the hotel/restaurant works for a rival. I do tend to steer clear of TripAdvisor and go for trustworthy guidebooks, which don’t have an agenda of any kind.

    • This is true. I must admit I have not left a review on most of the places I have stayed or had unch/dinner at. Even the ones I’ve been really happy or unhappy with unless I am compelled by a very specific reason. For example, I ate a a new restaurant recently with a very inspired, very young chef and I felt it deserved some feedback.

      I worry that guidebooks could be out of date, even the most up to date version, but yes, they have the advantage of being unbiased.

  2. Expat Mum says:

    I read a lot of reviews before booking hotels etc. What I’m really bad at is writing them myself. Web sites like TripAdvisor rely on comments from people like me (and everyone else) so I should make an effort. Good post.

  3. iyas says:

    We spent the best part of a week on review sites for our 6 months around Latin America (www.oursouthamericablog.com – not commercial). We also found that comments on Facebook and Twitter were pretty useful. Don’t dismiss these, as even on a place’s page there is often useful info and a good chance for the place to respond.

    Most important, your hotel looks stunning! Which one was it? May have to add it to our list!

    • A week? Is that all?? Of course–Facebook and Twitter, excellent suggestion!! That was how we decided to go to Santorini in the first place, a conversation on Twitter.

      We stayed at the Kirini Suites (kirini.com) in Oia. The hotel was indeed stunning but it had the advantage of a certain architectural style that covers the island making most hotels stunning (apart from the most dreary). We also had wonderful customer service, but again, I think many places on the island have that. Certainly everywhere we went from tiny taverna to posh restaurant people were very friendly. The hotel food was incredible and it was an easy walking distance to one of the wildest parts of the island in one direction and the prettiest village in the other. And a car rental place was across the road for touring the rest of the island. I recommend room 34. It is the furthest down the cliff (most steps) but that means it’s the most isolated, with the best views and it has a private pool. However, I would NOT recommend this hotel for families with young children.

      Now I suppose I need to copy and paste that to TripAdvisor if I am to take my own advice from my replies above…

      • iyas says:

        Thanks Michelle. Sound like a wonderful suggestion for the next week that we can deposit our kids with one or other set of grandparents :)

  4. Sarah Ebner says:

    I always read reviews, which leads to review stress as it’s rare to find anywhere which has only good write-ups! It was easier before we had so much information. However, I do find them useful and stayed in some great places thanks to review sites and blogs (especially some lovely small hotels and B&Bs in England).

    • Ha! YES totally that. I find I am trying to read between the lines so much to get the ‘real’ picture of the place that I get a headache.

      Blogs, that’s a great tip as well. I have certainly earmarked places to consider after reading about them on blogs.

  5. You’ve got this so right, Michelle. I’m a review junkie, reading endless reports before I book. There are some people who complain about isolated incidents,as you say, so it’s good to get the middle ground, seeing what be majority of people say about a place. I read one recently where the chap complained that his wine hadn’t been topped up during a meal, which isn’t what he expected for a 5* hotel!!

    I used to write TripAdvisor reports but now just review on my blog and hope people find my reviews there.

    • You are the ultimate reviewer, Trish! Writing reviews on a blog rather than Trip Advisor is ideal in so many ways. If I travelled as much as I would love to I would consider doing the same!

      And for readers here, Trish’s reviews are indeed very helpful! Check her out…

  6. This is not a comment, but a question for readers of this magnificent website. First, the background.

    When I was backpacking, long ago when the world was young, I always stayed at Youth Hostels if I could, even when I had a car. The major reason for doing that – besides the cheapness – was that YHs were the best places to exchange opinions on sites and accommodations. I would ask for info about where I was going next (town or country), and others would ask me about where I’d just come from.

    My question is: does that still happen, at either official YHA hostels or other hostels? If it does, then AR readers on a budget might want to drop in on hostels once in a while, just to gain intelligence they don’t encounter elsewhere. What do you reckon, Michelle?

    • (Thank you Gordon!)

      I remember exactly this from my backpacking days, the word of mouth reviews from YHs were not only useful but also very immediate, passed on by people who had only just been to or experienced them.

      I think you’re right. I know of two travellers older then me who enjoy travelling on a budget and staying in hostels precisely because they feel they get a much better experience from their journey–they’re less removed from the local population and the geography isn’t so sterile and ‘improved’ for the wealthy tourists’ view. They read the reviews in advance in order to plan the general schedule, but they pick up a lot of information about local sites and events from fellow travellers once they’re on the road.

      Great tip, Gordon!

    • iyas says:

      Gordon – it absolutely still happens. Youth Hostels accounted for probably half of our 6 month journey around Latin America, and were ideal even for a family of with 4 young kids. The people in them have local knowledge for sure, but the book exchanging is also en endearing and informative custom. We were often able to pick up local books and swap them for others for more local info.

      (off topic) The whole randomness of the book exchange custom also made for a wonderfully eclectic reading experience. I never ceased to be amaze at what you would find.

  7. Iota says:

    I tend to read a few of the 5 star reviews and a few of the 1 star reviews. I note how many are in between, for information, but I find I get the best feel if I look at the extremes. But yes, as you say, you have to take some of them with a pinch of salt.

    Good post.

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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