Making sense of Tripadvisor – a guide to navigating reviews

Despite on-going controversy over its business model, Tripadvisor has indefinitely changed the way hotels and travellers perceive reviews. The era of the ”best” hotel and resort rankings run by glossy print magazines seems to be have been fading in the recent years, the main reasons being the lack of trust in so called editorial gurus who review the respective hotels as well as over the actual process of collecting and processing votes from readers.

Tripadvisor’s success has been driven by the basic need of consumers to access reviews by other ordinary consumers on the most diverse aspects of a hospitality product, from location, interior design, food & beverage, housekeeping, in-room technology to pricing and service standards.

Pompous review articles and a stellar rankings are being replaced by reviews provided by travellers, anonymously, in real time, over an online platform which is accessed by millions of viewers all over the world. The sheer size of its worldwide coverage both in readership and number of properties reviewed has also highlighted several weaknesses such as:

- the website does not provide a clear date when each hotel was actually listed, not only for new hotels but also for for hotels which have re-opened after a period of closure, such as after renovations

- the verification of the authenticity of the reviews – whether the respective traveller has actually stayed at the reviewed hotel

- the fact that reviews in other languages than English are only visible once logged to the version of the respective country (showing all reviews, translated, could provide a much more accurate image)

- the so called ”popularity index” which the website uses to generate rankings is mostly based on the number of reviews irrespective of the profile of those who provided reviews – a review by a traveller who has a long history of previous reviews should not be counted equally with a review provided by a traveller that has just one contribution, for instance

- the fact that contributions can be submitted even a year after the actual stay prevents hotels from being able to respond to the eventual criticism, the speed of reaction in a complaint and willingness to make up to the respective customer being of utmost importance

Which reviews should we trust?

Tripadvisor introduced earlier this year a very useful tool which differentiate between travellers which have the highest score of ”useful reviews”, which are voted by readers. The number of useful reviews is clearly shown under the profile name of the contributor, together with the number of previous reviews reflect on the reliability of the respective contributor and the authenticity of its contribution. By clicking on the profile of the contributor readers can view all previous reviews. That is why, it is easy to discard an entirely negative short review by a contributor which has few or no previous contributions.

Another indicator of the reliability of the contributor is his or her profile. In most cases, users with profiles containing the basic required information tend to provide more superficial reviews, with a very short comment. Personally, I believe, short negative reviews which do not provide any explanation or reason should not be accepted for publishing by Tripadvisor. Such reviews usually contain a short comment, with harsh wording, i.e. ”disaster”, ”terrible” etc.

Should reviews include the ”worth” factor?

The standard review form which contributors need to fill out include a comment related to whether the traveller considers pricing in line with personal expectations. ”Overpriced” is among the most frequently used remarks in the reviews of five star hotels. I have not yet come across any review of a five star hotel on Tripadvisor for a five star hotel which contributors would consider cheap or reasonably priced. I would reckon this ”worthiness” factor is included especially to highlight the ”best available” rates provided by the suppliers which work with Tripadvisor.

Oliver Petcu

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