Note from Wendy: Peter Volny, a WendyPerrin.com reader based in Fountain Hills, Arizona, has traveled to 127 countries, doing extensive homework on TripAdvisor for most of those trips, and has posted nearly 400 reviews on the site himself. That combo makes him something of an expert when it comes to knowing how to use other people’s TripAdvisor reviews to plan a great trip. There’s an art to being able to quickly glean the best intel from such a massive collection of reviews, praise, complaints, and advice. So I asked Peter to share some of his most effective hotel-searching strategies.
I must be addicted to travel. I’ve now been to 127 countries and have already booked trips to another 12 so far for 2015. My wife and I have been very fortunate in life and stay in the best hotels and resorts, so perhaps we are more demanding than most, but I believe that the following tips apply to everyone, regardless of category of establishment. In fact, in the USA, we have stayed in motels that were spotless and wonderful, whereas some very expensive five-star hotels have left a lot to be desired. Here are my tips for using TripAdvisor to choose the best hotel for your particular needs:
Explore the different hotel filters.
Once my wife and I have decided on an area to visit (such as the six-week trip to Switzerland, Northern Italy and the Riviera from which we just returned), we go to TripAdvisor to research hotels. They break your hotel choices down by price, class, style, brand, neighborhoods, and even amenities, plus drop-down menus for each, which gives you many ways to select the one that suits you best. You can also see rates from Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity, Booking.com and Priceline.
Study the photographs.
Here you have two choices: the professional photographs supplied by the hotel, and those posted by guests. The ones supplied by the hotel may have been taken when everything was brand new—or staged and even retouched—whereas the most recent guest photos tend to be more currently accurate. Both are helpful, but look at as many as you can to form your own opinion. Sometimes we have reserved a sea-view room, then realized from looking at the guest photos that the hotel’s photos were taken from the rooftop with a long zoom lens. This is a personal thing, but my wife and I like stand-alone showers and hate those half-glass bathtub screens they use so much in Europe, and this usually shows up in guest photos but not in hotel photos. Cabinet and drawer space is another thing that hotels typically don’t show, but guests tend to show where there is enough space or it’s far too skimpy. In fact, guests tend to highlight deficiencies, which of course the hotel would never do.
Read the reviews—and consider who wrote them.
We look at several reviews before deciding. We also put more credence in reviews from other Americans, Canadians, or Australians, since their standards are similar to ours, as opposed to a review posted by someone from a country that may not be as developed. Similarly, we tend to discount hotel reviews from people who live in the same city as the property being reviewed, since we wonder whether those people are friends of the owner.
Consider the hotel’s own responses to reviews.
Finally, we always take into account whether and how the establishment responds to reviews, both positive and negative. A response indicates to us that the owner or manager cares what its customers are saying. Earlier this year we stayed at a place where we were very unhappy with aspects of the bathroom. The manager posted a response explaining the reasons and saying that he would look into rectifying the situation. Last month we stayed in a five-star hotel where there were several problems, one being that the waiters were astonishingly rude to the guests. The manager posted a response that denied these problems, indicating to us that they don’t care. Even if the guest is wrong, there is a polite and positive way to respond; if they insult the guest, this is a pretty good indication of the kind of service you can expect.