FFE Magazine

Should you trust online hotel ratings and reviews?

Photo from Objectif France Whether you are planning a holiday or looking for a place to stay, your go-to guide for great recommendations are probably Tripadvisor, Yelp, and Hostel World.

Over the years, millions of people have flocked to these travel sites for customer ratings and reviews when choosing hotel accommodations. However, recent market research shows that not all ratings and reviews are always 100% true.

This study came from Market Metrix, a known San Fransisco-based hotel market research company. Based on their study, 40% of online ratings and reviews are either fake or paid for. With some hotels receiving 40 reviews per minute, this could be an indication that some hotel businesses are generating fake reviews just to boost online ratings, and consequently draw more customers. How do they do it?

- Some hotel businesses let their own employees post five-star reviews by using dummy user accounts.
- Some hotel businesses sabotage their competitors by posting negative reviews.
- Some hotel businesses pay strangers to post positive reviews about them. According to Dr. Jonathan Barsky, co-founder and Chief Research Officer of Market Metrix, promotional reviews are usually obtained through the help of help-for-hire sites like Fiverr, Mechanical Turk, and Freelancer.com. Using these sites, businesses can pay as low as $5.00 for each review. These strangers do not even need to stay at the hotels. In fact, the study showed that 69% of online reviews did not require a hotel stay. This means that without sufficient experience in the hotel, anyone can write misleading information.
You might think this all an exaggeration – that hotel businesses are not that desperate for customers. However, trying to increase reviews and ratings is practically tradition in the hotel industry. Even travel-guidebook pioneer Arthur Frommer had his share of experiences with fake reviews. As he began printing reader letters about hotels in the 1960s, he soon realized that hotels were sending him letters about themselves. He said he was being played, but since hotels are so dependent on reviews, it would be crazy for them not to write at all.

Since many travel sites post such comments without verifying them, the surge of fake reviews is less surprising. Even technology research company Gartner has already predicted that 10 to 15% of online reviews will actually be fake by 2014.

Not all are fake though. There are also many genuine reviews. However, Market Metrix discovered that even authentic comments could be problematic because most of those who write real reviews are former hotel guests with negative experiences. In fact, there are 3 times more negative reviews than positive ones on travel sites. According to them, trusting the negative ratings and reviews can easily influence or affect a readers’ own judgment. Without any other opinion, readers might just rely on the negative aspects of the hotel and its services, and potentially miss a good experience.

TripAdvisor is still one of the largest travel sites in the world, and they do what they can to protect the authenticity of reviews posted on their site. Global travel market research company PhoCusWright helped TripAdvisor defend its online review credibility, by conducting a survey. Their study showed that 98% (of their 2, 739 website visitors) said TripAdvisor hotel reviews accurately reflected their experience. 74% also said that their reviews were critique, but to be able to share good experiences with other travelers.

It is all right to trust online ratings and reviews but perhaps not entirely. To avoid fake reviews, follow these steps:

- Do not rely on just one opinion. Compare several comments from people of varying ages and backgrounds and see if their reviews are somewhat similar to each other
- To know if the commenter is a real person, check if they have written other reviews
- Be wary of reviews that contain too many verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, superlatives and exclamation points. Excessive use of these shows a lack of detail and description, which means they might not have actually seen or stayed at the hotel.
- Be wary of reviews that talk about external experiences and travel companions more. Cornell University researchers discovered that genuine reviewers usually mentioned the actual hotel.
Here is an example of a fake review:

My husband and I stayed at the Dame Paris Hotel for our anniversary. The rooms were BEAUTIFUL and the staffs were very attentive and wonderful!!! The view of the hotel is great! We even made friends with another really lovely couple staying! We will surely come back!! – Olivia Merr, UK.

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