When you post your first review on TripAdvisor, the company marks your achievement by forwarding a magnet stating “I travel with TripAdvisor.” I’m wondering…do you?
I consider TripAdvisor my well-traveled friend who’s not shy about giving her opinion. Although the company continues to acquire additional online travel sites and now offers restaurant bookings, cruise reviews, and home rentals (La Fourchette, Cruise Critic, FlipKey), I use it primarily to vet hotels. At first I’d get totally lost, drifting from TripAdvisor to hotel website to Expedia and back, but I’ve developed a system to help book a room without too much sturm und drang.
First, have a clear idea of the trip you’re taking. If it’s a family trip, your focus is on resort-style lodging close to attractions. A getaway for your anniversary steers you towards romantic B&Bs.
- On the TripAdvisor homepage, select hotel, destination and dates. Input approximate dates, if you’re not quite sure.
- The next page will allow you to pick search filters. Choose one or two, to return a sufficient number of selections. TripAdvisor gives you a number of preferences, including price points of budget, mid-range or luxury.
- Look at the top 3 returns, keeping in mind your trip’s theme. And, then STOP! This is the moment when the wheels generally fall off the train. “How charming!” “Lovely!” “It has a rooftop bar!” The hip, downtown boutique hotel may be great, but it is not an appropriate location for you and your two young sons. It will end badly. Trust me.
- Let’s continue using my Savannah example, assuming this is a couple’s getaway. The city promotes its historic charm, so I’m only interested in a property that will fit the mood, not a generic chain hotel. Scrolling through the overall results, I’m interested in the Hamilton-Turner Inn, the Ballastone, and the Kehoe House (ranked #1, 2, and 5 for all Savannah properties) – three small B&Bs. I’ve discarded #3 Embassy Suites and #4 Andaz; they’re both chain properties and new – this trip’s about historic charm, remember?
- Check the recent reviews for the properties. Look at the dates. They’re there for a reason. I once booked a hotel with a glowing reputation – from 2011, not so much in 2014. If one or two people mention “tired decor”, “weird smell”, “noise”, move on. Quickly.
- Then check the hotel’s actual websites to get a sense of the room descriptions, location and rates. One of them should be screaming “Choose Me” at this point. Go back to TripAdvisor and read 3 or 4 of the reviews to see if there are any tips. For example, a reviewer might note that a certain b&b books “garden rooms” that are kind of basement rooms. If you don’t find that possibility delightful, move on.
- Once you’ve picked your winner, say goodbye to Runner-up and Miss Congeniality. Close the TripAdvisor window. I book directly with the hotel to access promotions, discounts, and to enter special requests.
I think we get hung up on the idea that there’s a perfect hotel for a trip. There’s not, so don’t kill yourself. It’s more important to make the reservation and get going then to diddle around wondering “What if….” Once you arrive, most managers will go out of their way to make sure you’re happy with your room. And, if the place turns out to be Motel Hell, you can always move to another property. I’ve done it. It makes for a funny story.
Regarding the TripAdvisor reviews…can they be trusted? In a recent interview, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer Barbara Messing insisted that the reviews are legitimate, stating, “At the top of our list is the validity of our traveler reviews and the ability for consumers to leave their opinions. There would never be a case where TripAdvisor would bias reviews towards properties that we have commercial relationships with.”
To keep the TripAdvisor community growing (170 million user reviews as of August 2014), consider contributing your opinion when you return. Highlight the good, noting in particular one special something the hotel did just right. If a staff member went out of their way, make a note of their first name and include it in the review. If there’s something that could be improved, note it. Any manager who cares would appreciate an opportunity to comment and address something of importance.
So tell me, do you travel with TripAdvisor?