When travelling, I always book hotels online and check reviews before booking a room in a particular hotel for the first time. So do hundreds of thousands of travelers. Sure, hotels have become incentivized to boost their consumer ratings, and some of them actually do exactly that.
Go to fiverr.com and enter “review hotel” in the search window. Today this query generated 7,072 results were first ones were “Sell two positive reviews of 500+ word on hotels”, “Write a review on your restaurant, hotel, or attraction”, “Write a five star positive review about your hotel or restaurant”, etc. From the name of the site you can guess that a positive review costs $5, but, actually, it costs even less if you deal with bigger review-writing businesses.
How can you trust any reviews and ratings of the hotels, when an unknown number of them are fake ones? This is not an easy task, but some tactics to mitigate the risk of being misinformed are:
- Distinguish between booking sites requesting every reviewer to stay in the room booked through them. Since they are charging fees from the hotels and possessing guests’ information, it is less likely that fake reviews will appear on them. Booking, Priceline, Venere and Expedia are among them, thus reviews posted on their sites are most reliable. Orbitz and Hotels show you if the review was submitted by a verified guest. Unfortunately, the industrial giant TripAdvisor, as well as Google, allows anyone review anything, thus I would ignore its hotel reviews wherever possible.
- Beware of management-owned hotels. Such hotels tend to use fake reviews far more intensively than chains operated by large hotel management companies. No only small local hotels inflate their ratings; they also buy fake reviews decreasing neighbor competitors. The reason seems obvious: a small mom-and-pop enterprise has less both marketing budget and reputational risks than large operators do. Many well-known hotel chains are actually franchises and anyone can run a hotel under the respective brand. If they are run by the management, they are also more likely involved in inflating reviews. Just have a look at brand portfolios offered for franchising by InterContinental and Wyndham. If you want to find out who operates a hotel, you may need to go to great lengths (which I would not do). If you feel it is so important for you, check out the ranking of the largest third-party hotel management companies with links to their websites where some of them list their hotels;
- Read reviews. I know, it is tough and it does not allow comparing hotels by overall ratings, but reviews often contain clues to their identity. As a team of researches from the Cornell University found, truthful opinions include more sensorial and concrete language than deceptive opinions, in particular, real reviewers are more specific about spatial configurations (the size of rooms, bathroom, locations, etc.) and less talk about their personal circumstances (e.g., husband, business, vacations). That is understandable, since liars never stayed at the hotel they are writing about, but still needed to add some text to the review to avoid looking suspiciously. Fake reviewers are slowly improving themselves and may change their styles over years. Let us hope, operators of the web sites will not stand still and implement some algorithms decreasing fake reviews’ impact, as it Yelp did it some time ago;
- Check other reviews from the same reviewers. If for some reason you need TripAdvisor’s or Google’s reviews, check other their reviews from the same author on the same web site. If they are all extremely either positive or negative, or if they do not exists, this most likely is a fake person.
Have a nice stay!