Hotel Reviews: Fake or Real? And How Can You Tell?

I love staying in nice hotels. Not fancy or pretentious hotels, but spending two or three nights in a nice hotel is, for me, one of the great pleasures of life and one of the things I enjoy most about travel.

I tend to do my own booking and I use or to check out several alternatives. My usual first criterion, especially when I’m traveling in Europe, is to look for a hotel near the main railway station. But I also enjoy classy older hotels, even if they might be a little threadbare. Anyway, next I look at the hotel’s web site which is where I think you get a good idea about the architectural style, the décor, and whether or not there’s a decent restaurant on premises.

Once I’ve narrowed things down to two or three properties, I go to travel web sites like TripAdvisor looking for reviews written by former guests. This is especially important when the hotel isn’t very big, is an independent, maybe family owned, and is in a small town. And that’s when you really run into the fake reviews … and the problem is figuring out which ones they are.

It seems to me that effusive across-the-board praise is one sign that the review could be a fake. And I always think that when a review sounds like it was written by the hotel’s PR person, it probably was. Likewise, I really don’t trust reviews that trash a hotel, claiming there was something egregiously wrong with the entire experience, check-in to check-out. My guess is these are people who are chronic complainers, and if their petty fault finding is not meet with bowing and scraping and apologies plus rate reductions or free meals, they turn mean and vindictive.

What I look for is a review written with less-than-perfect prose and which contains generally positive comments, but with perhaps one or two minor criticisms: “The complimentary breakfasts were generous with good variety, but they ran out of decaf coffee on both mornings.”

That said, you can never be really sure and fake reviews are clearly a problem. In fact, the anti-trust division of the Italian government is looking into the whole issue of fake reviews and they’re starting with TripAdvisor, asking the company to detail what steps they take to make sure reviews are legitimate.

Is it possible that hotel managers, whose compensation is tied to occupancy rates, would generate a steady flow of positive reviews to TripAdvisor? Perish the thought!

And if you believe that, I can get you a great deal on a beautiful old bridge in Brooklyn.