Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beware of Phony Hotel Reviews

It's no surprise that skyrocketing fuel prices have affected how and how often we travel, whether it's a family car trip or a getaway that involves an airplane ticket. So, since you are likely traveling less often than you used to, it is more important than before to be sure you are getting what you pay for from your hotel.

Beware of phony hotel reviews. Many of us these days are relying on so-called 'user reviews' on such websites as TripAdvisor.com and VirtualTourist.com. But are these really written by users? The answer is yes, no, maybe. You wouldn't buy a used car from a guy named "anonymous", so why would you trust your vacation to him or her or them?

I'm a professional travel writer -- a road warrior who has slogged hundreds of thousands of miles from Machu Picchu to Maine, slept at forgot how many airports when a missed connection jinxed me, left behind countless travel alarm clocks in hotel rooms where the pillows were 300-count covered rocks that left me sore in the morning, been frustrated by Wi-Fi that isn't, eaten things that probably shouldn't be identified, etc. So -- do you trust me more than some user named Hugo in Hartford? I hope so.

My colleague Durant Imboden is another professional travel writer. His Europe for Visitors website recently published an article detailing some scary truths about the big business of fake hotel reviews. These include glowing posts by staffers of advertising and marketing agencies who are paid to write four-star reviews of their clients plus reviews trashing the competition. Plus, there are deliberately bad reviews of hotel #1 written by a relative of hotel #2. Granted, some 'user reviews' are exactly that. But not all. How can you tell the difference? You can't.

So who do you trust? If you put your vacation in the hands of somebody not identified beyond "Charlie G." on a website, you deserve to be disappointed. Or do you put your trust in professional travel writers who write for magazines and newspapers and websites, and report on travel on radio and TV? And let's not forget the many reputable travel guidebooks in Barnes & Noble, Borders and on Amazon.com. Yea, I've written some of those, too.