According to the professionals at Brand.com, reviews posted to online travel sites are increasingly influential over tourist decision-making. “Whether you’re traveling for business or coordinating a family vacation, chances are, you’re checking into some online travel sites to ensure that you’re spending money on top-rated hotels, eating establishments, cruise lines, and more,” explains the company’s president, Michael Zammuto. “What this means is that the information gathered from online review sites is make-or-break for businesses in the hospitality sector.”
This may be true, but of course, these reviews are also make-or-break for travelers. “People trust what they read on these reviews sites, and statistics tell us that consumers base their decision-making on these review sites more and more as time goes on,” Zammuto explains. “Thus, the information you take away from a review site, when acted upon, can ultimately set the course for your entire trip.”
What this means for consumers is that they need to do everything in their power to make certain the information they’re acting on is reliable. “As any hotel manager will surely tell you, the reviews posted to online travel sites cannot always be taken at face value,” Zammuto remarks. “According to research done by Brand.com, reviews posted to these sites can often be misleading or flat-out untrue, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. It is helpful for readers to know how best to interpret these online travel review—and, when they do so, they also help businesses to escape undue penalties from online defamation.”
In the paragraphs that follow, Brand.com reviews some of the most important strategies for accurately interpreting online review sites.
Brand.com Reviews Travel Review Interpretation Strategies
According to Brand.com, reviews posted to online travel site are not inherently trustworthy—and Zammuto’s first piece of advice is for readers to simply acknowledge and understand this. “You can’t believe everything you read on these sites, and it’s important to read them with a critical eye and a healthy dose of skepticism,” he says. Zammuto observes that most online travel sites do not validate reviews, and as such, some of them are posted by disgruntled employees or ex-employees, rather than legitimate consumers.
“Something else that is important to note is the fact that some reviewers will be basing their criticism on fundamentally unsound criteria,” Zammuto continues. “Brand.com reviews the online reputation management needs of many different hotels, and we had one hotel client that had been slammed with bad reviews because of some street construction noises, coming from a mile down the road. That’s obviously something beyond the hotel’s control, and it was just a one-time thing, yet the hotel was still defamed and dragged through the gutter because of it. Watch out for reviews that are simply not fair.”
Another tip from Zammuto: “Know what kind of travel site you are on.” Indeed, there’s more than one type of online travel review. Some sites feature critiques submitted by legitimate hotel reviewers or travel journalists, while others boast user-submitted feedback. “Neither type of site is necessarily better than the other, but these types of site have different characteristics, and it helps to be aware of that,” Zammuto offers. “Also note that the vast majority of online travel sites feature user-generated content, though there are some noteworthy exceptions, such as Fodors.com and Frommers.com.”
Continues Zammuto, “All of these different types of sites represent different paradigms. With a professional travel review site, you’re probably not going to run into outright defamation or duplicity, yet even these ‘authoritative’ hotel critics can still make mistakes or present information in a way that is misleading. Be careful.”
Another tip from Zammuto is to get a feel for all the reviews presented on a review site. “Do the reviews seem to offer legitimate feedback, or are they mostly angry, all-caps rants? The latter type of review should indicate to you that the site is simply not a reliable source of travel information.”
When looking at specific reviews, Zammuto says there are several specific things for readers to note. “First, make sure you’re looking at fairly current reviews,” he says. “A hotel review from three years ago means little, as the hotel may have been placed under new management since that time. A cruise review from last summer may or may not be helpful, because the cruise ship may have been completely refitted since then.”
Zammuto says readers are encouraged to look for reviews that offer substance and details, and to be cautious about placing too much trust in one-sentence reviews. “A one-sentence review usually represents a rush to judgment,” he explains. “What’s more, a review that offers only general opinions, rather than real facts, is simply not going to help you make an informed decision. Joe Blow may say that a hotel is worth four stars, but if he offers no evidence or facts to back up his clam, then what do you care?”
According to Brand.com, reviews at sites like TripAdvisor.com are sometimes tied to specific profiles. “If the reviewer has entered profile information, that might give you some clues as to the reviewer’s legitimacy,” Zammuto says. “For example, if the reviewer says that she is single and travels mostly for business, then she may not be a great source for information on family-friendly, kid-oriented hotels, because that’s just not what she’s looking for.”
Zammuto also cautions review readers to be on the lookout for outliers. “Say a hotel has a dozen reviews, and 10 of them are glowing, five-star raves,” he says. “If the other two are both negative, there is a decent chance that those reviewers were simply having bad days. This is not to say that they are invalid, but do consider them to be minority opinions.”
According to the president of Brand.com, reviews posted to online review sites also need to be scrutinized for heavily emotional language. “The best travel reviews are the objective ones,” he comments. “A review that is charged with personal, emotional language may say more about the reviewer than the business being reviewed.”
Brand.com reviews the online reputation defense needs of hotels from all over the world.