To plan a vacation, people around the globe are increasingly seeking out insider tips and recommendations from online review sites. With sites in 21 languages and a collection of more than 500 million user-generated traveler reviews, it's not surprising that TripAdvisor leads the pack.
In fact, TripAdvisor has altered the travel landscape by giving travelers a public platform they can use to gripe about a lumpy mattress, an overcooked entree, an unexpected fee, or lackluster service. But even the most savvy traveler needs to do due diligence to get the most out of TripAdvisor—-or any other online review site.
A few weeks ago, New York Times' frugal traveler, Seth Kugel, penned a column about TripAdvisor that provoked more than 241 reader comments. I've culled advice from those comments (and added some of my own) to help you evaluate the reviews you read. Here are 10 insider tips for using TripAdvisor:
1) Look for trends
Don't be swayed by one or two reviews that are either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. Take the time to read multiple reviews and look for consistent trends.
2) Check dates
Things change. If you are looking at old reviews, they may have been experienced under different management or before a renovation.
Sequence is an important indicator, too. Bad reviews followed by good are more reassuring than good ones followed by bad.
Also, see whether the visits took place during the same season when you plan to travel. Perceptions of a seaside resort in winter may be totally different than in the height of the season.
3) Pay attention to specifics rather than global judgments
If someone says they hated a hotel because the walls are paper thin, that is more informative than an individual simply saying he/she wasn't able to sleep.
4) Look for outliers and negative reviews
Pay specific attention to major shortcomings that may compromise your stay. However, recognize that an especially harsh review may simply reflect the mood of a grumpy reviewer or a competitor. You can vet the negative reviewer comments by looking at other reviews by the same individual.
5) Evaluate the reviewer
Give more weight to experienced reviewers. The comments of a seasoned traveler are generally more helpful than someone who rarely travels. Additionally, in the case of restaurants, you may want to give more credence to the experiences of reviewers who are local and know the gastronomic terrain.
6) Know thyself
Not everyone is looking for the same type of experience. For example, if you are a backpacker, you may be more interested in hostels reviews by backpackers than hostel reviews by luxury travelers.
Additionally, don't forget that people of different backgrounds, ages, socioeconomic status, etc. may have different travel expectations, perceptions, and preferences.
7) Evaluate the responsiveness of management
When a negative review appears, does management make a credible attempt to apologize or explain what happened? Or, do they make believe TripAdvisor doesn't exist?
8) Check the forums
If you have unanswered questions, check out the forums on TripAdvisor where members may have raised the same concern and where you can pose new questions.
Don't hesitate to contact reviewers and commenters to ask them questions as well.
9) Don't forget to look at the photos
Publicity shots on property websites can be deceiving. On the other hand, photographs taken by real people offer a better glimpse at what a room really looks like. For example, a picture with two suitcases on the floor and toiletries in the bathroom will give you a better gauge of space (or lack thereof) than a room that is staged.
10) Don't rely solely on one review site
While TripAdvisor is the largest and most popular review site and is a wonderful source of crowd-sourced information, check out other edited review sites (e.g. Frommer's, Fodor's, Lonely Planet and Zagat) where experts weigh in. Also scour books and websites to be a better-informed and more satisfied traveler.