My wife and I recently took a family vacation to Mount Rushmore. We don’t travel often so when we do vacation, we like to treat ourselves by staying at luxury hotels (i.e., four stars or more). Despite its popularity as a vacation destination, the Rapid City, S.D., area, almost all of the hotels are no-thrills chain lodging (i.e., Super 8, Motel 6, Howard Johnson, Best Western, Country Inn, etc.). Be that as it may, I still wanted to make our vacation as relaxing as possible so I relied on the travel review Web sites to find the best hotel for our family.
My criteria: a three-star hotel with a pool for my daughters that boasts well-above-average user reviews. I used Kayak.com for my booking and research, as it aggregates various Web sites’ prices and reviews. My search yielded five hotels. Reading through the reviews, my wife and I concentrated on below-average reviews – figuring they would give us the most insight into the quality of the hotel (always prepare for the worst, right?). Most of the five hotels had many recent positive comments, with only a few poor reviews. In the end, we decided on the Grand Getaway Hotel, which seemed to have the best reviews for the price.
When we arrived at the hotel, it looked great. The lobby was homey, the staff pleasant. But that’s where it ended. The hallways were dark and dingy. The décor was straight out of 1995. The bathroom was in desperate need of a remodel. The pool area was adequate but didn’t live up to the online photos. We weren’t expecting luxury but we certainly felt that the hotel did not warrant the glowing reviews. We wondered: Who were these people leaving such positive feedback?
On the last night of our trip, we switched hotels to a two-star Best Western. Despite is lower star rating and less-positive reviews than the Grand Getaway, we chose the Best Western because it had a water park. We were blown away! It had recently been completely remodeled and the common areas were bright, fresh and clean. The hotel room was newer and also remodeled. We found ourselves wishing we had stayed here the whole vacation. Again, we wondered: Why is this hotel not getting better reviews?
This experience made me doubt whether I can – or should – rely on Web site reviews. Turns out, I am not the only person to question this. VeraQuest recently conducted a brief survey on behalf Quirk’s among consumers who consult online reviews. Interestingly, almost 25 percent of the users don’t trust the reviews found on the most popular review sites – even through a paid service (e.g., Angie’s List).
Also, the study found that 38 percent of people who are on social networking sites say there is someone in their network whose opinions are so different from their own that they tend to do the opposite of whatever they recommend! (Talk about knowing your network.) The full results from the study can be found here: http://tiny.cc/yvx3fw.
I wish more review sites offered demographic data so I would know if the reviewer is like me. Perhaps one day! In the meantime, I guess I’ll use our trip to South Dakota as a lesson in taking online reviews with a grain of salt.
What do you think review sites could do to improve their usefulness? Have you ever had a similar experience?