A warning about user reviews

 (Photo courtesy of Booking.com)

User review sites are handy, but take their advice with a grain (make that a shaker) of salt

User review sites are gold mines of information—and land mines of false information.

While I heartily recommend using them, you have to be aware of their three greatest faults (and how to use them best):

Three major problems with Tripadvisor et. al.

  1. Inexpert advice (more on that in a moment)
  2. Paid reviews and pans
  3. Up to 1/3 or 1/2 of the reviews are fake (according to studies)

They do try hard to root out the bad apples—the friends and family posting glowing reviews; the rivals and enemies (and their friends and family) smearing a joint with calumny and slander. But they do not have nearly the staff to keep up.

Tripadvisor currently has 22,577,751 reviews for the U.K. (covering sights, hotels, restaurant, and activities)—4,205,846 in London alone.

And that's just the U.K.

Tripadvisor's team of "Content Specialists" who vet these reviews? It has just 300 people tasked with responding to reports of fraud of abuse.

How to use Tripadvisor and other user view sites

  • Critical mass - Don’t trust a property with fewer than 20–60 reviews (odds are, most will be fake).
  • Olympic judge model - Ignore the best and worst reviews to focus on the big, juicy middle-of-the-road reviews.
  • Trust snapshots - It's harder to fake a photograph.
  • Look for specific details - A vague review is often a sign of a fake review; look for ones that call attention to specific rooms, dishes, staff, facilities, or other aspects of the property. 
  • Check reviewer history - Someone who has created an account only to review one place (or a handful in one destination) may just have taken that one trip, but more likely they are friends/rivals of properties in the area posting fake or paid reviews. 
  • Trust gated reviews - How can you make sure the reviewer actually spent a night in that hotel? Trust the reviews on Booking.com and other verified sites where a user can only review a hotel they actually booked through the site. Won't mean the review is necessarily informed, thorough, or honest, but at least we know the guy slept there once.

A few words about inexpert reviews

OK, this goes deeper than just a professional griping about amateurs on his turf—honest. It's not that my opinion is any more valuable than anyone else's. Of course not. But I will guarantee you it is a far, far better informed and considered opinion.

Your typical Tripadvisor reviewer has been to, say, London precisely once, and stayed in just that one room of that one hotel.

She might be able to give you good intel on that particular inn—but how does it compare to the hotel next-door? Is there a hotel that's both better and cheaper just around the corner?

That's where this site (and my quarter century of expert experience) comes in handy. I've been to London many times, stayed at dozens of its hotels, and toured all the rooms in many more across the city, viewing them with a critical eye and taking extensive notes. This helps me offer the best, balanced advice on London hotels, comparing them all to see which truly stand out as the best value for your money or as stellar places to spend your precious vacation time.

By all means, to help you pick the perfect hotel go and read the guest reviews—not just at Tripadvisor, but also at booking engines like Booking.com, where at least you're guaranteed the person writing the review actually stayed there.

However, start your search for that hotel on this site, where I've already vetted the good ones.

Typical misconceptions on review sites

The vast majority of the "complaints" about British hotels I read, hear, or see—in e-mails and reader letters, posted on review sites like Tripadvisor, and included in hotel reviews on booking engines like Booking.comhave nothing to do with the hotel and everything to do with unfair expectations.

Mostly, these complaints boil down to a difference between expectations of an American audience and the realities of hotels in Europe—not any problems with a particular hotel.

In other words, to be blunt: it's not the hotel, it's you.

I don't mean this to be rude; just to jar your brain a bit into realizing that you shouldn't go into a foreign country expecting everything to work exactly the way it does at home.

If that were the case, there would be no reason to travel in the first place.

I'm not saying either is better or worse than the other; they're just different (which, among other things, usually means "way smaller").

Try to put aside your assumptions and expectations and learn to judge and value a British hotel on its own merits according to British standards, not American ones.

On a similar note, don't book a cheap room at a simple mom-and-pop-run B&B and then turn around and expect the amenities of a four-star, business-class hotel. That's blatantly unfair—both to the hotel's owners and to your enjoyment of your own vacation.

Also, "different" doesn't necessarily mean "worse." » more

So read user reviews with a grain of salt, and keep in mind that most complaints they have about the following factors are not the failing of a hotel; just the failing of a small-minded person who thinks America is always right and everywhere else is wrong.

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