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Although online reviews can be a very valuable source of information, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why they might be unreliable.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / RyanKing999

Why Online Travel Reviews Don’t Tell the Whole Story

The Way We Travel Is Changing

In the past there was very little way to find out what a hotel on the other side of the world was like before visiting it. You could read the hotel’s promotional materials, but of course they would only speak praise and not tell you the full story.

However, with the advent of online review websites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp and others it is now possible to read first-hand accounts from people who have experienced it for themselves.

According to a survey by Tnooz, 95 percent of respondents read reviews before booking. Also, a study by Tourism Research Australia found that travel review websites were the most important source influencing the decisions of global travelers — with 69 percent of people stating it as their primary source.

Yet another study by Bright Local in 2013 found that 79 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

However, although online reviews can be a very valuable source of information about a travel destination, if you’re looking to separate the best hotels from the worst resorts they don’t necessarily tell the full story. Like any source of information, there are a lot of limitations on what you can learn from online travel reviews. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why they might be unreliable.

People Tend to Exaggerate

It’s a basic human trait — when we are telling a story we often exaggerate the details, especially if we are feeling emotional about it. Someone who had a bad experience at a hotel and feels like they were cheated might write a very heated review that makes the situation seem much worse than it is.

Of course, their experience still might have been not very good, but it might not have been the “worst vacation imaginable” either.

You Don’t Necessarily Know the Full Story

Of course, when you read a review of someone’s bad experience at a hotel you are only reading their side of the story.

For example, you might read a complaint about a visitor who showed up at a hotel with their child and the hotel was unable to procure a cot or a bed for the child to sleep in. This might sound terrible, until you learn that the hotel was never informed in advance that the guest required an extra bed for the child.

Usually most review websites will allow hotels to reply to their negative criticisms and explain the full story of what happened. Make sure you read these as well, as they can tell you the rest of the story and give you better insight into whether the hotel staff or the visitor are more at fault.

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Reviews Can Be Fake

It’s a shame that the system is abused in this way, but it is possible a positive review could have been written by someone who was paid or bribed by the hotel rather than someone who genuinely had a good time. Paying visitors for positive reviews is illegal, but this hasn’t stopped thousands of people from doing it.

How can you tell a fake positive review from a real one? Watch out for reviews that mention the resort’s full name, have a lot of superlative words like “very,” “best” and “really” and contain a lot of exclamation points.

The Reviewer Might Have Different Values Than You

Another important factor to consider is the person writing the review might have a completely different idea than you about what makes a good vacation. The things they complain about might be details that don’t even bother you.

The things they like about the accommodation might be aspects that aren’t important to you. For example, they might complain about a hostel’s noisy common room while you might be looking for somewhere with a great social atmosphere.

Ask yourself if the reviewer has the same values and preferences as you so you can determine whether you agree with their ranking of the accommodation.

These are just a few of the reasons why an online travel review might not tell the full story. While reviews can be helpful when planning your trip, make sure that you read them critically and consider these factors before making your decision.

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