When it comes to the world’s best hotel review sites, the real winners aren’t the usual suspects. They’re “none of the above” – which can be good news for discerning travelers looking for accurate accommodation advice.
This is the conclusion of a new survey conducted by CivicScience. The polling firm surveyed 1,789 American adults about the websites they currently use to find hotel reviews. To no one’s surprise, sites like TripAdvisor, Google, and Trivago topped the list. But an even bigger reveal may be the sites not mentioned.
The Best Ranked Hotel Review Sites
When asked which hotel review sites they considered the “most trusted”, here’s who got the highest rating:
TripAdvisor is the 900-pound gorilla of hotel review sites. Or, at least, the 90-pound gorilla (more on his actual weight in a moment.) With around 661 million reviews that span around 7.7 million accommodations, airlines, experiences, and restaurants, TripAdvisor is big.
The problem? TripAdvisor reviews do not require a verified reservation. So you don’t need to be staying at a hotel to submit and post a review. TripAdvisor says it has a fraud detection algorithm, but savvy users contact me regularly to complain about fake reviews.
“Their veracity is usually compromised,” says Brendan Lee, a frequent hotel guest and travel blogger. “For example, I can go to TripAdvisor right now and post a review of any hotel in the world without ever having stayed there. Of course, you can imagine how abused that system can be.”
Google seems to be quickly winning over TripAdvisor in the list of top hotel review sites. It recently integrated its Hotel Finder into search, allowing you to retrieve a list of hotels with prices, photos, reviews, and Street View panoramas. But the same problem plagues Google. There is no verification, which means anyone can – and does – review a hotel.
But Google has an advantage that insiders appreciate. Stephen Fofanoff, the innkeeper at Domaine Madeleine Bed and Breakfast in Port Angeles, Wash., preferred Google hotel reviews to TripAdvisor reviews.
He says Google makes it easy for hotels to flag a review from someone who doesn’t have a verified stay. Google contacts the reviewer, asking for a screenshot of their receipt or other proof to validate their stay.
“From an insider’s perspective, these are the most reliable,” he says. “They’re the only ones that don’t involve a hidden monetary transaction, and they’re always presented as raw information – not pre-sorted or rearranged based on which companies pay fees or pay higher commissions. They’re also universally and publicly available.”
Interestingly, Trivago doesn’t even host user reviews. This is a hotel metasearch site, which refers users directly to a third party. Trivago publishes a “rating index” based on reviews from sites like Expedia and Hotels.com. And yet, insiders like Tim Leffel, who runs a small hotel review site called Hotel-Scoop.com, use Trivago as a benchmark.
“I just use it to see if the place is loved or hated overall,” he says. “I don’t read individual reviews unless I’m about to book it or not.”
Trivago’s overall scores have a lot of appeal for travelers, earning it a third spot on this list of top hotel review sites. They automate the process of trying to average scores on sites like Google and TripAdvisor and trying to find a way to objectively rate a hotel.
The strength of Booking.com is its methodology. It gets its 161 million verified guest reviews, which means there’s less shenanigans than on, say, Google or TripAdvisor. These results are integrated into the Booking.com site. So when you search for a hotel, you’ll find real reviews written by real guests.
Authenticity matters to users. Time and time again, travelers tell me that getting a real review from a real customer is important. It reminds me of the suspicious reviews of MelissaK from Pakistan, which I covered in a USA Today column. The mysterious user was reviewing luxury hotels in Providenciales, a Caribbean island, when a traveler reported the suspicious comments. After asking about her reviews, they disappeared.
Although statistically insignificant, Facebook is an important inclusion in this list. While you may not immediately know if a reviewer has stayed at a hotel, it’s not hard to find out. With Facebook’s Real Names Policy, you can determine if someone is legit – or just a fake name online like MelissaK.
Oyster (less than 1%)
Granted, Oyster received the fewest votes, but it has some of the most powerful methodologies on this list of the best hotel review sites. Oyster has a team of professional investigators who investigate hotels and then publish comprehensive high-resolution photos and expert reviews – “so you know exactly what you’re going to get before you arrive,” it says. -he. It has reviewed a total of 42,000 hotels so far.
“For me, the most reliable site for getting accurate hotel reviews is Oyster.com,” says JR Duren, Financial Advisor. “The site generally has a fair amount of photos for each property, along with a simple review of the site’s experience at the hotel.”
He says a good example of this is Oyster’s review of Liki Tiki Village in Kissimmee, Florida.
“My family stayed here last month, and I can tell you from experience that the Oyster review is spot on,” he says.
None of the above (53%)
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the CivicScience survey of top hotel review sites is that a majority said they didn’t trust any of the above. Take a minute to let that sink in. Nothing of the best sites were trustworthy.
This confirms a suspicion I’ve had for a long time as a consumer advocate. When it comes to hotel reviews, people don’t believe anything they read online. And the reason is simple: they have been misled too many times.
It’s not just fakes like MelissaK. They are the reputation management agents hired by hotels to boost their online ratings and drive down those of their competitors. It’s disgruntled ex-employees who can create an account on TripAdvisor and then eviscerate the hotel or restaurant they worked at.
But above all, it’s the tens of millions of opinions from people with an agenda. Hotel guests, even real ones, usually only leave reviews when they have something positive or negative to say about a property. This excludes a large section of real guests who have had an acceptable experience with comment platforms. It is also a great disservice to future hotel guests looking for useful information.
What are the 53% of hotel review sites?
Where should you go for accurate hotel information? As I noted in the first chapter of my latest book, How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle), the most reliable source of information is the word of mouth. -to-ear. Find someone you know and ask them if the hotel you are considering is worth it. Professional travel counselors can also be a good source of information, at least when it comes to evaluating amenities and service. The best travel agents have been to the hotel you’re considering and can speak from first-hand experience.
I suspect the 53% has yet to be developed, at least online. The era of unverified hotel reviews is coming to an end. Users already know this. This list of the best hotel review sites proves it. Now it’s up to someone to create a hotel review site that people can finally trust.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that helps consumers solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He is the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today and The Washington Post. If you have a drinking problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn, or sign up for its daily newsletter.