"Hotel reviews - are they for real?"...
I had to answer this question during a phone consultation with a client yesterday. She told me that she had spent weeds trolling tripadvisor reviews to find the best family hotels in Riviera Maya, Mexico. Frustrated by overwhelming and conflicting information, she contacted Vacationkids because she said she needed "professional help". After talking to her for just a couple minutes my sarcastic mind thought she really needed a different kind of professional "help" that was way beyond my scope, but that's a whole other story. No doubt this poor mom certainly needed a vacation and I could definitely help that that problem at least.
Her initial questions was - Can you trust online hotel reviews?....
I told her about an article I had just finished reading about Tripadvisor Turbulence. It seems tripadvisor stock has fallen out of grace with Wall Street because investors are beginning to realize that there is an "ethical disconnect" between reality and the reviews actually posted there for online audiences. I went on to tell my client stories related to me by industry colleagues...tales where guests have asked hoteliers forfreebies and threatened to bash the hotel if their demands were not met. There are many other tales about disgruntled employees and pestilence scares. There are also stories about incentivized employees posting glorious yet false online reviews with ficticious email accounts in order to meet quoatas and collect bonus pay. In addition to the industry pollution you also have to trust the opinions of strangers. They may mean well but their viewpoints may also be a of kilter. Say they find a roach in their room...Does this mean the hotel is infested or did it travel along with them in their suitcase from home? Is the beach there full of seaweed all year long or is it due to recent storm activity? Was the reason for your traveler's diarrhea because A)The hotel has sanitary issues, B)You caught a germ at the office before you left or C) You've been drinking way too many coconut based beverages?
Bottom line - Online reviews can be helpful but the viewer needs to read the information posted with a very strong filter and an open mind.
Then my sweet yet neurotic client chimed in....Well what about travel magazine article and blogs...are they more trustworthy?
I've seen some stellar articles about a particular family resort. I've stayed there so I have first hand knowledge. It makes me shake my head because I know this resort often hosted FREE press trips to travel writers. The writers get wined and dined and as a result, this hotel gets rave reviews. In defense, there are MANY ethical publications and journalists out there that will refuse any sort of freebies. They pay their own way and their opinions are well respected. I often see one of these very respested journalists on the national morning news shows doing segments like "last minute holiday deals". Is she recommending a great hotel...indeed she is. Is it a cheap price for Christmas...most definitely...BUT you will either need to be a fantastic swimmer or own a private jet if you think you're going to get last minute flights there for less than $10K. Many travel writers don't understand the logistics of travel. They write to inspire us and to entice us to get off the couch. Many times their stories are wonderful but the readers need to determine whether the story is really fact or fiction.
What about travel recommendations from family and friends?....
Yes, my client is a "what about" client....what about this, what about that. I love these folks with minds like a curious two year old.
So... what about family and friends and their advice when it comes to travel? Once again, much depends on the source. Are they frequent travelers? Do they travel for business or pleasure? Do they truly understand your family's needs and wish list? We had a recent client who insisted on staying at the Iberostar Cancun. Her sister just returned and said it was the BEST resort they've ever been too. Problem was, her sister had one daughter and my client has three kids. The Iberostar Cancun is not family of five friendly. They would have needed two rooms and we couldn't guarantee connecting. So we recommended the Barcelo Palace in the Riviera Maya. Next year both families are traveling together to the Barcelo. We're seeing more and more facebook referrals for family vacations. I believe the reason for this is because family and friends are connected on facebook. This personal connection offers a much better source crediblity and online hotel review websites.
So finally my clients says..."So I guess the BEST way to know you're booking a great vacation is to work with a travel agent"?
Admittedly her conclusion did make me smile and do a happy dance. In fairness I explained she needed to work with an experienced and ethical travel agent. You want to work with someone who has experience and first hand knowledge of your destination as well as the type of trip that you are planning. Our focus with Vacationkids has always been about families and children. We've been around long enough that many of our initial vacation "kids" are now grown and getting married. The first time I was asked to plan a destination wedding for one of our returning clients, I told them I was not experienced and wanted to refer them to another agency to better serve their needs. With our full disclosure and upon their insistance, we did take on the project. One of my agents and I visited the destination, resort and ceremony venue. We educated ourselves with the legal issues. Since that time I'm proud to say we've done many destination weddings with great results....even some vacation "grand" kids now.
In the same way that hoteliers offer press trips to journalists, many offer bonus commissions or free stays to travel agents. Many times agents will promote specific resorts for their own personal gains and not for the best interests of their clients. Clients need to ask "WHY" an agent is recommending a specific resort or vacation package. Hopefully the answer is that it meets all the wish list requirements that the client has requested and that the agent has first hand experience.
I can appreciate that my client does have some serious trust and committment issues. I believe with full disclosure and honest dialog we'll be able to get her on the dream vacation she's been searching for and most desperately needs.
So...who do you trust when it comes to making your vacation plans?