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6 Ways to Ensure Travel Reviews Don’t Steer You Wrong

Robots, paid reviewers and those with a grudge can mask authentic, reliable reviews

spinner image computer showing  two different users' variously starred reviews
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The best way to plan your next vacation is by doing some sleuthing. Websites like Google, Tripadvisor, Booking.com and Expedia offer customer reviews for accommodations, restaurants and tour companies located at your intended travel destination. 

Reviews can provide valuable information to help you decide if the business is a good fit for your travel needs. But with some reviews written by artificial intelligence robots that can automate tasks, and others by paid reviewers, sometimes it can be difficult to determine which reviews are trustworthy. Other reviews may be fueled by personal grudges or even intentional saboteurs. The World Economic Forum found that on average 4 percent of reviews on sites like Tripadvisor, Yelp, Trustpilot and Amazon were fake.

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For professionals like Shelby Dziwulski, founder and CEO of the Denver-based travel company Authenteco, distinguishing fake reviews from real ones is essential to ensure her clients’ satisfaction. “We have an entire structured checklist and operating procedures for how to read reviews,” she says.

Dziwulski and other travel experts offer the following strategies to do your own travel review sleuthing:

Investigate the reviewer’s profile

One easy way to assess the accuracy of the travel review is to click on the reviewer’s profile. “Most of the time people will have 15 or 20 reviews of the places they’ve been,” Dziwulski says. If a profile has more than 1,000 reviews, then they are probably getting paid or are a bot.

You can also pay attention to the person’s profile picture and name. “If the icon is a generic picture, or if it’s not an actual human being, then that’s a red flag,” says Sahara Rose De Vore, founder and CEO of the Travel Coach Network, a company that connects travelers with travel experts. A generic name, like John Smith, could be an indicator the review is fake, she says.

And don’t forget to check out reviews they have left for other businesses. “If you click on a person and they’ve left 50 reviews in their lifetime and every single one of them is one star, then we don’t trust them,” Dziwulski says. She explains that these “negative Nancys” tend to be overly biased — they’re impossible to satisfy and their reviews reflect their skewed view of the world.

If a person left a mix of four-  and five-star reviews and only one negative review, then you may want to pay attention to the issue they had and investigate it. This type of reviewer, Dziwulski says, is a “great source.”

Another troublesome sign in the reviewer profile is the length and details of the reviews that they leave. “The fake paid-for reviews are usually short,” says Darley Newman, host, creator and producer of the PBS show Travels With Darley. Nathan Fluellen, the creator and host of the web travel show World Wide Nate, says he looks for reviews that provide context and not just generalized statements. Newman adds that a lot of reviews left in a short amount of time is suspicious.

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Search for patterns in the reviews

One way to figure out if the reviews for a hotel or tour company are accurate is by searching for patterns. “We look at trends,” Dziwulski says. “If you have six people that have all said the staff here is awful, the staff is probably awful.” She says that if her team finds one review that commented on an aspect of the hotel, they ask, “Did anyone else say the same thing?”

For example, Wi-Fi reception is usually a hot topic in hotel reviews. If at least 20 of the most recent reviews for the hotel refer to poor Wi-Fi reception, then you can probably expect slow Wi-Fi service when you visit. But “if the majority of the reviews are saying the Wi-Fi is good, then I put my trust into that,” says De Vore.

Read reviews from multiple sources

If you are thinking about staying at a hotel, you’re often able to find reviews for that hotel on multiple websites such as Tripadvisor, Booking.com and Expedia. Dziwulski makes a point of looking for reviews for a particular venue in multiple places. “We never just go with one source,” she says.

You can then look for trends in the reviews on different websites. This may also make it easier to spot fake reviews, since usually people leave reviews on only one website. “If you look at another review site, and you see a similar review, then you may question that one,” Newman says. Bots or paid reviewers usually leave the same review on multiple sites.

Read the middle-of-the-road reviews

The positive reviews might be paid reviews whereas the negative reviews could be a person nursing a grudge. By reading middle-of-the-road reviews you might get a more accurate picture of the hotel or tour company. “I try to look at those middle-of-the-line reviews” because the overly negative and overly positive ones aren’t accurate, Newman says. 

De Vore also focuses on average reviews when researching accommodations. She says that often people don’t love or hate everything about a hotel, so an average review gives you a more realistic impression of what to expect.

Pay attention to the business response

Hotel managers know that customers use reviews to determine where they will book. They also want people to return to their hotels. If a person has a negative experience and takes the time to write about it in a review, then a hotel manager should address the concerns. How the hotel responds to complaints is also important information you can use. 

“If the owner doesn’t respond to horrible reviews, usually that’s not a business we want to go with,” Dziwulski says. A hotel manager that provides great customer service will respond to negative reviews and ask, “How can we fix this?”

If the manager’s response is not appropriate, then you probably want to avoid that hotel. “If the response back is bitter, and they’re taking it personally, and they’re being nasty to a client who paid them money, we don’t want to work with them,” Dziwulski says.

Contact the business directly

If you are still unsure if you can trust the reviews, the best option might be to directly contact a manager at the hotel or tour company. You can ask about the negative reviews you read and if the issues have been addressed. This also gives the manager a chance to make sure you receive anything you might need, like accessibility features. They might throw in a free upgrade or other perks to ensure that they receive a positive review from you. 

Video: How to Detect Fake Travel Reviews

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