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How Good Are Online Hotel Reviews? Everyone’s a Critic

According to two recent, conflicting studies, they are either helpful or useless. So who's right?

Don’t read the reviews? You’re in the minority.

According to a set of recent studies, online hotel reviews are becoming increasingly important for both hotels and their customers. But how valuable are user reviews, anyway? Well, that’s where the studies diverge. Here’s a quick roundup:

[It’s] hard to buy that hotels shouldn’t give credence to these social media sites or that they don’t matter.

The argument for reviews: According to a recent study for the travel-review-focused TripAdvisor by PhoCusWright, nearly all respondents (98 percent) said hotel reviews on the site were generally indicative of the experience likely to be found when visiting one of these hotels. Other notable findings: More than half of all respondents (53 percent) won’t go to a hotel with zero reviews, and just 5 percent of review readers focus on negative reviews when looking on TripAdvisor. “To thrive, hoteliers must actively encourage their guests to share their candid experiences online and also respond to their reviews when they do,” according to Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s president and CEO.

The argument against reviews: According to research firm Market Metrix, hotel reviews skew heavily negative, with 300 percent more negative reviews than positive, and compared with their own market research, five-star reviews are significantly underrepresented on travel review sites. “Our concern is that many hotels are using customer feedback from social media to make important business decisions when it simply can’t provide an accurate picture of guest satisfaction,” said the group’s director of research, Dr. Jonathan Barsky. The firm, which specializes in hospitality industry feedback, also suggests that as many as 40 percent of online reviews could be fake or promotional.

Reviewing the studies: According to the San Francisco Business Times’ Renée Frojo, both companies have business reasons to pitch one way or another, and the truth might actually be somewhere in between. “While there’s no doubt that the pressure to get positive feedback has created a market for promotional reviews,” she explains, “it’s also hard to buy that hotels shouldn’t give credence to these social media sites or that they don’t matter.” Frojo notes that even though TripAdvisor has a reputation for strong reviews, they have had issues with fake reviews. On the other hand, sites such as TripAdvisor probably have the upper hand in the long run, Frojo writes. “Like it or not,” she says, “people take them into consideration when making decisions about whether to stay at a new hotel or eat at an unfamiliar restaurant.”

When looking into venues for your upcoming events, how much do you rely on the reviews? Let us know in the comments.

(iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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