When searching for a hotel or resort in an area you’ve never visited before, it’s wise to look at the guest reviews to get a feel for what to expect. Obviously TripAdvisor is the most popular choice for reviews, but sometimes they can be misleading. Often you’ll see a smaller place without many reviews, that have one or two recent negative reviews that make the place look far worse than it is.
In cases like this, if you know what you are looking for, you can often score a bargain by booking there anyway. This isn’t to say that you are best off booking at places with bad recent reviews, but more that it can be unwise to just ignore a place like this if it otherwise seems nice.
A huge majority of guests don’t leave reviews
Let’s say you are looking at a small resort or hotel that averages only one TripAdvisor review per month, and three of the last five are negative. Well, if the property has 40 rooms and it averages 80% occupancy, that means that they might have had 300 guests per month, and 299 of them didn’t leave a review. If a guest doesn’t leave a review, chances are quite high that the hotel more or let met their expectations based on price and the online details.
So think about that ratio, that over 99% of the guests were basically satisfied, and three guests in the last month were so dissatisfied that they were motivated to leave a negative review. At the very least you’d expect that the place is probably just fine and if the price is right it might be worth booking. I’ve noticed that many hotels that have some recent negative reviews have to cut their rates to fill up because so many people look at those reviews and ignore places with bad recent ones.
In other words, you might find unusual bargains among the hotels with poor reviews. Of course, if a hotel has 40 rooms and gets 10 reviews per month, many of which are negative, then it’s something to take more seriously. In a case like that it’s important to actually read the reviews and see what the complaints are. Sometimes people complain about a hard bed and you might prefer a firm mattress. Or people complain about there being no parking nearby and you will be arriving by taxi.
Beware of ax-grinders
The other category of negative reviews to be wary of are those with a headline like “avoid this place at all costs.” If that same hotel averages, say, 3.5 stars on TripAdvisor, and one person says to avoid at all costs, chances are that reviewer has an ax to grind. Sometimes their problem is legitimate and they will discuss it in the review, but more often they just say the service is terrible, the place is filty, and everything is falling apart.
When someone leaves a review like that which goes against all the others, there’s a decent chance that person was the problem. I’ve literally seen guests trying to blackmail hotels into giving them things like room upgrades or airport transportation under threat of a terrible review. This leaves hotels in a terrible position because if they give in it only encourages the person to keep doing it, but if they refuse they might get an “avoid at all costs!” review. I’ve stayed in many hotels that had reviews like that, and I’ve yet to find one that was actually substandard.