According to TripExpert, there are problems with the current TripAdvisor format, some with the information providers (review writers) and some with the information seekers (review readers). Crowdsourced opinions about hotels are useful only if you spend the time to read all the reviews and understand the reasons the person wrote what they wrote, it said in its report. The problem is that most people rely on the overall score of the property and only skim through a few of the "top" reviews, many of which are written by people who carry a bias.
In general, the main criticism is that most hotel reviews are not level-headed evaluations. They are a reaction to something good or bad that happened, usually an isolated incident.
Here's a rundown of TripExpert's report on crowdsourcing Web sites:
• Hotels are penalized because of their price. For example, consider a negative review entitled "Simply not worth the money." According to TripExpert, this is an opinion on value, not necessarily something "wrong" with the hotel, yet it will earn a negative score. One would have to read the entire review to understand why that person didn't think it was worth the money, which few people do. It's possible that the reviewer simply had unreasonable expectations.
• Claims of bad service contribute to 1-star reviews more than any other factor, which punishes some luxury hotels. In theory, because there is such limited service offered, a motel guest is less likely to be brushed the wrong way by a staff member and end up posting a bad review.
• Hotels get penalized for what TripExpert calls, "the nightclub factor." Any hotel with a "selective door," like a nightclub or strict lobby bar dress code, will ultimately garner bad reviews from those who don't get in or who show up underdressed. TripExpert found that many of those reviews were written by people who had never spent the night or experienced the hotel in any other way.
• It has come to light over the years that many reviews on TripAdvisor are fake. We've seen hotel execs get busted for phony reviews as well as employees offering cash rewards for good reviews. Positive reviews can also be purchased online through websites such as Fiverr.
• The list of reviews (and thus the overall rating) for a typical hotel is usually not demographically representative. Aka - you have to really dig to see what type of people are doing the reviewing and cannot assume a full range of personalities, ages, and genders have offered up their opinions. For example, according to the report, 38% of Yelp users have a household income of $100,000.
TripExpert is hoping that the popularity of film critics and the like will translate into the realm of hotels. We get our movie reviews from an "expert," so why not our travel advice? Of course, people already do this, subscribing to travel magazines and following travel blogs. That's what we're doing right here right now, isn't it? In that sense, this idea is not unique in its approach, but it is the first to aggregate all the different expert opinions out there into one place.
We look forward to playing around with the site over the next few months, and we'll definitely come back with a review of our own once the dust settles and we have a chance to use it for our travels.
We can tell you right now that for as critical as TripExpert is being of TripAdvisor, it too will see its fair share of criticisms. Like movie reviews, travel writing is nowhere close to being free from bias, and that's a hurdle we're sure will reveal itself at some point. Although you have to figure that, given the solid reputation of the sources it pulls from, a professional review, biased or otherwise, will be more trustworthy than one from a "civilian."
But maybe now, as travel writers, we're just being biased. Wink.