David Whitley looks at the advantages and disadvantages of online reviews



In many ways, the web has unquestionably made the world a better place. Where on earth, for example, did we go to see hundreds of pictures of dogs dressed as bees before? One of the web’s greatest achievements, however, has been in opening up great mines of information and opinion. In travel terms, in particular, this has meant that travellers can see what thousands of other travellers thought before they book.



Restaurant/ bar sites like Yelp and Urban Spoon are tremendous if you’re wanting to find somewhere to eat or drink – the reviews are usually posted by locals who have been there, and you can get a fairly reliable groundswell of opinion in regards to what the place is like. The same applies to a certain extent with hotels. Tripadvisor and reviews on hotel or hostel booking sites should in theory give you a great idea about what a place is like. But you should be wary about totally relying on such online reviews.



For a start, marks out of five or ten can be dangerously simplistic. Some people will take five out of ten as a strict average, others will only go below eight if something was badly wrong. Then there’s also the issue of who’s reviewing. Put someone who usually stays in grubby hostels into a mediocre three star hotel, and they’ll probably regard it as the most wonderful place they’ve ever stayed. Put someone who usually stays in swanky resorts into the very same three star hotel, and they may regard it as a total grothole. Similarly, people want very different things from a romantic break than they do on a business trip. One person’s “in a seedy area” might be another’s “handily close to the station for my train early the next morning”.



There are often huge differences between nationalities too. To go into sweeping generalisations, travellers from Asia are often mildly obsessed with having a separate bath and shower. Ask a hotelier and they’ll probably say Asian travellers prefer the two single beds pushed together set-up rather than a double – something that’s also rather common in Germany/ central Europe.



Americans tend to be more facilities-focused. It’s all about the big list of what’s included and the size of the room rather than character. Europeans have a tendency to lean towards the homely, ‘boutique’ side of things, often at the detriment of some things others may regard as standard. Of course, these are broad brushes I’m using and can’t really be applied to every single traveller from a continent. But it does show the importance of reading between the lines and assessing whether the person writing the review has anything in common with your personality and needs. It’s worth checking a few other reviews they’ve written as a gauge.



The more background and considered criticism there is in the review, the more reliable it is likely to be. Anyone ranting about one thing in particular (“the breakfast sausages were beef rather than pork! This is political correctness gone mad!”) or using the opportunity to take up a minor grievance with a member of staff can safely be ignored, whilst it’s also wise to treat the most gushing reviews with a pinch of salt too. Just remember - it’s not about finding the best place to stay as a consensus of the people who can be bothered to write an online review. It’s about finding the right place for you.



What are your tips for reading between the lines on review sites? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.