Hotel travelers have to be smart to use Tripadvisor - opinion

Tripadvisor is a revolution that comes down to one simple fact: travelers trust other travelers.

 A VIEW of King David Hotel, as seen from the Old City walls, in Jerusalem.  (photo credit: CORINNA KERN/FLASH90)
A VIEW of King David Hotel, as seen from the Old City walls, in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: CORINNA KERN/FLASH90)

If offered a complimentary one-night stay in a leading hotel in Jerusalem, most travelers will probably choose the iconic King David Hotel, due to its history and guests: royalty, presidents, leaders, authors, artists and famous people. Some might choose the reputed Waldorf Astoria, a few hundred meters down the street. If offered the same perk in a reputed global branded hotel in Tel Aviv, the chosen hotel might be the Sheraton, the David Intercontinental, the Hilton, or the recently opened glistening beachfront The David Kempinski.

What’s in common with all these hotels? Peculiar as it may sound, none of them appear in the top five Tripadvisor leading hotels in the relevant city. This online site features approximately 1 billion reviews and opinions on roughly 8 million establishments reflecting public opinion about what are the best hotels.

The encouraging news for King David Hotel is that it is ranked among the top 10 Jerusalem hotels, but the rest, including other global branded hotels, are trailing significantly far behind. This is not just an Israeli phenomenon. Some of the world’s leading global branded hotels are not among the leaders on Tripadvisor.

Is Tripadvisor at all important?

“Before the days of what we define as crowdsourcing, travelers booked hotels via travel agents that offered accommodations based on their business interests, earned commissions and personal interests”, says Dr. Lior Zoref, author, crowdsourcing researcher and speaker. “The good of the customer was not the leading interest. Today’s online review platforms allow travelers to understand what their fellow tourists think. It is not perfect. The posted information should be examined carefully, however, when the number of reviews is high, the true opinions are reflected. We can be confident that the overall score is accurate. In the past, the bigger lodgers were usually recommended at the expense of small boutique hotels that lacked financial power. Crowdsourcing is a revolution in the travel industry and hotels with good reviews get a good amount of guests, regardless of their limited resources”, he says.

 AMONG THE massive construction projects in Jerusalem will be a batch of new hotels.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) AMONG THE massive construction projects in Jerusalem will be a batch of new hotels. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Are Tripadvisor reviews credible?

No doubt that crowdsourcing is a revolution due to technology, but hazards are in place. How credible are those reviews? In principle, a traveler can post reviews on Tripadvisor without being a guest of a hotel. Tripadvisor management is definitely aware of this challenge. This April, it released a statement that more than 1.3 million reviews submitted to Tripadvisor last year – 4.4% of its total review submissions – were fake. “However, we prevented 72% from making it onto the platform. That marks a 5% point increase from 2020 when we caught 67% of fraudulent reviews”, they said.

APPARENTLY, THERE is more than meets the eye. “In normal years, branded hotels cater to business travelers and less so to leisure travelers. The vast majority of reviewers on Tripadvisor are leisure travelers who favor independent hotels vs branded hotels”, says Max Starkov, an American travel and hospitality tech-consultant and adjunct professor of hospitality technology at New York University. “On average, the number of reviews left by leisure travelers in comparison to business travelers are 4 to 1”, he says.

The Global brands are reputed for their professional standards, mega marketing capabilities and their enormous loyalty programs that attract hundreds of millions of members. They are not willing to bend the knee so easily. However, disappearing on numerous occasions from the top of the list on Tripadvisor is certainly a blow. Tripadvisor offers a remedy that comes with a price: Sponsored Placements, an advertising solution. It helps businesses get targeted online traffic to their property by advertising in high-visibility placements on this world’s largest travel review site.

Do consumers notice Tripadvisor's categories?

One question remains. Do consumers notice those sponsored placements while quickly surfing on their mobile phones? TripAdvisor is the top most-visited site when it comes to travel booking. It claims a significant amount of all online travel purchases globally. Those placements allow global brands to capitalize on their influence over consumers’ buying decisions.

A while before COVID, Tripadvisor introduced a concerning change in its repositioning from a review site to a place to plan, share and book travel experiences, and above all, to get the best deals on hotels. When travelers search for a destination on Tripadvisor, hotels are no longer displayed according to the Popularity Ranking. The new default ranking is called “Best Value.” “This is an obscure criterion,” says Max Starkov. “Properties are ranked using exclusive Tripadvisor data, including traveler ratings, confirmed availability from site partners’ prices, booking popularity location and personal user preferences. In reality, this means that hotels from which Tripadvisor makes the most money are listed on top most of the hotels in the top spots”, he says.

There are other sorting options for consumers to choose from if they wish: Traveler Ranked, Price (Low to High) and Distance from City Center. “Do users see the little and well-hidden sorting menu and do they know how to change the sorting options from Best Value to any of the other options?” doubts Starkov.

Tripadvisor is a revolution. For more than a decade, it has provided us with reviews of hotels and tourism activities, so we can receive positive assurance before booking a trip. It comes down to one simple fact: travelers trust other travelers. Tripadvisor’s Annual Travelers’ Choice badge is presented by chosen proud hotels on their websites, front desk and correspondence.

Nevertheless, is it really the role model for travel crowdsourcing today? It is definitely up to the eye of the beholder. Travelers nowadays are much smarter than before. If crowdsourcing is what we are looking for, by switching the sorting option to Traveler Rank mode, being aware of sponsored placements and giving the global brands and reputed hotels an extra weight, you will definitely be smarter. In that case, making a choice where to stay, using Tripadvisor guidance as a desired crowdsourcing source, can definitely be on top of our list.

The writer is the Travel Flash Tips publisher.