Suggestions on Weighing Travel Suggestion Sites

Readers of this page might recall that I have been a huge fan of user-generated rating sites, like TripAdvisor.com. I think they provide an excellent service to those of us looking for advice on hotels, sights and other vagaries of the travel game. You know the idea: Lots of people share their views and a mass accumulates which can be helpful in getting a handle on a faraway hotel, say.

Matthew Stone, a college professor and travel expert who produces a neat website, provides some clear guidance on how to best read these sites, what to look for to gauge the reliability of some of the comments and what to expect when you turn to strangers for information. He is a lot more skeptical than I am about these things so maybe you need a user-generated rating of which to listen to — or, like any smart reader, you make your own call.

His point, relayed by the travel guru, Peter Greenberg, is that any crank can chip in his two-bits and skew the results. One bad visit does not a bad hotel make. Competitors or employees can add damaging or dishonest commentary. And he starts with the excellent question: “When did we start trusting strangers over experts?”

These are all very valid observations and are critical footnotes to any reader’s dependence on the words and experiences of others. No, we wouldn’t likely take the word of some guy on the street corner we chatted up while waiting for traffic light to change. That’s what experts are for. I agree entirely.

But I also think that the bigger sites, like TripAdvisor or IGoUGo.com, amass such a volume of observations that the quirks and quacks and manipulators are evened-out if not lost in the shuffle. If 760 reviews add up to a very high ranking for the Back Bay Hotel in Boston, that stands for a lot. If there were three then, sure, two of them could topple the average entirely — but there are hundreds and hundreds.

Stone’s caution is well taken and his advice is smart: Don’t get swayed by the stars alone. Read the individual comments to see why people like or dislike a place; What dismays someone else may not be important at all to you and me. Double-check with the facility’s own site. (Although Oyster.com has a light debunking of the glorious photos on hotel sites compared to reality.) Use your head, he says. And, your travel gut. More, he points out, “After your own stay, post your own honest comments online to help future travelers.”

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