Using Review Sites to Help in Your Planning

Travel review sites can be helpful if you know how to use them, but they should not be your only source of information.  Tripadvisor is the most popular one, but there are others.  Tripexpert uses experts rather than the general public to rate establishments.  Localeur bases its reviews on the opinions of local residents.  And Gogobot combines experts’ opinions with those of other users to give a complete review.

Most travel-related businesses on the internet include a review section where people can comment about their experience.  You will find reviews on hotel aggregator sites, on museum websites, or on a restaurant’s own website. Google maps and directory sites, such as Yelp, also display ratings and reviews.  You can even find reviews on blogs – like my review of Paris Yarn Shops.  It is wise to check more than one review site – especially if the business is small or new – to find a good sampling of opinions.

How would you rate this bakery in Paris, France?
How would you rate this bakery in
Paris, France?

Tripadvisor collects written reviews from people who want to submit them. The reviews rate places of lodging, restaurants, or activities in categories such as comfort, cleanliness and value.  Submitters can tell of their experiences and share comments with the readers.

Occasionally, hotels may ask their guests to write reviews, offering discounts or gifts for a favorable review.  They might respond to an unfavorable review by pointing out faults of the reviewer – from the viewpoint of the management.  They may even go as far as submitting false reviews to strengthen their overall score.

Even though the false or artificial reviews are not always caught by the managers of the site (often they are), they usually don’t skew the numbers by much.  If hundreds of reviewers praise an establishment – or criticize it – the overall opinion will be apparent.

Review websites can help you determine your best choice when it comes to restaurants, lodging, and activities.  Although you shouldn’t necessarily just pick the top-rated place without looking at others, you can usually assume that the higher-rated businesses are of good quality.

I would give this meal five stars! Bacharach, Germany
I would give this meal five stars!
Bacharach, Germany

When I look at reviews, I not only read the five-star reviews, but also those with only one star.  The reviews with the lowest ratings should show me the worst that could happen.  Some reviewers are ridiculously picky, though, so I don’t believe everything I read.

I have read people’s complaints that a place isn’t up to their American standards.  One reviewer complained that stairs in a Dutch hotel were too steep.  In the Netherlands, though, all stairs are steep – the country is small and steep stairs conserve space.  This “problem” is a cultural norm.  Keep this in mind when reading reviews.

Another way to look at reviews, is to notice if a certain problem is often mentioned.  For a hotel I recently looked at, several reviews mentioned how poor the breakfast was.  I knew from the review, that I may need to buy breakfast, or supplement with snacks if I were to stay in that hotel.   The problem wasn’t one that would keep me away, but I was preparred for what to expect.

The stairs leading to the top of the Triumphal Arch, Paris, France
The stairs leading to the top of the Triumphal Arch, Paris, France

There are many other facts you can glean from a review.  You can find out whether the hotel has an elevator or how many flights of stairs you may have to walk up.   You can determine if a restaurant has vegetarian items on its menu or if it will work with your dietary restrictions.

Sometimes it’s important to know how much walking or waiting time an activity involves.  A review might help you decide if the activity is a good fit for your young children…or your teenagers…or your aging parents.

Researching by using review sites in an important part of planning your itinerary.  Remember, though, that the sites could not function without input from travelers.  When you return form your trip, write a couple reviews, yourself; add to the database.

Write about the great place you stayed, the delicious meal you ate, or the exhilarating activity you participated in.  If a particular employee was extremely helpful, take note of their name and mention that person in your review.  Also, write about the parts of your trip that did not meet your expectations.

Alexander III Bridge in Front of the Highly-Rated Orsay Museum, Paris, France
Alexander III Bridge in Front of the
Highly-Rated Orsay Museum,
Paris, France

Be careful when writing a negative review.  Tell the truth, but try to be objective.  Ask a friend to read your piece before you submit.  Readers will have a hard time trusting someone who is on a rant.  Don’t let your anger show.

Used correctly, review websites can be a great help in planning your next vacation.  Read the bad reviews along with the good ones.  Remember to add your review when you return home.  The sites – and future travelers – need to hear what others have to say.

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