How reliable are online ratings?

Online hotel reviews play a huge role in determining where someone planning a vacation will book a room, with travellers putting a lot of trust in what seem to be the unfiltered opinions of others.
But when browsing online travel portals, something becomes obvious: You rarely see a really bad review.
The innovation value of hotel rating portals has dwindled from the early years, says Axel Jockwer, an expert for online tourism.
“The revolutionary power no longer exists. The individual rating is losing its importance,” he says. “Meanwhile, every last hotel has realised that modern marketing cannot function without the ratings.”
The website descriptions are therefore tailored in such a way that every hotel looks as good as possible, seeming to offer something for every type of traveller.
“If a hotel has a 99 per cent recommendation rating, you should be careful. The hotels don’t have everything to suit everybody,” he warns. Travellers’ demands are simply too many and too manifold.
Yet the ratings are still very important for travellers. “Vacationers trust other vacationers,” says Susanne Nguyen, spokeswoman for the online site Tripadvisor.
According to a study by the German information technology association Bitkom in March 2016, around 28 per cent of all travellers pay attention to the online ratings when booking a hotel.
Purchased reviews play a negligible role, Jockwer says. To him, the problem lies elsewhere: “Some of the ratings are in a grey zone.” This happens when hotel operators motivate specific guests to provide a review – people the hotel knows were thrilled about their stay.
So what to make of – or better, how to trust – online hotel reviews?
Here are some tips that can help a traveller find the best hotel for his or her needs:
*Users should look at only one, or at most two, hotel and rating portals, instead of browsing throughout the entire internet.
*Given the sheer volume of ratings, the use of filters to focus on certain categories, needs and wishes helps considerably in the search for the right hotel. Users should ask themselves what’s really important to them and then judge according to these aspects.
*Often, reading three detailed evaluations is enough to reach a rough idea about a hotel.
*Paying attention to the language used in evaluations can give one an idea about the person writing the review – and possibly the reliability of the review itself.
*Photos that users post in a review are, as a rule, more informative than pictures on the hotel website. So look closely at who or where the photos in a rating portal are from.
Ratings portals usually provide only scant information about the person writing the review, Jockwer points out, often providing only basic data. But age and gender alone are insufficient for determining whether the review is relevant for the person seeking a hotel.
“Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne are both Britons and the same age, but they most certainly have different ideas about what makes for the perfect hotel,” Jockwer says.
Jockwer himself was deeply involved in building the online site Holidaycheck, so he knows first-hand that such portals still need a lot more work before they can effectively meet travellers’ needs.
“In the future, the filter mechanisms should be more expansive,” he says. A huge mass of reviews is not particularly helpful.
What’s better is to differentiate between types of travellers, be it the solo businessman or families with children.
Starts in this direction have been made, he says. In the future, filters will be even better in helping to find your dream hotel. — dpa

PAULINE SICKMANN