On Twitter, USA Today columnist Laura Bly passes along this tweet:
laurablyMore choices: control, or confusion? RT@MindlessMuse: Why can’t finding a hotel be easy…so many sites, reviews, opinions.
I guess I don’t really have this problem, I know what sources match my travel preferences the best.
Once upon a time people would work with a travel agent on these questions. There were good travel agents and bad travel agents, travel agents familiar with the destination or not, travel agents who would push particular providers because of higher kickbacks, and travel agents who happen to understand your travel style and those more suited to other styles (luxury vs. backpacker, and huge gradations in between, different sorts of details matter to different people).
True full service agents offering actual travel strategy and advice are now few and far between. In the luxury segment they do still exist, Virtuoso is a good example but even there the quality ranges. For actual advice on where to stay and how to get the best value out of high end properties, I do think very highly of David Ourisman (DavidO on Flyertalk).
Most of the time though, and outside of high end travel, the structure of the industry has changed so the only way to make money as an agent is with really high volume which means compromising service. The business travel segment has become commoditized but still remains as one which offers the service of agents. There you’re not usually getting especially tailored service unless you’re high up enough in the company hierarchy to have some decision-making authority over the travel department, or over those who do. There are exceptions, of course.
Unless you know an outstanding agent, you’re usually on your own. And indeed there are a myriad of different sources out there, most folks don’t know how to pick and choice amongst them.
For me, and especially because my travel style tends towards the higher end, getting the best bargains, and maximizing the use of hotel program elite status, my best bet is Flyertalk. I may want to know which hotel to visit in Bangkok, I’ll visit the Starwood forum on Flyertalk and search out the thread which compares the different Starwood options. I’ll probably need to visit each hotel program’s forum if I’m interested in potentially more than one chain. But I’ll get a good rundown of what to expect from the hotel, what elite benefits are offered, and a comparison of the locations of each property within the chain. That’s really what I’m looking for.
I use TripAdvisor, but never for their overall rankings in a city or average traveler ratings. Leave aside questions of whether a handful of reviews are bogus meant to boost a property’s scores. The median TripAdvisor reviewer is unlikely to have the same travel preferences that I do, so their scores aren’t meaningful. And some of the better properties are frequently knocked in favor of low end ones precisely because their value propositions don’t match a traveler’s preferences — you see, for instance, the Ritz-Carlton Central Park in New York City knocked down because room service is really expensive. Well, yeah. It’s the Ritz-Carlton Central Park. In Manhattan. I do believe a property needs to be judged on its own terms, with those terms clearly explained.
Instead, I use TripAdvisor for (1) the myriad of photos, a picture does speak 1000 words and (2) consistent comments across reviews — not normative judgments of good or bad, but frequently repeated data points. If reviewers frequently note mold in the bathtub, peeling wallpaper, stained carpets, that’s useful information. I disregard the outliers when a property is frequently reviewed.
In essence, I value the opinions on Flyertalk and I value the photos and mass volume on TripAdvisor.
But if I were a different style of traveler, I might well approach things differently, and use a different mix of sites. in the comments, would appreciate your contribution of (a) what style of traveler are you (what are key factors in your decision) and (b) what sites you use. Would be interested to see if these things do vary as I suspect, or if my basic model is generally applicable.