Has the review about a hotel been bought? Or is it the real thing?

by Karen Fawcett on July 8, 2010


Do you believe everything you read about a hotel?  How do you know the reviewer hasn’t received preferential treatment and been given the bridal suite? Or perhaps been privy to hot and cold “we’re here for you” service because the management knows a positive review can put the hotel on the map.  After all, business is down these days and consider advertorials akin to all’s fair in love and war.

Once upon a time, when publications had money to burn, reviewers were forbidden to take freebies from hotels or restaurants. The joke was that reviewers would go all out to be incognito. They’d wear (perhaps) weird outfits, sport bizarre hats to hide their persona, pay with assorted credit cards and invariably ask for something unusual to test the establishment’s know-how. Some critics adopted Greta Garbo’s “I want to be alone” credo. It’s rumored that Michelin inspectors would do inspection tours alone and perhaps another one would show up at a later date to confuse matter as well as the personnel.

‘Oyster Hotel Reviews www.oyster.com launched recently, bringing clarity and authority to the difficult task of choosing the right hotel to stay at while traveling.

Oyster Hotel Reviews maintains hundreds of original reviews and more than 50,000 undoctored, original photos of the hotels of New York, Miami, Aruba, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Many more locations will be added to the site in the months ahead.

Since it was founded in March 2008, Oyster Hotel Reviews has spent the past 15 months dispatching a staff of experienced journalists with credentials ranging from the New York Times to Men’s Journal, The Village Voice and Conde Nast Traveler, among others, to anonymously stay in hotels, investigate them methodically and in depth – and take hundreds of photos so that readers can see the hotel in depth before they go.

The Internet is overloaded with thousands of hotels and resorts who misrepresent themselves, via exaggeration and even outright misrepresentation on the Web. The leading travel booking sites simply recycle photos and property descriptions they receive from the hotels themselves. Frequently, anonymous users reviews and add sometimes biased reviews leading even great hotels to receive one star ratings and vice versa.

“Travelers today have no reliable source to rely on for hotel information and hotel reviews. Reading hotel websites and anonymous reviews, people can’t discover the truth. There are tremendous differences between what our reporters bring back and the marketing distortions of the hotel industry,” said Elie Seidman, founder and CEO of Oyster Hotel Reviews. “The vast majority of hotel descriptions and photos circulating on the Internet originates in the hotel’s own marketing departments and gets reproduced over and over as legitimate truth – but it’s often highly misleading. By pulling back the sheets and revealing what you’re really going to get, Oyster Hotel Reviews will fundamentally change the way people make hotel decisions.”

“We understand that hotel stays are one of the few things you can’t try before you buy – and usually the most expensive part of travel expenses.” added Seidman.

Oyster Hotel Reviews Hotel Investigators experience every hotel they review. They visit and stay in the hotel anonymously. They sleep in the beds, swim in the pools, eat the food, interview the guests, and shoot hundreds of photos. Every review looks at service, design, dining, cleanliness, nearby nightlife, and even the thread count of the sheets on the beds. In addition, the site considers the specific needs of different types of travelers, including families with children, honeymooners, business travelers, golfers, pet owners, and those on limited budgets. To assure that consumers get apples-to-apples comparisons, Oyster Hotel Reviews reporters evaluate hotels on 70 different quantitative and qualitative dimensions.

Having unbiased and unsubsidized reviews is good.  We all agree with that and applaud this new sites’s goal. But, how do we know we agree with the reviewers’ taste as to what’s good and bad and is it yours? Are you still going to consult other travel sites, magazines as well as friends for second opinions? I know I’ve seen some hotels that have received raveews but they’re not my cup of tea. For that matter, I wouldn’t stay in some of these “designated” hotels if I had my choice.

Please post what you think. Is there anything such as a rating hotel site that’s 100% on target?  I’d wager no. But, I’ve been wrong before and will be again.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

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  • Bob Ploehn

    The question remains: Is one hotel impression by a “professional” reviewer more or less accurate than, say, one hundred reviews from “ordinary travelers”?

    Internet reader reviews, such as TripAdvisor, are subject to all sorts of variables, However, when you create a database of over 100 “ordinary traveler” reviews, then you have a vast cross section of experiences under all sorts of different circumstances. Which would you rather trust, one hotel stay or the collective judgment of 100 stays or more? True, some of the 100 reviews are likely to be a bit wacky, but when balanced by so many others, they tend to be a small factor.

    No question that the hotel-provided pictures are always after a refurbishment, but was that renovation six months’ ago or six years’ ago, a vast difference? Almost all hotel descriptions are notable not for what they say, but what they do not say. Many times key attributes like location or the adjacency to public transport are omitted. Then you can find yourself in a hotel where $10 taxi rides four times a day are necessary.

    Sounds like Oyster is a good place to find another opinion, but I checked several Miami Beach hotels and found faulty info. One hotel, a 15-minute and $10 taxi ride from the beach, is said to be just 5 minutes from the beach. Perhaps by helicopter.

  • LP

    I find it interesting that a story supposedly about biased hotel reviews is actually more of an ad for Oyster Hotel Reviews.

  • Annie

    I would use Oyster as another tool when deciding on which hotel or B&B to book.

  • http://eezeer.com Andre

    Oyster sounds interesting. Everyone is concerned about fake reviews these days and at eezeer (a great review and community social network) we try our utmost to cut out fake reviews by geo located reviews that are moderated to be confirmed wirh room numbers and period of stay.

    I believe “fake reviews” will always be a concern but with “certified” reviews they will surely become fewer.

  • Joel Wechsler

    @LP That was my reaction as well.

  • PauletteB

    Sounds like another useful tool should you be going any of the places Oyster covers (I agree that the write-up seems almost like a promotional piece), but I wouldn’t use it exclusively. Whether pros or “civilian” travelers, reviewers’ opinions are always biased in some respect. When checking a hotel or restaurant on TripAdvisor, I look for the overall rating, throwing out the few super highs and lows. (I’ve seen some out-and-out lies posted about properties I know well.) I’m especially interested in WHY a person was satisfied or dissatisfied with a particular property, as what made someone else happy or unhappy might be totally unimportant to me.

  • http://primovacation-club.com/blog/ Dave Chapple

    Notwithstanding the occasional underhand tactics of some Hotels posting fake reviews or misrepresenting themselves, reviews will always be more or less a subjective issue with a number of personal author opinions coming into play.
    I wouldn’t rely on a single review source but check with a few for a more balanced opinion.
    Of course, why not write your own reviews for hotels you visit – you might eventually become a trusted review source yourself.

  • http://elaine-travels.blogspot.com Elaine

    I always go with personal recommendations first and tripadvisor second. I only read other reviews when I don’t have a review from my first two sources.

    I don’t trust any site that says it is “unbiased” because everyone has a bias, even if it is personal preference for a particular decor. As Bob wrote, I would rather read 100 reviews of various tastes than 1 or 2 of an “unbiased professional” whose tastes might not be mine.

    I looked at the Oyster reviews and I don’t find them impressive because they do not cover a wide range locations and their heavy handed sales tactics for their site own leave me cold.

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