A recent ad directed to the industry -- and maybe consumers, as well -- asks whether travelers are better off trusting hotel reviews compiled by "expert travel writers" or by ordinary travelers who may not have a clue about evaluating hotels. The ad was sponsored by one of the professional services, so you can guess the answer. But is that also the right answer for you? That's a good question.
Several proprietary services -- charging fees -- provide professional hotel reviews. As far as I can tell, the largest is the Star Service. It targets travel agents with hotel reviews compiled by professional travel writers. It covers more than 10,000 properties (plus 300 or so cruise ships). The last time I used it, information was presented as large printed loose-leaf binders, but now the main approach is a searchable online database.
Overall, when I used it, Star Service reviews were extremely helpful, and it doesn't seem to have changed much. Although different writers prepare individual entries, I get the impression that evaluations are fairly consistent and consistently fair. My criticism of them is that on inspection visits, hotels tend to schlep travel writers through lobbies, dining rooms, ballrooms, and luxury suites, with less emphasis on the run-of-the-house rooms that most of you would occupy. And some of the prose in the reviews is too purple for my tastes. Still, I'd say that the professional reviews could be useful for anyone selecting a hotel without prior personal knowledge of a destination or its hotels. Unfortunately, the subscription price, at $249 a year, is far too stiff for most travelers. The only practical way you can avail yourself of this resource is through a travel agency -- an approach with merit for lots of other reasons, as well.
At this point, the only traveler-oriented source of professional hotel reviews I know is the much smaller NileGuide (www.nileguide.com), with reviews noted as "expert picks." Professional Travel Guide, formerly the go-to source of such information for ordinary travelers, seems to be out of business. Sad.
For hotel reviews submitted by ordinary travelers, TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com) deploys by far the largest database. Currently, it posts more than 30 million (and counting) "trusted traveler" reviews, covering just about anywhere in the world you'd ever think of visiting -- and some you wouldn't. Reviews are submitted by ordinary travelers like you, and they reflect ordinary traveler concerns: location, room quality and features, amenities, charm, and such, and with the special emphasis on value for the money that you don't much get from the professional reviews. Although some of you might be concerned about fake reviews posted by hotel managers and owners, that seems to be not much of a problem, especially when an individual hotel may generate hundreds or even thousands of individual submissions.
In addition to the complete reviews, TripAdvisor posts a composite five-dot rating (in half-dot increments) for each hotel based on all of the individual inputs. The site covers thousands of cities and resort areas. Although based in the United States, its scope is not limited: You can find lots of reviews for Cuba's Varadero Beach, for example, submitted by Canadians and Europeans who are not barred from going there. It also shows reviews for several hotels in Teheran, Iran, and even covers six hotels in Pyongyang, North Korea. My main problem is that it posts so much content for popular areas and hotels that negotiating all that detail is sometimes cumbersome.
Although the largest, TripAdvisor is by no means the only source of travelers' hotel reports. Among the many similar -- and similarly useful -- but smaller sites are Hotel Shark (www.hotelshark.com), IgoUgo (www.igougo.com), TravelMuse (www.travelmuse.com) and TravelPost (www.travelpost.com). The big online agencies such as Expedia and Travelocity also include many hotel reviews.
All in all, if you're looking for hotel reviews, your challenge is apt to be too much information, not too little. But if it has to be "too" one way or the other, I'll take "too much" every time.
Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through www.mybusinesstravel.com or www.amazon.com