Comment: Online reviews cast more shade than light

Comment: Online reviews cast more shade than light

Online reviews have largely superseded brochure descriptions, but they're all beginning to look the same, says Noel Josephides, chairman of Abta

I spend a lot of time writing hotel and resort descriptions.

It’s not a job I enjoy because it’s very repetitive. I run out of adjectives, especially when I am describing views.

‘Spectacular’, ‘panoramic’, ‘exciting’, ‘fantastic’, ‘striking’, ‘fabulous’, ‘great’, ‘awesome’ – what else can you say?

Many of these words have lost their significance as they are, generally, overused. The word ‘awesome’, for instance, is used by the young to describe much that isn’t ‘awesome’ at all.

A ‘nightmare’ holiday can be one where the aircraft was delayed for half an hour and the word ‘disaster’ means much the same as ‘inconvenience’ in customer complaint holiday-speak.

I have followed with interest the way the ‘review’ culture has developed online. After all, that is what has largely superseded the tour operator brochure description.

I’ve never considered writing a review. If there is something wrong or I want to compliment a hotel then I do it in person. I will also recommend a property to my friends if it comes up in conversation.

The fog of reviews

But have you noticed what’s happening to reviews? They’re all beginning to look the same.

When you Google a hotel, you are faced with a page full of review stars and they are all about 4.5, never quite making the 5. Are all these hotels equally good? If you read the reviews, they all tend to read the same too. Are we any the wiser for having read hundreds of reviews if no property scores below 4 stars?

In one respect we are. Abta advises that by reading reviews you are likely to pick up any bad vibes and are therefore less likely to succumb to fraud.

The whole of Google’s first page is now dominated by Priceline and its trading names such as Booking.com, by Expedia and its many satellites, and by TripAdvisor. These three companies monopolise online holiday presence; in many instances, a property’s own website can be very difficult to find.

Every aspect of the booking process has somehow been commoditised.

Why write a review?

So why do people write reviews? To empower the public? To help others? Or simply to show that the reviewer holds the future of the property in his/her hands? Or maybe they feel their choice of property was a good one and they are proud of their judgement?

This gives rise to another question: 
if the first review is good, does it set 
a trend for a whole list of similar reviews, making the first review the key one? If that is the case, then is the judgement of the person who wrote the brochure description of a property all you really need?

I wonder if hoteliers feel they need reviews because they have no confidence in their own ability to spot weaknesses in their product?

In the same way, do tour operators need reviews on their sites because Google, the latter-day God, says reviews are ‘de rigueur’ and thus the company will be marked down if they are not there?

Is it all smoke and mirrors? Is a booking down to the review, or is it the price?

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