The Economist: Hotel Reviews On Travel Websites Are Largely Unrealistic!


The Economist had an interesting piece on unrealistic reviews posted to travel websites ranging from Online Travel Agents (OTAs) to the traditional review websites such as Tripadvisor.

Mirage ResortThe essence is that we as reviewers tend to review higher than we actually intend or would be justified, leading to excessively high ratings for some hotels.

This is not even including all the dishonest and fraudulent reviews many hotels post for their own propertieds to prop up their ratings.

You can access the article of The Economist here.

HOW honest are reviews on travel websites? By this I do not mean: is the person writing the review who he says he is, and not the owner of the hotel boosting its rating or a competitor doing it down? I mean, rather, to what extent are reviewers’ ratings a reflection of their actual experience?

Last week, I received an e-mail from a small, family-run hotel asking—very politely, but with notable sadness—why I had marked it so poorly on In fact, having rated the various categories that the website demands, the hotel’s score had come out as nine out of 10. The service was excellent, and certainly far beyond what one might reasonably expect for the meagre cost of staying there. But I had docked a point because the room didn’t contain a comfy chair and the Wi-Fi was patchy.

The hotel had 16 previous spotless reviews to its name. It obviously took great pride in that perfection. I had ruined it. And because of this I had thought hard before submitting my honest review, complimentary though it was. Which made me wonder, given how important such ratings are to small, independent establishments, how many reviewers before me had upped their rating a notch or two so as not to feel the guilt of being the first to tarnish a stellar reputation?

Over the past two years it seems to be a new trend to give the customer little cards upon check-in or check-out reminding them to leave a favorable review for the hotel ‘If the stay has been fully satisfactory’. I tend to get these reminders now from at least every third hotel I’m staying at (mostly chain hotels but also private boutique hotels). This leads to ratings that are almost at the ceiling, reaching close to maximum points.

Here is an example of a hotel in Vancouver, the Rosewood Hotel Georgia where I stayed twice before and which I would rate with a solid 8.

Hotel Ratings

It currently ranks 9.4 on which is largely unrealistic apart from their Hawksworth Restaurant which is top notch.

The article goes on:

In fact many of us feel compelled to inflate the marks we leave online. Over half of the reviews for electrical products on Amazon, for example, are five-star. (I couldn’t find comparable figures for travel sites, though my guess is that it is similar: according to Toonz, three-quarters of the reviews on TripAdvisor are either four- or five-star.) That top mark should be reserved for something exceptional. And by definition, that does not apply to over half of people’s experiences. But in reality, for most reviewers the top mark means nothing more than “good”; four is akin to “nothing terrible happened to me”.

Hence, good ratings are nearly always one mark too high; bad ones one too low. Indeed, as both the Amazon and TripAdvisor research shows, very few people leave a three-star review, which would be the median score in an honest world.

Inflated ratings are problematic for many reasons. For one the obvious factor is that it distorts the facts and that customers who never stayed there before have a totally different expectations. The other is that I have a problem with it when the hotel outlines that only the most satisfied guests leave a comment as their little notes suggest. I would do the same if I were to run a hotel.


If one is serious about reviews either as a reader or reviewer I suggest to balance the sources and impressions to receive a clear picture. Tripadvisor is a good tool because you can also investigate who actually reviewed the hotel. Does the person have experience or only a handful of reviews? Are all of the reviews rants&raves or is it a mixed field? Don’t rely exclusively on the reviews on booking websites including the chains own gateways.