I would never book a hotel without checking it out first on hotel rating Web sites such as TripAdvisor. But I don’t take everything I read on those sites at face value.
I find TripAdvisor and other sites that collect independent travelers’ reviews much more informative and up-to-date than guidebook ratings. But they are also a bit tougher to evaluate properly. Here are some things to keep in mind:
More reviews are more reliable. When I check out a hotel, I like to see 10 or more individual reviews to smooth out statistical anomalies and dilute the influence of fake, positive reviews and unreasonable negative ones.
Lukewarm reviews are most helpful. Travelers who give glowing reviews or hatchet jobs tend to lay on hyperbole that is not specific. Things were great and terrific or dreadful and disgusting. But what things? And how so? Those who give a hotel two or three stars usually provide more nuanced reviews: "The staff was friendly and helpful but the ‘mountain view’ was of a parking lot."
Everyone has different tastes. I stayed at a hotel in Amsterdam and loved it, although I’d read a very negative review that centered around the appearance of a mouse on the premises. To the reviewer, the mouse was a sign of unsanitary conditions. I knew it wouldn’t bother me.
Sometimes the guest is a jerk. If you read a negative review, sometimes you find the reviewer describing a conflict that comes off as maybe, just possibly, the reviewer’s fault. If lots of other guests provide contrasting reviews, the negative review might reflect the negativity of the reviewer.
Sometimes reviews are all over the place, very positive, very negative and everywhere in between. In those cases I ask myself: What did the people who disliked this hotel dislike it for, and is it something that would matter to me?