Tips for Using Tripadvisor (i.e., How to Choose a Hotel)

It was well past 9pm by the time we arrived at our hotel in Quito. We’d just flown in from Bogota, and fortunately, the driver that our hotel sent for us was at the airport on time to pick us up and drive us nearly an hour into Quito’s historic city center where we had reservations at Hotel Real Audiencia overlooking Plaza Santo Domingo. Although I was still recovering from traveler’s tummy, I was hungry, tired, and really looking forward to kicking back in our comfy hotel room and ordering room service.

Plaza Santo Domingo in Quito's historic center

Plaza Santo Domingo in Quito’s historic center

I just knew that our room would be comfortable. After all, I’d spent several weeks researching Tripadvisor for hotels in Quito that offered the perfect mix of luxury, comfort, affordability, and location. I just knew that I’d stumbled upon a gem when I came across Hotel Real Audiencia. Although the hotel class is 3.5 stars, in my book, a solid 4 out of 5 Tripadvisor rating carried more weight than the hotel class. Plus, I thoroughly perused travelers’ photos of the hotel and read through the reviews. We were bound to have a great stay…or so I thought.

Imagine my disappointment when we entered our room and it looked nothing like the bright, tastefully decorated rooms in the travelers’ photos. Instead of beautiful hardwood floors, our room featured dingy, stained carpet. Instead of freshly painted walls, our room’s walls were accented with streaks of dirt. The ceiling panels and light switches were cruddy, the bathroom light fixtures were secured with electrical tape, the shower caddy was rusty, and the lighting was dim and eerie. In fact, the entire hotel was dim and eerie. During our four night stay, apart from my brother and his girlfriend, we only saw one other couple at breakfast. Oh, and the breakfast…it sucked. And I almost forgot to mention our in-room stereo system that mysteriously started playing the radio each morning.

We were so disappointed in our room, that instead of ordering room service our first night, we ate in the rooftop restaurant instead

We were so disappointed in our room that we scratched plans to order room service our first night and we ate in the rooftop restaurant instead.

“Are your rooms being renovated?” I asked the front desk clerk one morning as we headed out for a tour. “On Tripadvisor, your rooms look more modern – like they’ve been renovated.” I said suspiciously. “So why did you check us into such a cruddy room?” I demanded. The clerk giggled and averted the question. Not funny…and not cool!

Our stay must’ve been a fluke, I thought.

Fast forward a few months to January during our road trip around Jamaica. Because we were traveling on a tight budget, all-inclusive stays were out of the question. I knew that we were going to have to rely on lots of AirBnB stays (which we did) and stays at smaller hotels. Knowing what to expect in Jamaica, I knew that our problem would be finding small hotels that align with our affordable luxury travel style. So I expected rooms with outdated décor, outdated bathroom fixtures, and the like. While planning, instead of allowing myself to get too turned off by travelers’ photos, I instead focused on Tripadvisor reviews.

Hotel Jamaican Colors...cute from the outside - right?

Hotel Jamaican Colors…cute from the outside – right?

So I was happy when I came across Hotel Jamaican Colors, a decent drive from Port Antonio’s city center on Long Bay. The 3-star hotel has a 4.5 out of 5 rating on Tripadvisor, and while travelers’ photos show rooms with island décor from circa 1990, the rooms looked clean. Surely, I could “rough it” for a few nights.

...but the inside is pretty tacky.

…but the inside is pretty tacky.  You probably can’t tell, but the mosquito net is blood stained and completely dingy to the touch.

The icky bathroom

The icky bathroom

Imagine my dismay as I lay awake next to Jave around 2am on our first night, enveloped by our dingy, blood-stained mosquito net. Paranoia had me up turning my flashlight on and off every ten minutes to see whether anymore roaches had wandered into our room.  After all, Jave killed two just before we went to bed.

Before I finally drifted off to sleep, I made a note in my iPhone with a blog post idea sharing tips about how to choose a hotel. Because after failing in both Quito and Port Antonio, I vowed to help my fellow travelers avoid the same pitfalls when it comes to using Tripadvisor to make your hotel booking decisions. Don’t get me wrong…Tripadvisor is the bible – it is the word of travelers. But when it comes to researching hotels, there’s a way to use Tripadvisor to maximize its full potential so that you don’t end up staying in a dump.

First, the cons
The positive reviews may outweigh the negatives. Still, the negative reviews speak volumes. Read them first! In Tripadvisor, click the applicable boxes to sort the reviews.

The positive reviews may outweigh the negatives. Still, the negative reviews speak volumes. Read them first! In Tripadvisor, click the applicable boxes to sort the reviews.

When researching a hotel, instead of immediately honing in on the positive reviews, I’d strongly advise you to sort through the negative ones first. The bad reviews may be so telling that you just may decide not to even give the hotel a second thought.

negative review

For example, if I’d read TurkTraveler2016’s review when it was posted last February – around the time I started my initial hotel research for Quito – I more than likely would’ve taken the reviewer’s word to heart and bypassed Hotel Real Audiencia altogether. But I missed this review simply because I didn’t prioritize the negative ones first.

Consider the reviewer

So I definitely should’ve taken this advice when researching hotels in Port Antonio, Jamaica. On the one hand, Jamaica attracts high end luxury travelers who are willing to pay $6,000+ for a plush, two week stay at an all-inclusive. On the other end of the spectrum, many travelers to Jamaica tend to have a budget backpacker’s mindset. That is, they’re willing to stay in a rundown, outdated accommodation as long as it’s cheap and offers pristine views and/or easy beach access. Since staying at Hotel Jamaican Colors, I’ve realized that the reviewers who gave it a 4.5 out of 5 rating fall into the latter category of travelers. Clearly.

The pool at Hotel Jamaican Colors is definitely in need of repair

The pool at Hotel Jamaican Colors is definitely in need of repair

Beautiful views alone are enough for some travelers

Beautiful views alone are enough for some travelers

That’s why shabby cottages with rotted roofs, blood-stained mosquito nets, and occasional roaches running underneath door cracks weren’t deal breakers and didn’t warrant negative reviews…because Hotel Jamaican Colors offers affordable rooms and pristine views.

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Does management respond to complaints?

When reading through Tripadvisor reviews, if I notice that management has a habit of not responding to guests’ complaints, I immediately scratch that hotel off of my list. Responding to online complaints is just as important as responding to in-person complaints, and if a hotel isn’t taking the time to do so, it’s a sure sign that their customer service is subpar.

Check back frequently for more recent reviews

Something that I need to be more diligent about is checking Tripadvisor for more recent reviews in the weeks leading up to my stay. You should do the same. For example, if you’re traveling in October and book your hotel in July after reading positive Tripadvisor reviews, between August and your departure date, you should periodically recheck the Tripadvisor reviews to see if any guests have posted any negative feedback or photos that would give you pause.

Check the forums
The dialogue in the Tripadvisor forums may not always be up-to-date, but when it is, the answers you'll find in the forums can be quite helpful

The dialogue in the Tripadvisor forums may not always be up-to-date, but when it is, the answers you’ll find in the forums can be quite helpful

Apart from reading Tripadvisor reviews, it also doesn’t hurt to check the forums for mention of the hotel you’re considering because sometimes you may find helpful feedback from travelers who haven’t written a formal review.

Room tips
The Tripadvisor room tips feature

The Tripadvisor room tips feature

A nifty feature of Tripadvisor is Room Tips. When you click on this feature, you’ll get suggestions from travelers about the best rooms in the hotel and which rooms to avoid. Because let’s face it – not all rooms are created equal.

Check beyond Tripadvisor

Although Tripadvisor is the traveler’s bible, sometimes it just doesn’t have all the answers. If you’re worried that travelers’ photos look too perfect, if there aren’t any recent reviews, or if you’re curious to learn more about how a hotel addresses guests’ complaints, you have other options. Here are a few:

VirtualTourist: Post travel questions in a relevant forum and get answers and advice from fellow travelers and locals.

Oyster: Oyster touts itself as “the only hotel site that sends special investigators to visit, photograph, review, and rate each hotel.”

TripExpert: The New York Times said this site is like Kayak, but for hotels. When using this site, take note of the expert reviewers’ recommendation scores, but also keep in mind the number of published reviews the score is based on.

Google: Simply google your hotel and then click on “images” and/or “news” to find images of the hotel beyond those in Tripadvisor and to see whether there are any newsworthy happenings involving your hotel of choice.

Social Media: Check the hotel’s Facebook page or Twitter feed to see whether there are any guest complaints and to see if and how management responds to them.



What do you think about these tips? Do you have other suggestions about the best way to use Tripadvisor when researching hotels?