hotel1.jpgYou need to book a hotel for your next great getaway but you want to be sure the place you pick is fit for your family.  Unless you know someone in the city where you’re visiting and you can crowd your whole clan in their spare bedroom, you’ll need a home away from home during your travels. 

You want a clean hotel , a place where your children can get away to a kids club and playground, maybe a hotel with a golf course where you can get outside and practice your swing again.  A nice, family hotel.  Sounds easy enough, but where do you start?  Well, if you’re like most of us, you let your fingers do the walking: online.

Lucky for you there are lots of hotel review sites.  From TripAdvisor, Hotelicopter or Oyster.com, all it takes is a couple of clicks and you can quickly find out if the room you’re booking is comfortable and classy or dirty and disgusting, despite what the site’s pictures show.  Who would know better than the people who have been there just how great it is, or how great it’s not?  Ed Perkins is the author of Online Travel, writes a syndicated column and has been in the travel industry for nearly 50 years, including a stint as the editor of Consumer Reports Travel. He’s seen a lot of adjustments in his 50 years in the travel industry. Ed’s opinion? “These review sites are helpful, especially in that they cover many more hotels than any "professional" review system can cover. Also, they’re based on a typical guest’s viewpoint.”

But what if those reviews are skewed?  It happens.  Some sites, like TripAdvisor.com , allow anonymous reviews to be posted (although the person who writes the review does have to register a name with the site to contribute).  Even the site has posted notes on some its millions of reviews that they may have been manipulated, either with superior reviews of the contributor’s own hotel (by the pr folks, management or other employees), or incredibly negative reviews of their competition.  One suggestion is you only trust the reviews that come from a very experienced traveler, someone with more than a hundred postings.  Perkins says it’s hard to know how accurate reviews are when there are only one or two regarding a particular hotel.  Still, TripAdvisor is typically the go-to site. Perkins attributes that to its sheer number of reviews.

hotel3.jpgThen you have newer sites such as Oyster.com . Oyster works very differently than its competitor at TripAdvisor, dispatching reporters it has on payroll to the various hotels to write up reviews. The company pays for their stay while attacking the assignment like any other, interviewing others staying at the same time and getting it all in pictures, real photos you can compare to the ones posted by the hotel’s advertising gurus.  And not just photos of the hotels’ exterior.  They cover fixtures , lobbies , the beach , pool , bathtub, robes, decorative details and more.  The theory is the journalists will offer up objective reviews when no one gets a free stay or extra perks. Perkins holds high regard for the professional writers, but does make one point you may have noticed yourself, saying “I believe that those reviewers tend to overemphasize lobbies and public areas compared with ordinary rooms.”

Another new option in the review scene comes from Hotelicoper.com , a site that lets you get your reviews from people you actually know.  You use your Facebook friends for references to hotels with Hotelicopter.  Essentially, when you search a hotel on Hotelicopter, recommendations from your friends pop up to pick from.  You select from the options and the site then shows you what it would cost to book that room from more than 30 different booking sites.

Perkins points out that the review web sites are better able to get the word out while it matters, compared to information from guide books which may be years old by the time thy are published.  His advice:  "Ideally, travelers should seek out as many sources as possible, given time limitations.  However, traveler reviews are the only source for many smaller hotels that the professional sites an guidebooks can’t cover."  And some information is typically better than none.