Hotel search on the net: Better not just trust reviews

The opinion of other users plays a major role for many when booking a hotel online.

Hotel search on the net: Better not just trust reviews

The opinion of other users plays a major role for many when booking a hotel online. But it should not be the only selection criterion - for good reason.

Hotel reviews on the Internet are often fake. Consumer advocate Tatjana Halm is unable to assess exactly how high the proportion is.

"Also because there are so many ways to fake." In some cases, agencies are behind it that write embellished reviews for hotels. But it also happens that hoteliers say to the guest on site: "If you give me a good rating, I'll give you a discount of 50 euros."

This example alone shows that you shouldn't just rely on the individual (supposed) experiences of others - especially since even real, i.e. authentic reports are always subjective.

The problem with fake reviews, on the other hand, is that users can hardly recognize them as such. "They can forget that," says Halm, who heads the market and law department at the Bavarian consumer advice center. Even if a hotel is rated negatively for a long time and then suddenly unanimously positively, that is at best an indication of fakes. It may just as well be that the operator has changed and the quality has really increased.

According to Halm, some rating portals put a lot of effort into avoiding false testimonials. So it makes sense, when researching for a holiday, to pay attention to whether and how a portal checks reviews before they are published, according to the consumer advocate. "Nevertheless, you can never be sure if the reviews are all clean."

She therefore recommends two things:

1) Scan different platforms and look through reviews to get a broader picture.

2) Understand the role reviews play in your own hotel decision. Are they the deciding factor? Or do specific equipment details or the price play a more important role in the end.

You should also take this into account when making the filter settings on the booking platforms. "The hotels are often first ranked based on recommendations," says Halm. If the price is more important to you, you should change the filter accordingly.

Of course, it makes it attractive when a hotel has received 4.7 out of 5 stars from users or a recommendation rate of 91 percent. With the huge range on the web, we are grateful for such orientation aids. Or as Halm puts it: "Consumers work towards a decision through reviews."

Conversely, this means that good reviews are of course desirable for hotel operators in order to become more visible to customers. And some resort to unfair means as a result.

Some black sheep among the hotel operators try to push themselves up the lists of the portals with fake reviews. "We are sometimes dealing with organized criminals there. They are clever," says Georg Ziegler. He is responsible for fraud tracking at the Holidaycheck rating portal and explains how online providers try to prevent false ratings.

What chances do users have of recognizing fake hotel reviews on the Internet?

Georg Ziegler: It is very difficult for users to recognize counterfeits. They are often done so well that even a quality management system like ours cannot recognize the fake reviews. The fakes are written to appear as if they were written by a real vacationer.

What to look out for

When researching reviews, you should pay particular attention to whether and how they have been checked by the portal. Can users simply leave a comment there with just a few clicks? Or do they have to provide extensive information beforehand, have their e-mail address confirmed and is a rating checked before it is published?

The more effort a portal puts into quality control, the more you as a consumer can assume that the reviews you read there are authentic. But users can hardly identify themselves whether it is a fake or not. The scammers are too smart for that.

How do you try to track down fake reviews - can you summarize briefly?

With us it works almost like at the airport. First of all, we have a kind of security gate - a verification system - that every review has to go through before it gets onto the site. This consists of a technical check: a trained system that has been developed for years looks through the evaluation according to 60 parameters for abnormalities. For example, this could be specific formulations or unrelated data, such as the time between the trip and the submission of the review.

If this system detects an anomaly, a quality inspector comes along and looks at the result of the technical check. He then looks, for example, at how the hotel has been rated so far - to understand whether this is an authentic rating.

In individual cases where we have doubts about the authenticity, we also request random evidence from the holidaymakers as to whether they were actually there in the hotel. This can be a copy of the bill or a hotel voucher. Not everyone is totally happy that they have to deliver something like this. We also lose some ratings, which we then cannot publish as unverified. But many follow the request, because of course we also explain to them: We want trustworthy content on the portal.


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