Posted: July 28, 2015

Should you trust that online travel review?
Do you know how to spot a fake review?

In today's day and age of social media and constant smartphone use, everyone has the tools necessary to voice their opinion. Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to detailing customer service and experiences, especially within the travel industry. Whether it's sharing a rewarding stay at a hotel or describing a nightmare encounter with a particular airline, it seems like just about everyone's an online critic nowadays. But how can you tell if a person, profile or screen name is sincere with their online review? The continuously growing trend of online reviewing gets bigger every day, and ABC News reports that the Federal Trade Commission has proceeded to reassess the current guidelines on testimonials and endorsements of online reviewing. Take a look at why you should always take incredibly positive or negative reviews with a grain of salt as well as how look out for a suspect online critic:

Consumers find online reviews trustworthy

Despite the anonymity the Internet provides for online reviewers, the overwhelming majority of U.S. consumers not only trust popular opinion when it comes to various travel industry evaluations, but these evaluations significantly influence their customer decisions. A 2013 study conducted by BrightLocal found that roughly 80 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as they would a personal recommendation, and around 75 percent say positive online reviews make them trust a business more. While many would dismiss notions of people posting unfair or biased reviews, some researchers have looked into the frequency of prejudice in these online assessments.    

"Approximately 80 percent of U.S. consumers trust and value online reviews."

Three business school professors from Yale, Dartmouth and USC respectively worked together on an investigation examining online review manipulation. After analyzing the requirements of posting a review on some of the major travel websites, the researchers found that some require confirmation that you indeed booked a hotel at a particular resort, while others only required an email address or login name. The study authors also concluded that larger hotel chains had more to lose if caught posting fake reviews, in terms of potential public relations fallouts, and that popular hotel companies with surrounding competition primarily being smaller or privately operated hotels have 16 percent more one or two star ratings than hotels with big company-owned hotels being the predominant competition.

Spotting a fake

The study suggested that consumers should be more wary of smaller establishments than the bigger chains and companies, but how should travelers go about becoming more skeptical toward online reviews? The best way to be absolutely sure about the reviews you're reading is simply to start digging a little deeper. If you see a lengthy positive or negative review, click on the uploader's profile. If they're a first-time reviewer, it's probably a good idea to take their scrutiny or praise lightly. Always be sure to check out multiple review websites when evaluating feedback of a hotel or travel attraction for a more balanced comparison. It's also recommended to not take extremely positive or negative reviews into account, as these assessments tend to be overly biased.

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