The worst vacation place I’ve ever booked was really bad. Not bed bug bad, but bad enough that we never unpacked; we asked for a refund and drove away. It was a bed and breakfast near Erie, a place that looked quaint in the brochure but, in reality, was probably a house the owners had abandoned because it was so awful and they figured someone who drove all that way would be dumb enough to pay to stay there.
We had to step over a toppled basketball hoop to get through the door. Things went downhill from there.
This happened pre-internet. That bed and breakfast would likely not survive now – not in the climate of the instantaneous user review – nor should it survive, at least not in the condition we found it. A web review might have tipped us off and steered us away. Or, a web review might have gushed compliments, falsely.
It’s hard to know what to make of web reviews.
Starting this weekend, I’ll be with a film crew at a hotel in Wildwood, New Jersey. We did not choose the lodging – it’s where we’re required to stay for the production. I’d never been to that part of the Jersey shore, and knew nothing of the hotel, and so I went to the web for a look around.
The place is either a clean, comfortable, friendly spot for the perfect family vacation, or it is a decrepit, mean, sweltering flea bag with mold in the showers. Among the dozens of reviews there were few that held the middle ground – reviews that said the place was clean enough for the money and close to everything.
This made me question the veracity and the motivations behind hotel reviews. I’ve stayed in many hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and inns, and I have never posted an online review, good or bad. When things were bad, I complained and received either refunds or changes; when things were good, I left happy. But it has never occurred to me to post a review.
Maybe there’s a certain type of traveler who will take the time to do so. Given the polarized nature of the comments (either one star or four stars for our place in Wildwood), maybe these travelers have expectations (or lack thereof) that are so specific and intense that they feel compelled to write a report, where most of us are generally OK with most accommodations.
The reviews I read about the Wildwood place had lots of detail – about shabby curtains, lumpy mattresses, flat pillows and the unfriendly desk help. And reviews posted the same week referred to friendly desk help, comfortable beds and nice decor. Of course, one girl’s comfy bed is another girl’s sleepless night, but shouldn’t there be consensus on what constitutes a shabby curtain?
While looking up the home address of a friend recently, I found an example of the review mentality gone insane, sites that list not only contact information but reviews of the person. A snarky barometer rates people on a four- or five-star scale. I have not checked my own reviews, but this is why they say never to google yourself.
Nor should I have looked up our hotel. For the next week, I’ll be staying in a room that is either “clean and inviting” or “smelly with a sandy carpet and AC that’s never works.” At least it’s right on the beach – a fixed feature that can’t be calibrated by personal opinion.
For now I will choose to believe the good parts and ignore the bad. But just in case, I’m taking my own pillow and a fan.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at email@example.com.