I've been talking to a lot of people about the future of travel guides what with seminars, having a new guidebook in print and going to a recent Booksellers' dinner. Some people - me included - have been forecasting the death of the listings sections. What's the point of me stomping round 50 hotels and writing reviews that will finally get published months later when there are up to the minute assessments on-line for free from Trip Advisor in particular?
According to the site's own stats it now carries reviews and info on over 300,000 hotels.
But hang on a minute... who is writing all this stuff? Start reading the reviews and it's easy to get dragged in... you forget that people posting them often have ulterior motives. You rarely get a 'just OK' review... people only ever take the time to post if they LOVED somewhere or HATED it (or worse still they work there and want to get it up the ratings.)
Nancy Keates writing in the Wall Street Journal has done some fascinating analysis on Trip Advisor, interviewing a range of users - sparked by her experience of staying at a hotel ranked number one in the Trip Advisor ratings which was right next to an 8-lane highway. It's a long article with lots of useful tips like: Study the reviewer as much as the place they're reviewing. Do they travel a lot and post often? The jackpot according to Nancy is finding a place you've stayed in and finding a reviewer who gave it the sort of review you'd have given yourself. That way you can (hopefully) trust their opinion.
But seriously... if you go through all the steps she suggests you could spend hours trawling the site for credible reviews that work for you... Do you have that kind of time? Last time I used Trip Advisor I spent ages comparing reviews... forgetting which places I'd thought might be OK in the process... it was time consuming and at times frustrating.
Here's an idea... shell out for a guidebook... written by someone who has reviewed countless places before and can make a proper comparison based on years of experience. Trip Advisor is a great tool - I do use it myself, but only as a secondary opinion. I'd be really wary of basing a trip around it. Free isn't always best, sometimes it's worth paying for dependable information.