Recognizing reviews for what they are


A few weeks ago, my mother and I were discussing travel.

More specifically, we were discussing a trip Terry and I would be making and a trip she was setting up with my father. Part of our conversation covered the internet, which involved some of the things that go into researching, booking, and just in general poking around.

Honestly, the real conversation was more fun than anything else. We shared some common headaches and complaints about the entire process. We laughed about how silly and out of touch people can be. And we discussed how frustrating it is to get straightforward information.

Part of the honest information troubles was actually found in almost all of our conversation about travel coverage on the web. And as we talked, she mentioned one of my pet peeves about the internet. Mom wandered into how unreliable and unhelpful several reviews and comments were. And since sound effects don’t work that well between writer and reader, you’ll have to take this and use a bit of your own imagination…

* Ding * Ding * Ding * unreliable internet * Ding * Ding * Ding*

(Groucho Marx would be giving away a prize for revealing the magic word.)

Obviously, I don’t believe the idea that material on the internet and considering the source need much of an introduction overall. Like another example, buyer beware, there’s plenty of reasons and evidence for why all of us should wander through web pages with skepticism and lie detectors on full alert… and if we get drawn in by it, well, it’s probably on us.

But there is a bit more than just general awareness. And for me to cover the ground, I want to meander back to a trip I took in 2013.

Terry, Ellen, Richard and I were headed to Savannah, Georgia. As was the case for many of the adventures the four of us shared, ahead of the actual events Ellen and I would spend some time looking around and making plans. Could be as simple and obvious as plane tickets and car rentals. Could be as creative as some hunting for hidden treasures.

One of the funnier things we kept encountering was crazy thoughts involving hotel stays in Savannah.

Ok… quick step to the side, same trip.

One of the best tricks to interpreting online reviews is to look for repeated words, phrases and concepts. In general—widely sweeping and very general—ideas and experiences mentioned by one commentator need to be viewed as isolated. Place them into that your experiences may vary classifications. But if several people are mentioning the same item in a similar fashion, it could be worth exploring a bit.

Ellen and I stumbled across a ton of reviews and comments, praise and complaints, involving Savannah. This went for the community as well as different businesses. One thing that came up several times involved critiques about parking. That we found interesting, and we asked several questions about it. Turned out, it was a lesson we would understand quite well after our visit, and one we benefitted a bit by being able to ask about often.

Many of these things can be brilliant and beneficial. But the brilliant and beneficial can be like panning for gold… intensive, exhausting, and frequently disappointing. The point is, you don’t always have to have a bad experience in order to recognize bad information.

Thought expressed… back to the search.

One place we kept coming back to was the Residence Inn Midtown.

It is a bit out of the center of activity. We took roughly ten to fifteen minutes to drive into the heart of Savannah each day, meaning in the car and leaving the hotel lot to the point where we would be parked and standing on the sidewalk ready to begin an activity. In general, I would tell you it was an affordable, friendly, convenient place to stay. Not only suited our needs, it exceeded our expectations. I would gladly stay there again, and I would refer you there for your trip.

But I mentioned crazy thoughts.

Crazy thoughts about Residence Inn Midtown number one – Ice cream bars

One comment on a travel review site featured someone that was incredibly ticked off about the ice cream bars offered by the hotel.

Now… consider… this location was a fairly low-priced option compared to many other hotels in Savannah. Terry, Ellen, Richard and I got a two-bedroom suite, with a mini-kitchen (full refrigerator), for less than one standard room without a kitchen area would have been in several other places. Plus, they offered a breakfast every morning and a happy hour every evening. Breakfast included hot and cold options, cereal, pastries, yogurt, waffles and more. Snacks covered wine, water and soft drinks with an assortment of cookies, cheese and crackers. Very impressive for a lower-dollar stay.

Funny bonus offered by this Residence Inn. Every day, if you checked the freezer in your room, you would find ice cream bars. You know, such as a Klondike bar. We found four every evening. One per person.

Well, this reviewer was extremely disappointed, and reviewed the property very low on the satisfaction scale, because of these ice cream bars.


Because they were ice cream bars in the freezer. They weren’t a rolled room to room, fourteen flavors, hot fudge and caramel and assorted topping with whipped cream and cherries, serve yourself a treat ice cream bar.

Crazy thoughts about Residence Inn Midtown number two – Dollars and cents and wine

In the first crazy thought I mentioned the breakfast and happy hour offerings at the Residence Inn Midtown.

On another site, a person slammed the quality of the wine offered each evening. Person was extremely upset that they seemed to be pouring nothing but what was referred to as $10 bottles.

I’m hoping that without much explanation you see the crazy in these two individuals and their rants. And yet… crazy as they both are… they each share a couple of reasons for being part of my thoughts when it comes to online reviews.

First of all, they’re fun and stupid and obvious. You’re staying in a room with two separate bedrooms, a sitting area, table and kitchen, for under $200 per night. AND that place is clean and safe. AND that place meets all of your needs. AND that place is offering food without charge such as a strong breakfast menu plus an afternoon/evening snack bar. I don’t think there’s a lot of ways to support someone pissed off at not finding an ice cream sundae bar at the door to the room each day or expensive bottles of wine on limitless pour.

Another idea, they are obvious offerings of the extremes. When I or anyone else gives you the advice of considering the source, then you head to an online grouping of travel reviews to find someone complaining that high-end wasn’t being served at the complimentary hotel cheese and crackers soiree, the consider the source alarms should be sounding off at the highest levels of steer clear of this one warnings.

And that’s the funny thing. Because in reality, the problems begin not with recognizing consider the source advice. There are a ton of ways you should be able to see things that are happening and understand the sources aren’t reliable. Instead, the problems that I see for people seem to develop from applying context.

For instance: How can you spot a review, endorsement or slam from someone and be absolutely positive the person has an overwhelming bias in the situation?

Answer: You can’t.

Not with complete certainty. There is no way to know that person creating the post is the sister of the business owner, a competitor from across the street that doesn’t offer the same quality and decided to go on the attack, a customer that was or wasn’t truly wronged but in either case has the power to vent online.

Honestly, it’s like hearing about phone scams. We all know they exist and think we’re smart enough to spot them when they come along.
But there are things you can do to approach and process the information. And in many cases, this is where consider the source meets realistic results.

Look for themes, words and concepts that repeat. If one person says the cramped parking lot caused trouble when the tow truck showed up to work on the family’s car, you might have someone venting. When every other comment is about difficulties parking, such as lack of spaces, tickets being issued and stolen items, you might want to do a bit of investigating.

Know what’s important for you. If you’re looking for clean rooms and a breakfast option at the hotel, suddenly an ice cream bar in the fridge is a bonus. Complaints about the lack of room service caramel sauce and chocolate sprinkles are funny.

In the end, people can find whatever it is they want to find. Reasons to visit a location. Reasons to stay away. The only thing that really matters is an understanding that pretty much everyone has an opinion. It’s up to you to decide whether or not to listen to it.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at