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Online review scrutinizers among most satisfied guests, says survey

NEW YORK – Hoteliers: Would you guess that readers who obsess over online hotel reviews tend to be your most, or least, satisfied guests?

I’m asking because J.D. Power’s newly released survey about hotel guest satisfaction revealed an interesting answer: Guests who devour the most online reviews and information tend to be among the most satisfied.

When travelers pick a hotel based on price, their satisfaction “is significantly lower than when they choose a hotel based on other criteria,” the report tells us.

“Before these [online review] sites became mainstream, guests tended to choose a property based on price, previous experiences or location,” Rick Garlick, J.D. Power’s global travel and hospitality practice chief, said in a statement.  “But now, armed with so much more detailed information from fellow travelers, guests can make more informed choices that ultimately result in more realistic expectations about the property. This can go a long way toward satisfaction with their stay.”

I found the results intriguing enough to run by friends on Facebook, where I regularly chat with both hoteliers and savvy travelers.

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The fact that the most review-educated travelers check out of hotels feeling among the most satisfied makes sense, says Adele Gutman Milne, Vice President Sales, Marketing and Revenue at New York’s Library Hotel Collection. The four properties in the collection have consistently ranked among the Top 10 best-reviewed hotels in Manhattan for about six years, she tells me. 

“If people read a lot of reviews, they can better assess if the qualities of the hotel are a fit for their own needs,” she says. “People are different and they place [different] values on a variety of aspects of the travel experience. Knowing yourself and knowing how to read between the lines of reviews, rankings and photos posted online will help you make the best personal choice.”

Since I’m visiting the Library Collection’s Hotel Elysee today, I asked a guest – Steve Browne of Manchester – whether this finding rings true for him. He said it does.

Browne says that he booked two rooms at the Hotel Elysee for his family only after reading reviews and scanning photos on Booking.com and TripAdvisor, and scouring the hotel’s website for additional information.

“I found out as much as I could. The recommendations about the hotel were really good,” he told me. “The descriptions of the place and the ambience just made it feel good and different.” 

While he normally is a voracious read of reviews, he normally doesn’t write them – but in the case of the Hotel Elysee, Brown vows make a point of writing a glowing review and highlighting things such as the cleanliness and staffers’ attitude.

“Our experience absolutely matched all of the recommendations and everything we read about it,” he said.

Courting travelers who truly obsess over online reviews before choosing their hotel, however, isn’t easy.

To compile its 17th annual report, JD Power surveyed nearly 69,000 travelers who responded between June 2012 and May 2013. The firm classified only 7% of respondents in the online `review “scrutinizer” category.

In Europe, Patrick Goff, the London-based publisher of HotelDesigns.net hotel design and news blog, says there’s a strong desire to consume reviews. However, the attention that people pay to them varies based on the responses from management that they read.

“Transparency is the buzzword this side of the pond,” Goff says. “People are hungry for information and will read reviews and hotel responses avidly. If the hotels respond it gives confidence to the guest – especially if they respond openly and honestly to criticism.”