Survey: How Travelers Use Online Hotel ReviewsJune 11, 2014 by Taylor Short
Online hotel reviews have a major impact on those looking for a place to stay: Consumers trust online recommendations almost as if they came from friends, and popular websites such as Booking.com, TripAdvisor and Expedia garner between 25 and 40 million visitors each month.
We decided to conduct a survey to find out exactly how and why travelers use online reviews, and what aspect of these reviews they find most convincing when booking a hotel. We collected about 385 unique responses to each of five questions, giving us a total of 2,697 respondents.
Majority of Younger Consumers Use Reviews Before Booking
We wanted to find out how often consumers checked online reviews of a hotel before booking a room. A combined 46 percent say they use online reviews before booking “sometimes,” “most of the time” or “always.”
How often do you check online customer reviews for a hotel before booking a room?
While the largest group of respondents said they never checked online customer reviews, those who do commonly use reviews skewed younger: 30 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds use reviews most of the time, and 28 percent of those aged 18-24 always use reviews.
Demographics: Online Review Usage by Age
I spoke with Chris Campbell of Review Trackers, a company that offers reputation management and review-monitoring solutions. He has worked in digital marketing for more than six years, and serves as the company’s chief tracking officer. These findings, Campbell says, are characteristic of larger trends throughout the global hospitality industry.
These trends can be explained by increasing Internet access and mobile use, especially amongst younger age groups, he says. The growth of websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor is due in large part to the increased use of smartphone travel apps and mobile browsing and bookings.
“We definitely see [more use of online reviews] in countries with higher Internet penetration, because there is higher saturation of these kinds of [apps],” Campbell says.
Most Use Reviews to Identify Possibilities
Next, we looked at what reasons people gave for looking at online reviews before booking. The results show that 35 percent use them early on to identify hotels to consider, while 28 percent use them to narrow down pre-determined choices.
What is your most common reason for checking online customer reviews of hotels?
Fewer use reviews to find the best price for their choice of hotel (19 percent) or to confirm their final choice of hotel (18 percent).
For many people today, the Internet is the first place to look for hotel and travel information, as well as just about anything else. Campbell suggests that the popularity of travel review websites—which provide even more information and photos than travel agents once did—is changing the way people perform research before trips. It’s much more common for today’s travelers to start searching for hotels on a review site, instead of going directly to a brand’s website or even calling the property.
Expedia is the Most Popular Online Hotel Review Site
When consumers were asked what online hotel review site they use most often, Expedia came out on top, with 38 percent. Popular site TripAdvisor ranked second with 28 percent—slightly above Hotels.com, at 25 percent.
When viewing online customer reviews of hotels, what website do you use most often?
Our other option, Booking.com, only received 6 percent. Two percent of the respondents entered their own answers for what websites they use, including Hotwire.com, Kayak.com or just a Google search.
While both Expedia and TripAdvisor are highly trafficked websites (about 260 million visitors per month for TripAdvisor and 60 million visitors per month for Expedia), they offer slightly different services, which could account for these numbers.
Expedia operates as a full-service travel site, selling multiple types of travel arrangements—such as flights, rental cars and hotels—all from the same place, in addition to offering reviews. TripAdvisor, however, provides reviews and information only, directing consumers offsite to complete a booking.
Expedia and TripAdvisor Most Trustworthy Review Sites
So, we figured out what sites consumers use most often to check hotel reviews—but how much do they trust each one? It turns out, even though most of our sample say they use Expedia more than TripAdvisor, both websites are trusted equally, at 34 percent.
When viewing online customer reviews of hotels, what website do you consider most trustworthy?
The rest of the results match the last set: 24 percent trust Hotels.com most, and 6 percent predominantly trust Booking.com.
TripAdvisor was one of the first travel sites to embrace user-generated content back in 2000, so a portion of consumers may appreciate the mostly-unfiltered reviews. And while Expedia doesn’t receive the same level of engagement, Campbell says he thinks its verified reviews—wherein the company checks sales records to ensure the review is real—make a big impact on consumers. But overall, it seems to show that the difference on which types of reviews are most valuable simply comes down to personal preference.
Hotel Price Is Most Important Review Information
When consumers are looking at these online reviews, what is the most important information that they’re looking for? Our respondents say the price of the room, with 58 percent, is the key tidbit.
When reading reviews of hotels online, what’s the most important type of information you’re looking for?
Other review information that our respondents say is important includes proximity to local attractions (16 percent) and aesthetic features, such as the size of the room or the view (15 percent). A description of on-site amenities, such as a gym or restaurant, received 10 percent of the vote.
The “Other” category gave respondents a chance to enter their own answer, and every one stated that information about room cleanliness was a big factor for them. Other comments mentioned “safety,” “quality” and “overall experience.”
There is, however, a significant difference when looking at how each gender answered the question. Of those who said information about aesthetic features was most important, 63 percent were female, compared to 37 percent male. Conversely, of those who said on-site amenities were most important, 59 percent were male, versus 41 percent female.
Demographics: Most Important Hotel Review Information by Gender
Guest-Submitted Comments Most Enticing Review Element
We know price is an important factor to consumers looking at online hotel reviews, but is that what convinces them to book a room? We asked respondents what element would most entice them to book, and 40 percent say specific, guest-submitted comments in the reviews are most effective at driving their decision to purchase.
Which element of an online hotel review would be most likely to entice you to book a room?
The next most enticing feature was the hotel’s percent or star rating, with 29 percent, and guest-submitted photos of the rooms, with 18 percent. The least enticing element of a review, according to the results, is the hotel’s ranking relative to other hotels in the area (13 percent).
While the last question revealed that price is a huge factor, Campbell thinks this data shows that, with so much information available online, consumers are now looking at the bigger picture to make decisions.
“I don’t think it’s fully driven on price anymore,” he says. “You have to consider how much parking costs, if there is free breakfast, if there is free Wi-Fi and how many reviews it has. Travel gets expensive, so people are looking for an overall value—verified with reviews.”
Nearly Half Wouldn’t Pay More for a Well-Reviewed Hotel
As much as consumers claim they value online reviews, our results show they might not necessarily want to pay more for a room with positive comments. Forty-seven percent say they wouldn’t pay any more for a hotel with positive reviews over one without positive reviews.
How much more might you be willing to pay for a hotel with positive online guest reviews over one without?
Others say they would pay “a little more” (30 percent) or “moderately more” (17 percent). Very few say they would pay “much more” or “twice as much or more” (3 percent each).
Even though online comments can entice consumers to book a room, it seems they don’t feel like paying much more for one with positive reviews. As mentioned before, many consumers tend to look at the overall value; Campbell says this could represent a lingering consumer behavior from the recent economic slump.
The results show that 18- to 34-year-olds tend to use online hotel reviews to find potential places to stay. They generally use TripAdvisor or Expedia and look at the price and the user comments—but they won’t spend much more for a hotel with positive reviews over one without reviews.
Most hospitality professionals today realize the impact of authentic guest reviews, and are actively targeting younger age groups, who are gaining more disposable income to spend on travel. Knowing the most important aspects of your hotel’s online reviews—and how consumers use them—can help your marketing team perform reputation management more efficiently, and ultimately, convince more guests to book at your hotel.
To further discuss this report or obtain access to any of the charts above, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.