May122008

Reviewing the Reviewers – a TripAdvisor Analysis

I like TripAdvisor. Where else can I find hundreds of reviews of a hotel in one place with a popularity ranking system?

The more I use TripAdvisor, the more frequently I notice some limitations of the service. Two issues have arisen over the past couple of weeks as I have spent several hours working with TripAdvisor hotel review webpages.
Firstly, I have issue with the geographical specificity of the hotel popularity ranking system used to show the order of listings according to a TripAdvisor proprietary algorithm – the TripAdvisor “secret sauce”.
A tourist often does not have detailed knowledge of a place. Here is the issue I ran into with studying Phoenix/Scottsdale hotels. I planned a trip to go to a meeting in Phoenix two weeks ago. I simply wanted to stay in hotels in the Phoenix area for a couple of additional nights, however, a hotel near Phoenix was also in consideration since I could drive to any location in the Phoenix area in my car.
TripAdvisor categorizes hotels by the specific city.
Phoenix hotels are one database of hotels provided in TripAdvisor’s own popularity ranking.
Scottsdale hotels are a different exclusive ranking.
Glendale, Chandler, Mesa, and Tempe are each additional ranked hotel popularity databases.
Sometimes there is an additional regional header besides the state, but not always.
Examples to illustrate the point.
My previous post was a trip report about The Wigwam Golf and Spa Resort in Litchfield Park, Arizona. The Wigwam is the only hotel in Litchfield Park, Arizona, a suburb in western Phoenix metropolitan area. TripAdvisor ranks The
Wigwam #1 most popular hotel in Litchfield Park, a city with 1 hotel.
What good does that do in helping me decide how The Wigwam ranks among metropolitan Phoenix hotels?
The good news is TripAdvisor sub-categorizes Arizona (and each state) with some regional category groupings. Arizona has a sub-category for “Central Arizona” which combines the hotel listings for Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, and a variety of other towns and cities.
The interesting omission to me is Litchfield Park is not included in the Central Arizona database and therefore The Wigwam Resort has no comparative popularity ranking for Phoenix metropolitan resorts in the TripAdvisor search results.
Closer to home I noticed another odd thing about TripAdvisor.
For Carmel, California hotel listings I can search for Carmel and the TripAdvisor geographical hierarchy for hotel search returns is based on:
Carmel/Monterey Peninsula/California
If I search Carmel hotels, I will only see hotel listings for Carmel, except for a few Carmel Valley properties and a couple of Carmel Highlands properties if I search “Carmel” on TripAdvisor.
If I search Monterey Peninsula, I will expand the hotel database and see TripAdvisor’s popularity rankings for hotel listings in Carmel, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, and Monterey.
The TripAdvisor display for Carmel lodging looks like this:
#1 in Carmel of 18 – Tickle Pink Inn (this hotel is actually 5 miles south of Carmel in Carmel Highlands)
#2 in Carmel of 18 – Quail Lodge Resort and Gold Club (while technically a Carmel address, this resort is located on the Carmel Valley Road several miles east of the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea and would be referred to locally as a Carmel Valley location.)
#3 in Carmel of 18 – Lobos Lodge (actually in the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea)
The TripAdvisor display for Monterey Peninsula lodging looks like this:
#1 Tickle Pink Inn (#1 of 18 Carmel)
#2 Casa Palmero – Pebble Beach (#1 of 3 Pebble Beach)
#3 Quail Lodge (#2 of 18 Carmel)
#4 Best Western De Anza Inn (#1 of 62 Monterey)
#5 Lobos Lodge (#3 of 18 Carmel)
#6 Comfort Inn Monterey Peninsula Airport (#2 of 62 Monterey)
Looking at the first list for Carmel returns a variety of lodging options. 
A golf resort at Quail Lodge in the Valley; an oceanfront hotel in the Carmel Highlands with some of the most incredible views of California coastline in the state; a little place in downtown Carmel for all the features of dining, arts, and the beach in a central Carmel location.
These are all fine accommodations reflecting the type of activities available in and around Carmel.
The Monterey Peninsula hotel search returns are all over the place.
I still have the three Carmel options in the Top 6, so looking at the other three listings:
Casa Palmero is luxury on a money scale. A night here will likely run $1,000 for a room that won’t have an ocean view. The Pebble Beach golf course is all around and there are dining options and such, but the clientele for Casa Palmero is a jet-setter that will unlikely ever consider the Best Western de Anza on Fremont Street.
 
The #1 ranked hotel for Monterey is near the Monterey County Fairgrounds, a Denny’s restaurant, a Long’s drugstore, and a pornography shop, but not much else of tourist interest. The features of Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf are about 3 miles away.
The Comfort Inn Airport is fine if you have a 6am flight out of Monterey, but not much to do in that area without driving to some other place.
The hotel search returns are an odd mix when the secret sauce of TripAdvisor popularity ranking sorts the regional results.
Down by the Seaside, See the boats go sailin’
Another problem I saw for this area is the City of Seaside has Hilton’s Embassy Suites and a Holiday Inn Express and these hotels are not listed in the Monterey Peninsula options because Seaside is not considered in TripAdvisor’s category for Monterey Peninsula. Seaside may not be the dearest place on the Monterey Peninsula, but by anyone local, the inclusion of Seaside in the Monterey Peninsula is a given. The Embassy Suites is across the street from Monterey’s city limits and the hotel beach facing view rooms have one of the best views of the Monterey Peninsula.
What is TripAdvisor’s definition of a B&B/ Inn?
My second issue with the popularity rankings is the separation of lodging into hotels and B&B/Inns. For Carmel-by-the-Sea, there are only 18 hotel listings and 36 B&B/Inn listings.
 
As a tourist my perception of a B&B/Inn is what I would experience when staying in a nice Victorian house with beautiful furnishings and a friendly country charm on the coast of Maine. Pacific Grove has B&B accomodations like that. Carmel has a bunch of motels that have been upgraded every few years for the past 60 years and the buildings are motel quality, but generally with a little extra style in the rooms.
Most of us would call a large number of the B&B/Inn properties listed among the 36 TripAdvisor popularity ranked lodgings “motels”. The location in central Carmel, near the beach, does not necessarily make a motor inn motel with a parking lot correlate to a special B&B/Inn.
Here is my argument presented in photos:
I just have a hard time rationalizing the inclusion of the Clarion Carmel Oaks property with B&B/Inns and not hotels.
Clarion Collection’s Carmel Oaks Inn and Suites, AAA 2-diamond property listed in TripAdvisor’s B&B/Inns category.
Small windows look out to the street. Balconies on second floor rooms.


The parking lot/courtyard to the Clarion Carmel Inn. The Inn’s Office is the door with the window.
Carriage House Inn, AAA 4-diamond property
Carports are unusual for a 4-Diamond Inn, but the room interiors are what one might expect in a nice inn. Large tubs, marble tile, window seats, and 42 inch wall mounted HDTV are some of the features in rooms at Carmel’s Carriage House Inn.

TripAdvisor has a substantial database of hotel reviews, but the algorithms used for hotel searches still needs more tweaking to better serve the traveler with relevant and more comprehensive results and comparisons.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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