Finding your travel tribe

Written by New York Times | Updated: Oct 26 2014, 08:00am hrs
WHEN SEARCHING for a hotel or restaurant, you dont want everybodys opinion. You want opinions from people who share your taste and travel goals. But how to cherry-pick those travellers from the multitudes of citizen-critics on sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp and Hotels.com

To find your travel tribe youve got to know something about the people who use the sites. Who is writing the reviews on Yelp Do they differ from users of a hotel booking site like Travelocity

Its not that one site is necessarily better than another; its that one is better for you. Here is a guide to help you find it.

Yelp: Users of this local recommendation site tend to be younger, female, affluent and educated, as per Nielsen. The reviews are written by people who are technologically savvy, active travellers, foodies and trendsetters. When compared with the general Internet population, Yelp attracts more people who earn $60,000 to $100,000 or more a year, as per Alexa, an analytics company owned by Amazon.com. The same also happens to be true of TripAdvisor. Yet relative to the general Internet population, Yelp attracts more people who went to college or had some college experience, as per Alexa. More often than not, I agree with Yelp reviews.

Tripadvisor: The volume of reviews here is hard to beat. Actually, its overwhelming. Earlier this year, the company said it collects more than 90 user contributions a minute. You can filter your search results for hotels that are romantic, trendy or luxurious. Or narrow your search by amenities, including properties that have a bar or lounge, permit pets or offer free Internet access. But such options are ubiquitous these days, and they dont get at nuances in service or atmosphere. When it comes to finding your tribe, the most useful filters on TripAdvisor are the ones that appear after you click on a hotel. Once you do that, youre able to choose whether you want to see reviews for families, couples, solo travellers or business travellers. For instance, after selecting a hotel in Miami, I clicked solo and was then able to sift through only those reviews by fellow solo travellers.

Online travel agencies: Many booking sites, including Orbitz and Expedia, have similar demographics relative to the general Internet population. For instance, they attract more women and users aged 45 to 54 years, as well as 65 years and older, as per Alexa. The sites are visually cluttered, which is why I dont spend much time on them. But if you dont mind that, there are upsides. You can narrow reviews by traveller type (such as friends, singles or LGBT on Orbitz). You can also filter them, so that you see only reviews by travellers who booked or stayed at one of the hotels on the site. That makes it more difficult for someone with an agenda to leave a bogus review. Proof-of-stay is not required to post a review to a site such as TripAdvisor.

Professional review sites: If you would rather not have citizen travellers guide you, you may want to check out a review site that deploys its own critics. Oyster.com, acquired last year by TripAdvisor, is one. If you appreciate what popular guidebook and magazine critics have to say, however, try the newcomer TripExpert.com, which debuted this summer. TripExpert scores hotels from 60 to 100 based on expert reviews in places, including travel guides, magazines and newspapers (well, almost. The site includes reviews from the boutique and luxury hotel site Tablet, which are written by guests, not travel professionals). The score also takes into account travel industry awards that the hotel may have won. Hotels appear on the site only if they have been endorsed by multiple experts. The site is clean and self-explanatory: click on a hotel and you see its reviews. For instance, the Hotel Majestic Roma in Italy has eight reviews from Michelin Guide, Fodors, Frommers, Rough Guide, DK Eyewitness, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure and Tablet. The hotels score is 79, which means its considered very good (80 to 90 is excellent; 90 to 100 is best in class). Its like Kayak for hotel reviews. And since hotels cannot get on the site without already having a few reviews in high-profile places, you dont have to weed through a lot of duds.

Stephanie Rosenbloom