However, in many cases the appeal of online travel review sites is also their Achilles' heel. Pretty much anyone can post their opinions in a review, leaving the door wide open for those with a particular bias for or against whatever they are reviewing. For example, nothing stops restaurant owners or hoteliers from padding a review site with glowing write-ups for their business. Likewise, nothing prevents that same person from falsely panning his or her competitors, or prevents anyone with an unreasonable grudge from posting baseless rants.
But don't despair. With some common sense and these tips, you can still use online reviews as an effective tool to plan your next vacation:
* Consider a number of reviews. Look for overall trends when contemplating reviews for a particular hotel, restaurant, tour operator or cruise line, and be suspicious of isolated, overly negative or positive reviews. Be like a panel of sporting judges: Disregard the high and low scores, and make your determination by the majority of opinions in between.
* Read the reviewer's other posts. Some review sites will let you read all the reviews from a particular poster, and that can be illuminating. You might not trust the opinion of someone, for example, who is routinely negative, demanding and always complaining of being treated poorly.
* Pay attention to the actual complaint. You may find that the reason for a terrible review isn't relevant to your travel plans. If a restaurant can't accommodate a gluten-free diet, or if that hotel in New Orleans charges $50 a night for parking (and you're not bringing a car), you may be able to disregard certain bad reviews.
* Most importantly, rely on websites where the reviews are verified. You might not know it, but it's impossible for most travel websites to verify whether or not people have actually experienced what they're reviewing. And if a review isn't based on firsthand experience, how reliable or trustworthy can it be?
Thankfully, there are websites where the reviews are 100 percent verified. Tauck, for example, is an 88-year-old leader in guided travel with more than 100 land journeys and cruises to more than 70 countries and all seven continents. The company encourages its guests to share reviews of their experiences, but each review is only posted to Tauck's website once the author's email address and the trip he or she is reviewing have been cross-checked against Tauck's records.
For more information on Tauck, and to read reviews of the company's trips, visit Tauck.com.