9 Keys for a Solid Hotel Review (from a Travel Blogger)
By Daniel Gillaspia, Founder at UponArriving.com
As part of my work as a travel blogger, I've spent the last few years reviewing hotels all over the world. It's one of my passions and I truly love all aspects of the work: snapping photographs, wandering the corridors, taking in those fresh hotel scents, losing my room keys -- I could go and on.
I start my reviews evaluating the location and there are several factors I consider. Is it located within the city and/or close to public transportation? Are there notable restaurants or attractions nearby? Is the nearby vicinity walkable? How is the parking?
Sometimes a hotel is located in an area devoid of other establishments or underdeveloped and it can feel like being stranded on an island. If that sounds like your property then try providing an extensive list of attractions within a reasonable radius (preferably with distance and travel times) so it reminds guests that they're not too far from the action.
From the first email or phone call, I'm looking for courteous and informative responses from the hotel staff and management. Having a staff member willing to (happily) help me before I even arrive to the property is a sure way to win me over.
When a staff member can't give me straight answers on basic questions like whether the pool is heated or what time breakfast starts on the weekend and doesn't feel the need to check that information for me, that becomes an issue.
It's also a problem when hotels simply don't respond or make any effort to follow up to my questions. Many hotels I deal with now communicate effectively, which allows me to begin the review already viewing the hotel in a positive light.
The check-in experience
The check-in experience sets the tone for the entire stay in a lot of cases. Having an open and elegant lobby with a beautiful interior is a great way to put a reviewer like me in the right mood as soon as I step foot in the property.
Busy and crowded lobbies sometimes can't be helped but indifference from the staff at the check-in desk can be prevented. When I've just touched down from another country, a warm greeting can go a long way to make me feel at home.
It is also nice to get elite status acknowledged upon arriving and to feel like the staff member is going to bat for me for things like upgrades (even if they suspect those aren't necessarily obtainable). Also, hotels that make an effort to explain the hotel facilities (dining options, gym hours, etc.) are appreciated.
The biggest question for concierge service is do they go the extra mile? I try to get a sense of how interested (and passionate) they seem in trying to help me have the best experience possible versus just rattling off a list of places to go or things to do.
It helps if the concierge has real connections in the area and can offer me insight into local attractions that I didn't already find on Yelp, but I find that the best concierge services are those that I can have a real conversation with and that provide me with valuable expertise I didn't even originally go to them seeking.
Above everything else, a good hotel room makes me feel relaxed. Sure, I love a stunning skyline view, swanky couches, and walls adorned with artwork, but at the end of the day, I just need to feel like I can kick my shoes off and rest up without worrying about things like the clanking and clamoring from a nearby construction site.
When reviewing hotel rooms, some of the questions I seek to answer are:
- How comfortable (soft or firm) is the bed?
- Are the sheets and blankets quality or paper thin?
- Can I properly control the room temperature?
- Does sound penetrate the walls?
- Are there any weird or mysterious odors?
- Does the room décor look dated?
- Does the room feel cramped or cluttered?
- How comfortable is the furniture (chaise lounges, etc.)?
- What is the workstation size and is the work chair ergonomic?
- How many outlets are there and where are they located?
- Is there storage room for luggage, clothes, etc.?
- Is the TV modern or outdated?
- Is there a mini fridge I can actually use?
- Are the windows clean to appreciate the views?
When it comes to hotel bathrooms, some of the questions I seek to answer are:
- How big is the shower and is the showerhead quality?
- Is the shower fully enclosed?
- Is there a tub and how big is it?
- Are there issues with water pressure or temperature?
- Are there one or two sinks?
- Is there ample counter space?
- What kind of quality amenities are there?
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to bathrooms is the cleanliness.
Some mishaps just warrant a simple apology like when I recently found red lipstick stains smudged on my drinking glass. But then there are those horror scenes like a brown bathwater incident that still haunts me to this day.
I understand that sometimes things get overlooked but the hotel's response needs to be swift and proportional when it comes to cleanliness issues. Anything approaching the level of appalling deserves a prompt resolution and more than just a mere apology.
I judge room service based on punctuality and quality of the food. It always amuses me when hotels go all out for the presentation yet are utterly lacking in the taste and quality department. If anything, the extra flair just adds to the disappointment.
I also believe hotels should state an estimated wait time when orders are put in and if those orders are delayed, that information should be relayed to the guests. If there's a substantial delay that puts the guest at an inconvenience, some type of compensation should be offered.
Pools and gyms
For fitness centers, I look for hotels that have a nice variety of cardio equipment along with some free weights, machines, and mats, medicine balls, etc. While I don't need to have a 17" LED screen hooked up to a treadmill, having outdated equipment can put a big damper on the workout experience.
Having windows or views to go along with the gym is always a nice addition but a well-lit and clean environment is usually all that's necessary. Also, 24-hour access and complimentary water bottles are a big plus.
Pools are nice when they're not just an afterthought. A nice pool and Jacuzzi set-up on a high floor with a view can be a great way to take the hotel experience up a few notches.
Dining and Lounges
Having a highly coveted restaurant or two on-site and a bar or lounge bustling with socialites is splendid, but I'm usually primarily concerned with breakfast because that's what I'll likely be hitting up every day.
A great breakfast will have a variety of hot-food items that don't taste like they were grown in a laboratory. A nice selection of fruits, berries, and pastries to supplement the hot food items is great and it helps if there's a line-up of fresh juices. I also really appreciate hotels with options to order custom hot items to enjoy along with the buffet.
For lounges, having at least a nice (and well-stocked) beverage selection is a must, but I love it when they offer snacks that could practically substitute for a meal - those are the lounges offering real value.
While things like dining and other hotel facilities are important, ultimately a hotel experience boils down to two main factors: comfort and service. If I can't feel comfortable in my hotel room that's about as big of a strike as you can get. The quality of the service colors the experience and when it comes to service, it's often about simply avoiding apathy and being willing to take swift and meaningful action to address issues.
Daniel Gillaspia is a former attorney turned full-time travel blogger and the founder of UponArriving.com. He focuses on airline and hotel loyalty programs along with credit card rewards and regularly publishes reviews of hotels, airlines, and travel credit cards. Daniel has published over 1,000 articles and has been featured in publications, such as National Geographic, CNBC, Travel + Leisure, and several others.More from Daniel Gillaspia