David Randall: Hotels, and how (not) to choose them

Our own trip adviser warns against web booking

Related Topics

If there's one thing even more mystifying than the meaning of life itself, it's the success of the TripAdvisor website. Just how bereft of common sense do you have to be to take the advice of anonymous strangers on something as important as a hotel stay? And that is even without considering how many reviews, if positive, were planted there by the hotel, its staff, and the sneaky little companies that do so for a fee; or, if they are negative, are put up by rivals. Small wonder that the Advertising Standards Authority is to investigate the provenance of the reviews upon which so many, apparently, set such store.

Even if the site managed to expunge all the fraudulent and fictitious reviews, there is still the issue of subjectivity. One person's "firm, comfortable bed" is, if you think about it for a nanosecond, another's "hard, unforgiving mattress" – and one's "fun-loving laid-back staff" is liable to be another's "insolent waitresses lacking respect". All in all, when it comes to choosing a hotel, TripAdvisor is about as useful as a 60-year-old AA Guide.

So what to do? I must have booked hundreds of hotels down the years, and can recall only one truly duff one (of which more anon). The iron rule is never to make a reservation without first calling. However beguiling the website, however impressive the low-light photographs of the conservatory restaurant, never book without first dialling the hotel's number. Countless times I have rung an attractive-looking place only for the phone to take ages to be answered, or, when it finally is, for a cold voice to sound entirely uninterested in who you are and what you want. If they can't exhibit the will to win before they have sold you a room, they are very unlikely to discover it once they have. (Hence a reason to spurn any hotel which makes you ring a central reservations number – you will not be speaking to the people who will actually be looking after you.)

A hotel website can unwittingly reveal a lot. Ones which make much of the alleged personalities and interests of the owners should sound loud alarms. My advice: never book a hotel run by "characters". Similarly, shun establishments whose website is illustrated by line drawings, especially of the main building or its gardens. There is no surer sign that, although Wren-like in appearance and "on the outskirts of a mainly Georgian town", the hotel is actually located next to World of Leather.

Look, too, for signs that the hotel fancies itself as a bit of a player in the weddings market. This may mean they've invested a few quid in a wrought-iron gazebo in the garden, but it means other things, too. Like the vibrating bass-line of the disco still shuddering at 1am, two ushers fighting over the favours of the chief bridesmaid at 1.45am, or the whole place being so comprehensively taken over by the wedding party that you feel like gatecrashers. And while I'm about it, never book a five-star hotel. Nothing to do with the place, everything to do with the sorts of people who will be your fellow guests.

The one duff hotel? Near Taunton, arrived around 3pm with wife, widowed mother and four sons, checked in, went to our rooms and settled in. Tap on the door. There had been a bit of a mix-up; we would have to change rooms. As I absorbed this, I asked about dinner that evening. "Have you booked?" Hadn't. "Well you should have booked before arrival. Too late now. Good pizza restaurant down the road." I asked for a Yellow Pages, found what I wanted, booked four rooms at the late lamented County Hotel, Taunton, and marched my family out past the protesting owner, and, a short car journey later, into the welcoming arms of the County. It was the last time I ever paid any attention to a hotel review.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas