Forbes and AAA have for decades been considered the gold standard in luxury hotel ratings, with properties that have attained four and five stars and diamonds prominently displaying the awards in their lobbies and on their websites. But a new survey suggests that a majority of affluent travelers now trust online review sites like TripAdvisor more than they trust the revered rating agencies.
According to MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers, 53% of travelers with an annual household income over $150,000 now trust review sites more than ratings like those published by AAA and Forbes.
Those sampled also said they trusted the review sites more than they trusted the opinions of their friends or family. When searching for inspirational travel ideas, the survey revealed, 37% consider the advice of family or friends influential, down 11% from last year.
Steve Cohen, vice president of insights at MMGY, said he thinks reviews trump family and friends because most travelers are looking to go places and do things that their friends and family haven’t done.
“The likelihood of them knowing people in their socioeconomic class who have done the things they want to do is not as big,” he said. "They are relying on people who are kind of like them who have stayed there before."
According to the survey, 41% of affluent travelers said they visited a travel review site for information about a travel destination or supplier during the past year, up 7% from the previous year.
Among all travelers, however, the survey showed an interesting twist: Overall, Cohen said, this year’s survey showed travelers “seem to be going back a little more toward the ratings." Asked whether they preferred reading reviews to star ratings, 72% of travelers said they prefer reviews. That’s down from 78% last year.
“I think part of it’s skepticism over what they’re reading in a review,” he said. “People are not really believing everything they read, but they believe a number."
And interestingly, among younger travelers, a higher percentage favored the traditional ratings compared with the oldest group, which MMGY termed matures. Among millennials and Gen Xers, 74% said they preferred reviews, compared with 79% for matures.
Boomers still like the traditional ratings best of all, with only 70% saying they prefer online reviews.