Nandini Vaidyanathan lists out the important points on what a review of an accommodation should include
I have come to the conclusion that the human race is seriously contrarian. For instance, we are a highly opinionated, everything-is-grist-for-criticism species but we have no clue how to review products and experiences. My peeve, more than with products, is with experiences, especially in the hospitality sector.
I travel a lot and out of 300 days that I travel, at least 200 days, of late, is for pleasure. Whether it is in India or outside, I prefer the spaciousness of an Airbnb to confined hotels, even starred ones. Since I am an experience junkie, I love the unpredictability of Airbnb spaces, no two spaces look the same, quite unlike the hotels which have the ‘sameness’ about their look and feel (even before I walk into a room I can picture the layout, the placement of the bed, the sofa, the writing table, the wardrobe and the door to the washroom. Only once was I flummoxed. In Paris, in one of the branded five star hotels, I couldn’t locate the WC. There was a small alcove with the showerhead but no WC anywhere and evolved that I am, I even searched for a bedpan! Finally I located the WC behind a wood panel right next to the room entrance!). Let’s come back to reviews now.
Since pictures are misleading, I like to read the reviews before I sign up for an Airbnb property. And over the years I have realised that the reviews are both misleading and unhelpful. If there are 10 reviews for a property, 6 of them will have a pithy one-word review. GOOD. What was good for god’s sake? 4 reviews will be wordy. Especially if the property is in the mountain, a fistful of sky will make the reviewer wax eloquent about THE VIEW. And if the property is isolated, the reviewer will rave about THE FOOD.
And in every instance I have discovered how misleading these reviews have been. Recently we were in a property in the mountain. It was located at a vantage point down a dirt trail, off the main road and had a wonderful valley view. But the problem was that down the valley, there was plenty of construction and the traffic of men and material going past this property put Chowpatty traffic to shame! If we wanted silence and solitude, this was the last place to be! And not a single reviewer flagged it. Just the way not a single reviewer flagged the complete absence of hygiene in the kitchen. Yes, the food was served hot, but since the dining table was in the open kitchen, you had to be blind to not notice the garbage strewn around by a cat, the kitchen cabinets which were greasy and downright dirty, and all cooking ingredients kept in open plastic covers! And mind you, the places I choose are premium properties with a super host, which means top quality amenities and hygiene guaranteed.
So here’s my masterclass on what a review of an accommodation should include:
• Mention distance from the nearest transport head. For instance, if the nearest town is Panaji, and the travel is to Agonda, say how far by road it is, what is the condition of the road, how long a drive it is and what kind of scenery you can expect along the way.
• Does the location pin shared with you take you to the doorstep of the property or did you go on a merry-go-round? This has happened to me countless number of times, someone drops a wrong pin and you become Garfield chasing his tail!
• What are your first impressions of the property? If it promises a mountain view can you actually see the mountain or only a general direction? And if the property is supposed to be on the beach, is it ON the beach where you can see the sea or is it a half-a-kilometre walk away? It happened to us in Mandrem in Goa. When we booked, it clearly said on the beach, with a view of the sea. The reviews raved about the sunset. When we reached the property we couldn’t find the beach anywhere. When we asked the superhost, she looked seriously puzzled. She said, walk for a kilometre, you can actually hear the waves! And if you sit on the beach, you can watch the sunset!
• I always book the whole place, not just a room. So check if the property can hold the number of people it claims it can hold. So if it says 3 bedrooms, you are safe to assume it is good for 6 people. In Yelagiri, in Tamil Nadu, most of the reviews talked about how big a place it is and could accommodate more than 12 people. Much to our horror we discovered there were only two rooms but the drawing room was large and it could accommodate 12 people if you converted it to a dormitory!
• Check minutely for hygiene. Washrooms and kitchen are the biggest giveaways. Insist that they change bedsheets in your presence. Does the air smell fresh or stale? Is the ventilation good?
• Is the kitchen well-equipped so that you can do your own cooking? Or is there a caretaker who will make breakfast for you? Recently we were at a mountain log cabin and the reviews had particularly thanked the caretaker for the amazing omlette he had served. When we were served the same omlette, all I could do was take a picture of the burnt uncouth blob that sat on my plate to the superhost of the property!
• What are the activities to which you have access from here? Or is it a good place to do nothing?
• And how helpful and accessible are the superhost and his on-site staff?
All this can be covered in less than 500 words in the review. A good review is one which is objective and reasonable, not an emotional rant. Writing a review is not an art. It is as natural as breathing in and breathing out!
The columnist is co-founder of bakery and restaurant business (www.concoctions.fr) with her French Michelin-star chef life partner. Email: email@example.com