Soliswiss suggests following the seven tips below in order to avoid such traps when booking hotels online:
1. Read User Reviews Critically
The major online booking platforms allow customers to post reviews about the hotels they booked. However, these should always be treated with a healthy dose of scepticism as many of them might be bogus.
How can you spot a fake review? The SRF program “Kassensturz” has addressed the issue in this article (in German only). Comparing reviews from several different online portals might also help you determine a hotel's quality. Furthermore, it is generally worth reading some explicitly bad reviews and deciding how important each of the mentioned deficiencies are for oneself.
2. Check the Security Situation
Travellers are often only marginally aware of the security situation at their travel destination. It is therefore always recommended to research in advance general safety information about the country concerned. The level of danger may vary strongly from region to region, city to city, even from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Therefore, it might be advisable to search online for potential areas in your travel destination to avoid. If your hotel is located in such a danger zone, changing your booking would be recommended.
3. Realistic Expectations about the Price
Suspiciously cheap hotels tend not to be located in the safest and cleanest areas. This is especially the case for notoriously expensive sites such as New York City or Paris. If a room in a quality hotel and/or top area is desired, one’s expectations regarding the price ought to be adapted accordingly.
4. Use Google Maps / Street View
Get a picture of the hotel neighbourhood using Google Maps or similar services. The “Street View” function in particular allows you to form a clear first impression. Run-down buildings around your hotel, for example, are a first major red flag.
Google Maps may also help you identify nearby public transportation. A short distance from station to hotel generally reduces the security risk.
5. Language Skills of Hotel Staff
Especially for countries or cities considered to be unsafe, it is advisable to check the communication skills of the hotel personnel. Clear communication is essential in emergencies. Therefore, it is recommended to ensure in advance that you and the hotel staff can smoothly understand each other in a common language. Depending on the country and hotel, one cannot simply assume that English is widely spoken.
6. Adjust Your own Behaviour
If in spite of everything you still find yourself in an unsafe hotel, consider the following tips on behaviour:
- Do not leave valuables or electronic devices in plain sight in your room; store them in your room’s or hotel’s safe if available.
- Make sure that you always lock your door.
- Anonymise your room key. For example, leave behind the envelope in which you often receive room keys as it usually reads your hotel’s name and/or even your room number. You should also remove any key fob with the hotel logo.
- Take a taxi to and from your hotel. Only use official taxis.
- Ask the hotel staff for safety information and advice.
- Follow the general safety advice (e.g. do not carry large amounts of cash).
7. If You Have Doubts upon Arrival…
…find another hotel. Even if you prepare yourself studiously, there will always remain a certain degree of insecurity when booking online. If the hotel or the neighbourhood turns out to be (too) dodgy, err on the side of caution and find a better place to stay.
Ultimately, it is at your discretion which risks you are prepared to accept. However, we generally recommend never to make compromises regarding your health or safety – in the end, you want to return from your trip in good health and with pleasant memories. The above points are thus intended as orientation only.