If I’m being taken for a ride, please make it first-class

I was looking for a good hotel in Scotland so I did what anyone does first.  I trawled through some review sites to see what The People think.   They’re the best judges after all, aren’t they?  Ordinary customers with no axe to grind, no vested interests, no professional agenda – they simply want to help you and me because they’re, well, completely philanthropic about it.

Now, if I ran a hotel I know what I’d do.  Of course – post my own reviews.  Eureka!

I’d craft each piece carefully, moderate my enthusiasm to keep things credible, and change the style each time.  I’d remember to include a few misspellings and clichés plus a bit of eccentric punctuation, all for authenticity’s sake.  But in every case I’d leave the reader in no doubt that mine was the establishment that fitted the bill in every way.

Then I’d extend the strategy to tackle the competition.  Nothing too damning – a passing reference to slow service, a glance in the direction of slightly sloppy housekeeping, an aside about the receptionist’s attitude – just enough to get the reader thinking: “Well, maybe not.  I’ll move on to the next one on the list …” – the next one, of course, being mine.

OK, so I’m no philanthropist.  In this flight of fancy I might even be a bit of a crook.  But at least I’d be conscientious about it.   I’d give my would-be victims the comforting impression that I respected them enough to make a bit of an effort.

But, of course, nobody’s actually trying this.  Are they?

Well, back to my own hotel search.  Here’s are some helpful online comments from, h’mm, the general public:

Hotel A.

“Outstanding Service”                                                                                                                I would recommend this hotel to anyone looking to spend some time in Scotland!! Everyone is made welcome and the staff are pleasant, friendly and eager to make your stay special.  Peter10, Crawley, United Kingdom

“Friendly, welcoming & fabulous views”                                                                           I would recommend this hotel to anyone looking to spend some time in Scotland!! Everyone is made welcome and the staff are pleasant, friendly and eager to make your stay special.  Strawberry 456, Wolverhampton, England

A strong whiff of the template there, I’d say.  But how about the restaurant, Ms Strawberry456?

The food is out of this world, the five course menu offered interesting options … and I can honestly say that it’s the best food I’ve ever eaten and the deserts were to die for.

The best food she’s ever eaten.  And she’s doing that dying business over the desserts. Mmm, that’s some restaurant.  Somebody’d better get in quick to counter that.  Now, what does Mike21 from Bolton say …

Three courses in twenty minutes with hardly a breath between each, then the dirty plates were left in front of us for half an hour … The sweets menu was then presented, but … too long passed without us being asked for our order so we decided not to bother

Clever stuff, Mike21.  You don’t exactly comment on the food but we get your drift.  His technique is subtle compared to most in this genre.  He almost sounds as if he’s prasing the joint, then slips in the killer observation.  For instance, Ms Strawberry456 works hard on the decor and the pricing policy here – entirely independently, you understand:

We chose a room with a view, offering a jacuzzi bath and I can say this was well worth the extra money, especially after a long walk!! The room was nicely decorated, with a really comfy bed.

How do you handle that, Mike21?  Here goes:

We were greeted by a lovely lady who … showed us to our room, which we felt was a little dated (also a dud bulb that had not been replaced) ….   we had a couple of drinks in the very comfy lounge (but this also had at least half a dozen dud bulbs that had not been replaced)   

Ah, those little asides.  I think Mike21’s winning.  Ms Strawberry456 continues the struggle:

I would like to thank the staff for making our visit special and I can promise we will be back!

But Mike21’s faint-praise technique wins the day:

Our one encounter with what we think was the landlord (a tall grey haired gentleman with spectacles) left us feeling that we had disturbed him from something more important.  This is a good hotel with great staff and is only 1 inch from being a great hotel. I do hope the owners will listen and respond to positive criticisms.

Yes, Mike21, I’m sure you do.  And thank you for the positive impression.  Very convincing.

Let’s move on to Hotel B

“This is the best hotel I’ve stayed in”                                                                                    I can categorically state that this is the best hotel I have ever stayed in. I spend a huge amount of time in “business class” hotels and none of them are a patch on Hotel B. The personal service, attention to detail and food were all fabulous. I can’t wait to stay again – this will now be my regular treat.  Sandra9, Edinburgh

Cor.  Categorically the best-ever.  Praise indeed from an unbiased source.  But, er, Sandra lives in Edinburgh.  And Hotel B is in Edinburgh.   Sandra spends ‘a huge amount of time’ in hotels on her business travels, so when she gets home to Edinburgh she’s going to, er, book into a hotel in Edinburgh.  Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

Let’s see what some other neutrals have to say about this hotel:

 “A wonderful stay with 5-star service from the the staff”                                           I can honestly say this hotel absolutely excels at providing a most professional and yet personal service to their guests. Nothing appeared to be too much trouble. Housekeeping were fantastic  … breakfast was a treat – the scrambled eggs are to die for.   Thank you for such a nice stay.  Regal12, Royal Tunbridge Wells

Nice and formulaic, with another happy fatality over the cuisine.  Time for the opposition to weigh in …

This hotel is poor, poor, poor                                                                                              The whole place seems to be overrun with flies.                      

Service is a joke. Asked for a chicken sandwich – sorry no chicken. OK, can I have ham? Waiter brought me tuna and I told him to forget it.

Breakfast was dire. Flies swarming around all the buffet table. Served by idiots frankly. And the scrambled egg was revolting. How can you mess that up?  The owner of this place needs a reality check and here it is.  Harry20,London 

Thanks, Harry20.  I like the scrambled-eggs riposte, and the flies are a master stroke.

Finally, Hotel C and a step too far.

“Superb”                                                                                                                                             I couldn’t rate Hotel C highly enough. From the moment we arrived nothing was too much trouble. The Reception rooms were beautifully decorated, the dining room had a wonderful bay window showing off the view and every member of staff looked after us perfectly. This is one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in and can’t wait to return.  Bopeep, Lichfield, Staffs

Pretty much fits the template.  How will the competition respond?  Subtly? …

“No thanks !”                                                                                                                                      I wasn’t impressed at all …. two small public rooms plus a rather cramped dining room (with no table cloths)….. a pompous self important deputy manager asked my partner what she was doing in the car park. It was a car park and she was driving a car! Anyhow, we made our way back the the tranquility of (named Hotel D), where the staff are always impeccably polite and everything from the decor to the food is total perfection.  MrMiddle, Yorks

Aaarghh, MrMiddle.  You shouldn’t actually say that.  You’ll be making us suspicious, next.

Of course, in the advertising game we have certain wily strategies.

We promote our clients with an air of objective comment that, not surprisingly, shows them in the best possible light. At the same time we denigrate the opposition by implication.

The difference is that in the world of paid-for media space the gloves are off.  Readers, viewers and listeners know they’re in the presence of an ad.  They put up with that – as long as we divert, amuse and inform them along the way.  Otherwise they zap the remote or turn the page.

The Internet’s supposed to be the democratiser of communication and information.  But it’s also a great way for charlatans to twist the truth.  It’s fortunate that in some cases they’re so terrible at it.

Oh – my Scottish hotel booking?   I’m just taking pot luck, mate.