Writing Reviews: Trash the Checklist and Look for What’s Unique
Let’s say you’re writing a round-up piece titled “Marbella: 7 Great Hotels for Splurging Sun-Bunnies'” or a guidebook to the Spanish Costas that will include hotel recommendations.
Some writers would prepare a laundry list — a checklist of facilities to tick off during an inspection visit. Does the hotel offer 24-hour room service? Is there a pool… a spa… a gym? Anything special to keep kids amused? How far is the beach?
Using the 1-5 system, they also use their laundry list to rate hotels on cleanliness, dining, rooms, safety/security, service and value.
However, laundry lists have limited use. (Can you really enthuse about finding clock radios in every room?) It could be that every hotel in your planned Sun-Bunnies article has gyms, spas and fluffy bathrobes. In fact, they have everything a five-star traveler/travel writer demands. So how can you differentiate between them?
And you must differentiate. It’s no good saying: “Hotel Playa has 450 spacious bedrooms, two Olympic-size swimming pools, five restaurants and a courtesy airport coach. Doubles from $250 per night.”
What’s your OPINION, your JUDGMENT about this place? You need to make one as Hotel Nueva has very similar facilities and room rates. So does Hotel Soleil… Hotel Fiesta… Hotel Andalucia… Hotel Sevilla… and Hotel Sol y Mar.
It’s up to you to judge which hotel best suits each section of your audience. And while you’re only focusing on 7 hotels for the magazine article, guidebook readers may be plowing through 30 or more. They need you to provide pointers about which hotel in each budget category is right for them.
So here’s how to do it:
See the candle-lit tables on Hotel Andalucia’s terrace? Don’t they suggest romance? Then there’s the powder-blue satin sheets in the suites… the option of champagne breakfast in bed… the complimentary sunset cruise for couples. In this instance, you might write something like: “Hotel Andalucia is the ideal place to snuggle up with an old flame or frolic with a new lover.” Then give the reasons why you’ve come to this judgment.
You might decide that Hotel Sevilla is outstandingly child-friendly– it has a Kids Club, serves early supervised dinners and offers free babysitting. Here, your judgment/opinion could be along these lines: “If you’re traveling with young children, your very best choice is Hotel Sevilla.” Again, explain why.
If you’re staying in all seven hotels, personal experience will give you a clearer picture of the differences between them. Unfortunately travel writers don’t normally have that luxury. And guidebook writers certainly don’t bed down at every hotel they list.
One way to tackle judgment is to meet the manager. Ask “What makes Hotel Fiesta different from Hotel X and Hotel Y?”
You may hear that: “We offer nightly cabaret whereas our competitors only entertain at weekends.” In this case your judgment/opinion could be: “With its nightly menu of magic shows, flamenco dancers and bagpipe-playing shepherds, Hotel Fiesta suits those who don’t want to travel into town to find entertainment.”
Maybe the hotel is particularly eco-friendly… offers special winter rates for retirees… holds wine-tasting sessions… was designed by a big-name architect. Maybe it’s the closest to the beach or has a fantastic range of organized tours. It’s such nuggets of information that provide you with those important differentials.
Naturally management will hide any drawbacks. Hotel Nueva’s manager certainly won’t mention that the Sonnenschein Karaoke Bierkeller is next-door — and German vacationers are still bellowing oompah songs at 3.30 am. On the other hand, the hotel’s suffering English guests will give you chapter and verse about the Sonnenschein and its clientele. So get out to the poolside bar and TALK TO PEOPLE.
Judgment One: “If your notion of a wild night out is a German singalong, Hotel Nueva is handily placed for late night sessions in the Sonnenschein Karaoke Bierkeller. In fact, there’s no need to venture out — the music is so loud you can hear Hans and Helga’s version of La Cucuracha from the comfort of your four-poster bed. To get in the mood, order a crate of beer and a plate of sausages from room service.”
Judgment Two: Drop Hotel Nueva and find another.
It’s always worth talking to guests. If Hotel Playa has an in-house disco and inadequate sound-proofing, don’t ignore this fact — it wouldn’t be a great recommendation for light sleepers or parents with kids. Even if the hotel has comped you a stay, be honest with your readers. There’s nothing wrong with making a judgment like: “Hotel Playa is clubbers’ heaven, but the disco beat overwhelms some guests. If granny insists on accompanying you, make sure she gets a top floor room.”
A good question to ask vacationers is: “What made you choose this hotel?”
Or “What do you most like about this hotel?”
Somebody may say that its buffet breakfasts are superb, but do get them to go into detail. (No need to mention the usual suspects, your aim is to chow down on the exciting stuff.) Then you can write: “For a breakfast to remember, you can’t beat the Sol y Mar. The buffet always has at least 50 choices, including local specialties such as pigs’ ears, bulls’ testicles and morcilla blood puddings.”
Or maybe you’ll learn that its spa treatments are the most extensive in Marbella. “Spa enthusiasts can expect a treat. While wrapped in alternate layers of banana leaves and coconut matting, you can enjoy colonic irrigation treatment and a Spanish head massage at the same time.”
OK, that’s completely over the top. But never be afraid to have some fun with your articles. If Juan, the Hotel Soleil’s lifeguard has the sexiest legs in town — well, share the news. That’s definitely the place where I’d want to bag a free stay.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]