After reading in the news about a group of Canadians who had booked a family vacation at a resort in Cuba through Sunwing Vacations, with the entire group falling ill due to poor conditions at the resort, I started thinking about how vacationers could avoid such catastrophe’s. You can read the full article here. I really do believe that in most cases, choosing a bum resort can be avoided, especially in this day of accessibility to information online. Here are 5 quick tips that will help you research resorts to avoid booking a disaster vacation.
1. Who’s Doing the Planning?
You will first need to decide who is going to do your planning. You can SO do this yourself, however, if you feel better using the services of a travel agent, that’s okay too. Just be sure to do your own independent research apart from your agent’s recommendations, realizing that many agents get kick-backs from booking particular properties and therefore may not be truly objective in their recommendations.
2. Location, Amenities and Features
Before looking at glossy brochure photos of beaches and cold drinks by the pool, and even before searching for properties online, make a list of what is important to you at a resort. Do you have a particular country in mind? Are you looking for all-inclusive? Do you need a family-friendly atmosphere or would an adults-only vibe suit best? Is good food important? Are there particular activities or excursions you want to be able to do? Is it important the property be eco-friendly? Once you’ve narrowed down your non-negotiables, finding the perfect resort will be much easier because you will be able to weed out properties that don’t meet your criteria. Decide on the minimum star rating you will settle for as well (here’s a chart that explains star ratings) and think about your budget, as this too will be another good way to narrow down your search, especially when it comes to choosing the country you will visit. For instance, a five-star resort in the Dominican Republic is going to be much cheaper than a five-star resort in Barbados.
3. Start Choosing!
Go to your favourite travel sites and start searching for properties according to your specifications above. My go-to places include Exitnow.ca, Tripadvisor.ca, Booking.com, Expedia.ca and Travelocity.ca. This is also a great time to ask friends and family for recommendations, as you will most likely get the most honest and real reviews from people closest to you.
4. Independent Research
Once you’ve found a property you think may be the best choice, whether through a travel agent’s recommendation or as a result of your own search, you will need to start your independent research. This is the most important part of the process.
You can start by reading reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor and Booking.com, as well as any others you know of. The more sites you access, the better. You can’t trust every review (sadly, some people are paid to leave good reviews regardless of their experience at the property), but you will no doubt get a good idea about a property after reading all of the reviews in their entirety. Traveler reviews were invaluable to me while planning my trip to Europe and my most recent trip to Mexico.
Another quick tip is to do a general Google search on the resort you are considering and see if anything questionable pops up.
You can also post questions on forums such as Fodor’s Travel Talk Forum or Lonely Planet’s Forum. The beauty of these sites is that you can ask specific questions to a group of travelers about a particular property or a general question about accommodation recommendations in a particular country. Answers from the group forums will most likely be based on personal experience. I asked many questions on these forums when planning my trip to Europe.
As a last check, ask for feedback from your social media audience by posting to travel groups on Facebook, tweeting out a question on Twitter, or even posting a photo on Instagram and asking for opinions on a property. Leave no stone unturned!
5. Be Confident
Once you have done all the research you can do, exhausting all avenues, be confident in your decision to book your dream resort and try not to be discouraged by others whose travel plans didn’t work out as planned. There will be a certain satisfaction from knowing you have looked at all the avenues available to ensure the resort you have booked is exactly what you were looking for.
It should be noted that the family I mentioned at the start of this article did do some due diligence after booking the resort. They read through reviews on the property, and concerned, went back to their travel agent and together with the agent called the resort to ask about the issues they had read about. The resort assured them the issues had been resolved. In this case, my feeling would be to trust the reviews, especially if they were recent. The travel agent isn’t in Cuba, and the resort is trying to sell nights.
Travelers – what sayest thou? What tips would you add here to ensure a vacation property is thoroughly researched? How do you choose a resort?