Shhhh! A former PR’s guide to luxury hotels (and fake reviews)

I used to work in luxury hotel public relations. Those who claim it’s all about jetting from hotel to hotel with Champagne breath journalists would be… errrr… mostly right.

After a horrendous experience in Angola, I chose to move back to the UK and focus on a job which I’d love. Travel PR suited me well, the team I worked with were fabulous and I picked up lots of insider tips on how to travel smart.

If you’re looking to book a luxury hotel, read my tips on how to avoid the scams, look past the glossy Instagram shots and find a really great luxury hotel. Just please, please don’t tell my former boss…

luxury hotel public relations
Standard day at the office

Look past the advertising

Magazines, newspapers, television shows are indebted to hotels and vice versa. While there are some fantastic, objective travel journalists and media out there, a lot of outlets are beholden to advertising.

Have you ever read a rave review about a hotel in a magazine and then noticed a full page advertisement on the next page? Or how about a hotel which receives a top ranking in an ‘objective’ awards ceremony, which surprise surprise, is also one of the media outlet’s top advertisers? Magazines, television shows and radio have to make a living. Ask yourself if the hotel really is as impressive as its advertising budget.

PR power v reality

Some PR agencies wield incredible influence and some journalists are desperate to keep in the good books for future press trips and collaborations. Equally, PR agencies will wine and dine their media with experiences which, sometimes, bear no reality to the experience an ‘ordinary’ traveller would enjoy. Are airport transfers included and arranged automatically for all guests? Should you also expect fresh flowers, fruit and Champagne in your room? Is your room also the best suite in the quietest part of the hotel?

Beware of the hidden costs

Most media and influencers do not have budgets to cover luxury hotel stays and it’s normal practice for the hotel to host them. In return the hotel can expect an honest review, a fresh perspective, a new story. Don’t be fooled that a reviewer paying their way will automatically ensure an honest review. An upfront disclosure of gifts, freebies and complimentary stays as well as a strong, independent editorial policy is what counts, not the journalist or influencer’s travel wallet.

The ‘truth in travel’ policy many outlets claim to espouse is a joke. Journalists who pay their way so you, the reader, can trust what you read? Well if you consider £50 for a night in a top luxury suite a normal price, then perhaps. Come on, wake up people.

Look to locally based and experienced writers

Hotel budgets are shrinking, so are the media’s, so lengthy press trips to really get a feel of the place are few and far between.

Some publications, like The Economist and Monocle, for example, employ staff writers in destinations all over the world. This means they really know the destination by heart and have not written a guide, itinerary or in depth review from a mere 24 hours in the country.

Some journos do manage to capture the spirit in a mere weekend in very impressive way, and wisely avoid alluding to anything they didn’t experience first hand. Others speciliase in a geographical area or field of knowledge so they already have a better grasp of the subject.

Others, alas, are beholden to frantic Googling for information, to their imagination, or to public relations agencies. In my time at a PR agency I was approached several times to write copy for the ‘journalist’.

More bang for your buck

Some outlets do not pay for their reviews, or only a very measly rate. While you might think this would offer a more balanced article, think again. What type of person can afford to travel for free and chooses to write up their story out of the good of their heart? What’s in it for them?

I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve able to write a blog for personal reasons. Because I’ve been changing countries (and getting pregnant) rather often I’ve not been in the position to hold down a 9-5 office job. I choose to write about experiences that I think people in a similar situation to me would also appreciate. I’m not in this for the financial gain or freebies (much to my husband’s dismay).

Some media and influencers have ulterior motives at heart and you should be aware of this when you’re reading their reviews or watching their videos.

Don’t believe everyone you read

Magazine and other media budgets are tight and some choose to keep their reviews in house for purely financial reasons. Offering the IT a freebie stay in a top hotel is also a nice way of thanking them for sorting out that stonker of a computer virus.

But ask yourself this: if the magazine has offered its IT guy a freebie stay in return for a few words of copy, can you really be sure that they will know what they’re talking about? I don’t mean to sound rude or condescending, but after spending some time with truly great writers, inquisitive minds and people who really look hard to uncover the true spirit of a place, then I’m a little skeptical when junior interns are promoted to hotel editors. You should be too.

Look beyond the chain

Some larger hotel brands use a franchise system to help them expand globally at a faster rate. While most guarantee a standard of service and facilities throughout, the discrepancies from one hotel to another within the same brand can be quite alarming. Some brands will splurge on a few ‘shop window’ properties for great press coverage, and let the lesser known hotels go to ruin. Don’t go by the brand name alone; always check the specific hotel you’re looking to stay in.

Not all bad

To underline, there are some very fussy media who take their impartiality to the extreme and can certainly be trusted – the BBC, The Economist, The Financial Times… hell for PR peeps to work with, but certainly trustworthy. Some critics go incognito so you can better trust what they publish. Just remember that they are professional travellers, accustomed to Michelin star dining, extreme beauty treatments or hectic travel schedules and your style may not be exactly in line with theirs.

Don’t stop believing

When I explained some of these tricks to a friend, she looked glum. ‘It’s all a lie’, she sighed. I felt like I’d just revealed that Santa was make believe. Rest assured, there are some fantastic media out there. Magazines have inspired me to travel to places I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. To Nagano in Japan, to a lesser known coast off Zanzibar and within my hometown of York. I hope you find similar stories which do the same for you.


  1. February 1, 2018 / 5:36 pm

    Nina, amazing post thanks. What do you think about trip advisor or reviews? Do the PR or marketing ever fake reviews therein? This is typically my place to go…

    • February 1, 2018 / 6:18 pm

      Watch this…

      Not all are fake and I do use Trip Advisor for a second opinion, but I’m cautious.

      As for, I’ve read about aggressive (i.e. clever) marketing techniques such as pop ups saying ‘there are currently 6 other people viewing this hotel… only one room left’ and this is often not the case. So again, while I’ve booked some fabulous stays with, I’m still cautious.

      Perhaps as a former PR gal I’m a little paranoid, but I do appreciate a good hotel!

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