Why You Probably Shouldn’t Trust a Travel Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards

Every year, usually around this time, top travel magazines (many that I write for) and travel websites reveal their Reader’s Choice Awards, which is a selection of the best hotels, resorts, cities and airlines, according to the reader. But you probably should never trust a travel magazine’s reader’s choice awards.

Ever wonder why the most random hotels always make the list? Because the readers vote. If a hotel can get enough people to vote for it in a poll, they have better chances of getting on that list.

The system works a little like how American Idol operated back in the day.

The viewers text to vote to determine who goes on to the next round. If a particular, not-so-great singer can get a million people to vote, not only from fans but family/friends and their family/friends who may not even watch the show, they could get past the amazing singer who received less votes.

Pondering Reader's Choice Awards from afar. 

Pondering Reader’s Choice Awards from afar.

Any hotel can campaign or take the extra step (like sending out an e-mail blast) to get people to vote for them, even if they’re definitely not the best hotel in the world.

So are these Reader’s Choice Awards rigged?

Nope. Not at all. When you read a Reader’s Choice Awards in a travel magazine, it doesn’t mean the hotel is luxurious by industry standards and experts, it just managed to get a lot of votes.

I should explain this doesn’t mean the hotel is NOT luxurious—a lot of these hotels get votes on merit—but it explains why some of the hotels that don’t seem to belong somehow land on the list.

I am ALL FOR Reader Choice Awards, but it’s important to clarify the “behind the scenes.” If you’re looking for BEST OF THE BEST in luxury travel, go with a “Best of” list, which is usually determined by a panel of experts.

This is how I feel about Reader's Choice Awards on a good day. 

This is how I feel about Reader’s Choice Awards on a good day.

Recently, in a top travel magazine, Santa Fe was voted the number one destination of the year because it received 65 percent of votes in an online survey. Only one million people visit Santa Fe a year, compared to, say, Miami, which gets 13 million visitors a year.

Do the math. The fact Santa Fe was voted number-one destination is because a good majority of the readers who have visited and liked it coincidentally did the online survey, whereas people who travel to Miami likely did not do the survey. Reader voting actually works. (And yes, I love Santa Fe, I’m not knocking it, just showing you these reader votes are not great).

Lastly, you’ll find many non-luxurious hotels on Reader’s Choice Awards because not everyone can afford luxury hotels, therefore they don’t stay in them, therefore they don’t vote for them.

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed at over 600 hotels and clocked millions of air miles. He currently lives in New York City.

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