Image: A stained mattress at Hotel Carter in New York City.
TripAdvisor traveler
A stained mattress at Hotel Carter in New York City. Hotel Carter made TripAdvisor's list of 10 dirtiest hotels for the fifth time.
By
msnbc.com contributor

While many see it as a ploy to generate attention, TripAdvisor — a website that promotes hotel reviews submitted by actual guests for fellow travelers — has received a thumbs-up from hotel and hygiene experts for its recently unveiled list of 10 dirtiest U.S. hotels.

The list was created by tabulating hotels with the lowest cleanliness ratings in members’ 2010 reviews, said Brooke Ferencsik, U.S. director of communications for TripAdvisor. Another, lesser factor, he said, was poor cleanliness ratings received in previous years’ reviews.

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TripAdvisor attracts more than 40 million unique visitors to its websites — which operate in the U.S., Europe and Asia — each month. It has 20 million members who write reviews, and currently contains members’ reviews of over 53,000 hotels in the United States.

When members review hotels, they rate them on cleanliness, service, location, value, rooms and sleep quality, and choose terrible, poor, average, very good or excellent as the appropriate description.

Carpets unfit for luggage
Thus, Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., which TripAdvisor reviewers said was the dirtiest hotel in the country, was cited for “chewing tobacco spit oozing down the halls and corridors; spiders actively making webs in every corner of your room,” as well as for “carpeting so greasy and dirty you wouldn’t want to sit your luggage down, let alone walk around barefoot.”

The Jack London Inn in Oakland, Calif., rated the second dirtiest U.S. hotel, was poetically singled out for its parking lot, which “resembled a post-apocalyptic junk yard,” and its halls, which “reeked of cigarette smoke, body odor and failure.”

And the Desert Inn Resort in Daytona Beach, Fla., was rated third-dirtiest for its peeling ceiling, cracked walls, cigarette burns, dirty Jacuzzi, “a few small bugs” on its bed’s box spring, and balcony “littered with old cigarette butts.”

Other hotels on the list, in descending order of filth, were the Hotel Carter in New York City; Polynesian Beach & Golf Resort in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Atlantic Beach Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla.; Rodeway Inn in Williamsville, N.Y.; Super 8 Estes Park in Denver; Palm Grove Hotel and Suites in Virginia Beach, Va; and Econo Lodge Newark International Airport in Elizabeth, N.J.

Repeat offenders
This was the Hotel Carter’s fifth appearance in the list’s six years. And although the ninth dirtiest hotel, the Palm Grove Hotel and Suites, tried to run, it could not hide: It also appeared on the list twice previously, but subsequently changed its name.

Karen Drake, senior director of communications for TripAdvisor, said the company believes its members’ “candid reviews — good, bad and ugly — empower travelers to see it all so they can plan and experience the best possible trips.” She also said that although TripAdvisor’s data reveals that overall, traveler ratings “continue to climb ... some properties still need to clean up their act ... All told, 85 percent of TripAdvisor travelers who reviewed these 10 properties recommend against staying there.”

Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center’s response to TripAdvisor’s announcement was to post a notice on its website that said it had received a score of 89 out of a possible 100 points on an “impromptu hotel/motel inspection by the health department on January 19, 2011.” It also provided access to a PDF of the inspection report, done by Tennessee’s department of health.

The site also said the hotel’s new president, Nicky Darrell Chaney, who purchased Grand Resort late last year, “will continue to work on the problems that any 30-year-old property experiences. ‘We are continuing the process of improving our property and we will stay steadfast to returning the property once again to the ‘Grand’ Resort Hotel. But as our score shows, we are a far cry from being the dirties (SIC) hotel in Pigeon Forge, much less America. These findings prove there is a flaw in the rating system websites such as tripadvisor.com uses to determine hotel ratings.’ ”

Works in progress
Meanwhile, Choice Hotels International, which franchises the Rodeway Inn and Econo Lodge brands — whose hotels ranked No. 7 and No. 10 on the TripAdvisor list — said in a statement that although it does not own or operate its franchised hotels, “We take issues of cleanliness at our franchised properties very seriously. We are working directly with the two hotels on this list to address these issues. Choice Hotels is committed to offering a stay experience where cleanliness and great room condition are expected. All of our franchised properties are inspected regularly by an independent third party for cleanliness and condition. We are also introducing a new compliance program we developed in partnership with our franchisee associations that places greater weight on our own internal guest satisfaction surveys.”

And the Wyndham Hotel Group, which franchises the No. 8-ranked Super 8 hotel, issued its own statement: “We monitor the quality of each hotel in our franchise system to ensure they meet our quality and service standards. When a hotel fails to meet those standards, we notify the owner that specific actions must be taken within a specific amount of time to address its deficiencies. Hotels that make a good-faith effort to resolve their problems may be given time extensions to comply for extenuating circumstances. Hotels that fail to resolve deficiencies are subject to termination from our system.

“We are currently looking into situation at the hotel in Estes Park as we seek to deliver a clean and friendly experience every time.”

Publicity ploy
The TripAdvisor rankings were generally applauded by travel, hotel and hygiene experts, several of whom also called them a publicity ploy.

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Allen Rathey, president of HousekeepingChannel.com, a website that provides cleaning tips, said the rankings are “certainly good marketing for them, but to their credit, they also publish the best hotels. Certainly it’s sensational, but it’s also fair. They’re not digging out one or two bad reviews, there’s a consensus based on the reviewers’ system. When oodles of hotel guests are saying basically the same thing about a hotel, you can surmise that it’s probably so. The wisdom of crowds can be tapped in ways that benefit the general consumer.”

Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, pointed out that some of TripAdvisor members’ reviews of other U.S. hotels actually have cleanliness ratings with lower scores than those on the 10 dirtiest U.S. hotels list. “The title is imprecise, because other hotels have lower TripAdvisor scores,” he said.

This caveat notwithstanding, Hanson said TripAdvisor “provides an extremely valuable service to travelers, it certainly creates more awareness.”

And Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst for Forrester Research, said TripAdvisor’s announcement “was clearly designed to call attention to its massive number of services. It’s a publicity effort to increase awareness of its site and traffic to its site. But it’s not like TripAdvisor made the reviews up, what they’re doing is completely legitimate. I think it’s good for TripAdvisor to show some of the best and the worst.”

“More than seven out of 10 travelers in the U.S. participate in social media. Clearly social media are powerful and credible, and user reviews resonate,” he added.

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