Sunday, May 29, 2016

Using Trip Advisor in New Orleans

Mister Apple
If you're like me when you have something heavy weighing on your mind, and you spend a couple of sleepless nights turning it over and over in your head, and you finally decide you can't think about it anymore, you'll head down to the French Quarter to the apple store.  

This isn't the kind of Apple Store you're thinking of, the company with the stock ticker AAPL.  The apple store I'm talking about in the French Quarter is Mister Apple, a beloved icon in our community, the way Mister Softee may be in yours.

Mister Softee

When I have a problem I just can't seem to lick, I mull it over with a nice plump and juicy candied apple in my mitt.

The Mister Apple store in the French Quarter is at 201 North Peters Street.  If you happen to find yourself wrestling with a mental dilemma Uptown, they've recently opened another location, this one at 4505 Magazine Street.  Thanks Mister Apple.


This far into today's installment, you may be wondering what had me in such a dither.  Okay, I'll tell you.  I was wondering where I should stay if I were visiting New Orleans.

This is an academic question, purely speculative and theoretical, most hypothetical, to say the least.  After all, I live in New Orleans.  I stay in the 2200 block of Esplanade Avenue.  In fact, that is where I spend much of my time.

La Belle Esplanade

But, if, like most of you, gentle readers, I was planning a vacation in New Orleans, how would I decide where to lay my weary head after a day's excitement living the good life the Big Easy way?  

If I were planning a New Orleans vacation, I would want to stay in a place that is close to all the tourist attractions I might want to see, but far enough away that I could get a good night's sleep.  I don't like a lot of hustle and bustle, especially when all that hustle and bustle is generated by a crowd of drunks nursing neon green frozen drinks in souvenir cups shaped like a hand grenade and they are stumbling outside my room at all hours when I'm trying to sleep, shouting at each other, getting into fistfights, and urinating or vomiting, or both, on the side of the building in which I'm trying to sleep.

Mister Hand Grenade
That is a real New Orleans French Quarter experience, but it isn't one that I particularly enjoy.  I have stayed overnight in the French Quarter.  It was interesting, but it isn't something that I choose to repeat.  After a couple nights of that, I was ready to go home.  To each his or her own, of course.

I would also like to be in a neighborhood that offers a lot of big city local amenities that are a bit off the usual tourist radar.  I would also like to have someone around who would tell me about the neighborhood rather than just point me in the direction of a brochure rack, the way the hotel concierge sometimes will.

If I were planning a vacation, I would look at my options on Trip Advisor.  I don't have a cozy relationship with Trip Advisor.  We're on speaking terms but nothing more.  Our inn doesn't pay them any money to be listed or ranked on their site. I'm familiar with how the site operates and I think their policies are on the up-and-up.  All of my experiences with Trip Advisor (stock ticker: TRIP) have been positive.  When Frau Schmitt and I travel, which isn't too often, we use Trip Advisor to decide where to stay. 

I don't know how big or pervasive Trip Advisor is as a company.  I've only recently become aware that the company advertises on television.  Frau Schmitt and I don't watch a lot of television---we're too busy to travel and we're too busy to watch TV--- but I was sitting in the bar at the New Orleans Athletic Club after a strenuous workout and I saw a Trip Advisor ad being broadcast.  Yes, our gym has a bar in it.  That's the way things are in New Orleans.

My curiosity piqued, I looked up hotels in New Orleans on Trip Advisor.  This next bit may be a little tedious reading for some, but I think it is important to note.  Since I'm in the industry, I find it interesting.

The number one hotel as of this writing is the Grenoble House, in the French Quarter, with 371 reviews.  Overall, the hotel scores 4.5 stars.  Of those, 287 are excellent, 63 are good, 16 are average, 4 are poor and 1 is terrible.  The Grenoble House has the least reviews of any of the hotels in the top 30.  Most of hotels in New Orleans have one or two thousand, though this varies, naturally.

The number two hotel is Hotel Mazarin, also in the French Quarter.  The Mazarin has 2810 reviews, again 4.5 stars overall.  Of these reviews, 1966 are excellent.  Not bad.  There are also 641 that are scored good, 115 average, 67 poor and 21 terrible.

We can go down the list but I don't want to bore you with all these numbers.  If you look at the percentages, these are very respectable---for a hotel.  I'm not going to do the math to tell you what percentage of reviews are excellent vs. good, etc.  I will just put forth a general observation: when a hotel has X excellent reviews, the number of good reviews will be a tad more than a quarter of the excellent total and so on down the line.  

There is nothing wrong with being good.  It's much, much better than being terrible.

The 121st hotel in the rankings for New Orleans (which I will not name) has 37 excellent reviews, 54 good, 25 average, 9 poor and 10 

Licensed B&Bs on Trip Advisor are somewhat different.  If you look at the number one ranked small boutique inn in New Orleans (and in all of Louisiana), you'll find it has a total of 348 reviews as of this writing.  That's a little less than the Grenoble House.  Of these 338 (97.1%) are excellent and 10 (2.9%) are good.  There are no average, poor, or terrible reviews.

The other top 10 inns listed under B&Bs on Trip Advisor score, on average, about 94% excellent reviews, 5% good, and a smattering of other classifications.  Most of the boutique operations in New Orleans score 5 stars in overall satisfaction versus 4.5 stars for hotels.  When all the scores are tallied, no hotel ever earns more than 4.5 stars.  None that I've seen, at least.

Do you want to stay somewhere where guests' opinions boil down to their memories being somewhere between good and excellent, or do you want to stay somewhere where the guests repeatedly report their visit as generating an excellent experience.  The choice is entirely up to you.

What do all these statistics mean?  Maybe nothing in the end.  A boutique experience in a real neighborhood isn't what everyone wants out of their vacation.  Some people just want to go to Bourbon Street and get pie-eyed drinking Jesters.  I have no quibble with that.  La Belle Esplanade, or any of the other B&Bs which rate higher in guest satisfaction than the big hotels, may not be the place for that particular visitor.  He or she may only need a pass-out bed.  In that case, the #121 hotel in New Orleans is money well spent.

I've never even tasted a Jester.  Frau Schmitt tells me to steer clear of sweet drinks that are mostly grain alcohol.  I listen to her because she is usually right about these things.  One of our guests did gift us with a souvenir Jester cup, though.  It's in a place of honor on a shelf in our lobby.

La Belle Esplanade is the place for me.  It had better be.  I run the place alongside Frau Schmitt, who is the better half of this operation.  We spend a lot of time here and we invest a lot of effort and capital to make it a place worth staying in.  Ours is an inn to remember in the best way.

If you are thinking about visiting New Orleans and you aren't sure where to stay, think about checking out what the reviews on Trip Advisor have to say.  Being ranked #1 is a matter of algorithms that reflect guest satisfaction.  Read the reviews.  Don't just look at the stars, or bubbles, as Trip Advisor likes to call them.  You can learn a lot from reading what guests have written and what the innkeepers write in response.  If what you read sounds good to you, go to that inn's website and make a reservation.

I do my best thinking while noshing on a candied apple.  You might do your best thinking while reading reviews on Trip Advisor.  Be warned though: much like this blog, you can waste a lot of time there reading the archived material.

Don't overthink your vacation.  Use your good intuition when you decide to visit New Orleans.  You can make a lot of worse choices than deciding to stay at La Belle Esplanade.  Better memories are made on our street.  No one ever says their stay was too long.  It is always too short.  There is a lot to experience in our part of the city.  You'll never see everything, but that gives you a reason to come back for more.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade
...where every morning is a curated breakfast salon.

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