The new tourism Bible or just more trouble than it’s worth!? Ok, so it’s ‘democratized’ travel reviewing – now anyone can be Joe Cummings for 5 minutes – you no longer have to write a letter to The Times to get your name in ‘print’. But it also totally undermines guide books and travel web-sites and it’s tempting for the cynical to replace democratization with anarchy. Helping out Travelfish recently by reviewing some Chiang Mai guesthouses we were asked, (owners and receptionists can get a bit suspicious after too many questions however much you pretend to be a casual tourist), “…so it’s for a travel guide – you mean like Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor?”- or words to that effect.
Now we frequently have gripes with even the best guides but at least they, (generally), employ experienced travel reviewers and writers and there is at least a pretence at some objectivity. Their researchers will have visited hundreds, if not thousands, of hotels before and thus have, in theory, some broader context to place the site in and experience of criteria with which to judge it by. As opposed to ….”I just arrived in Southeast Asia and this is the 1st guesthouse I’ve stayed in but compared to all the others it’s awful!”
When will people realize that Trip Advisor is not a guide – it’s a collection of personal opinions from any old Tom, Dick or Harry who feels inclined to add their tuppence worth. There’s no verification whatsoever of information, ‘facts’, opinions and basically anyone can write pretty much whatever they wish. For every well-meaning review there’s another awesome ‘report’ written by the owner’s uncle or a total shoot-down added by the rival restaurant across the road’s owner’s sister-in-law. Any little gripe: the receptionist refused a date, the waiter looked at me in a funny way, they wouldn’t do me a double cheeseburger at 3.00 a.m. can precipitate a condemning review. Or often someone just confusing hotel names we reckon? Recently got pulled up by a customer we were preparing a private itinerary for because Hotel X had a bad review on TA. ‘..had problems finding the tiny swimming pool hidden away on the 4th floor..’, it said, but the hotel in question has a huge pool on the ground floor so what were they thinking of!?
This rant was inspired – for want of a better word – by a friend of mine who runs a restaurant in Chiang Mai. The guy works from morning to late at night 7 days a week to try, in not the easiest of tourist times, to make a go of his restaurant. The concept is good food, nice setting and reasonable prices and as far as 99% of his customers, including ourselves go, he has succeeded and was justifiably proud of his excellent reviews on TA. Until a ‘mate’ of a competitor around the corner entered a completely OTT, unjustified, slag-off review which, unfortunately, for a while appeared at the top of the review list, whereupon his customer numbers noticeably dropped off. Ok anyone’s entitled to their opinion but this wasn’t even an opinion. The person in question had actually eaten there, on at least 2 occasions without complaint and this was written at best as a misguided attempt to help his friend around the corner or at worst with purely malicious intent.
Yet, it is hugely influential and sadly some take it as God’s truth because it appears ‘in writing’ on a well-known travel website. If you must read this nonsense at least bear in mind that a fair amount of reviews are not even genuine ones and take the others with a large spoon of salt!