Whenever I travel or stay in a given city, I often use websites such as Tripadvisor to browse suggestions of restaurants, things to do or places to spend the night at. More than anything else, I do it to see what’s available in town. Even if I do not want to give too much importance to people’s reviews, the truth is that I do, because you only end up looking at the top results – who’s going to browse hundreds of restaurants to finally decide where to head for dinner?
Although I often agree with the general reviews a place gets, this doesn’t always happen. Particularly when it comes to smaller places or less visited establishments that haven’t gathered a very big number of reviews so far, and therefore without ratings as significant as those with a larger history and consensus.
This is why you can’t trust Tripadvisor hotel & restaurant reviews 100%:
1. Generally, users tend to feel more compelled to leave reviews when they’ve had an extraordinary experience or a really disappointing one. Whenever something was good, OK, decent, you rarely come online to tell the world about it. And this makes a huge gap in the world of Tripadvisor reviews because, most probably, the bulk of experiences out there are actually somewhere in the middle. But those don’t tend to be as documented.
2. On Tripadvisor you can rate any hotel, restaurant or service without having been a client. This gives endless opportunity for shameless competition: people can easy destroy each other with fake reviews, greedy businessmen can pump their own establishment reviews (by posting reviews themselves from multiple accounts or paying “professional reviewers” to do so for themselves).
3. Regular users are not professional critics. Therefore, they often forget that they shouldn’t be rating budget options using the same metrics as they would with 5 star establishments. I have read reviews where people criticize USD10/night hotels for not having cable TV, for example. In the case of restaurants and bars, I have often read reviews that give the bulk importance to the ambiance and neglect commenting on the food. Everyone seems to have their own priorities and that is OK. But reviews should be made within a specific context, taking into consideration price range, location and other tangible metrics that will make it easier for others to relate.
4. Business-customer pressure! In smaller places (family owned restaurants and B&Bs, for example) one often gets to meet the owners of the establishment. Particularly in touristic areas where business owners have learnt how to give importance to Tripavisor ratings. You’ll often meet people who’ll ask you (sometimes pressure you even) into leaving a review for their business once you go back home. If these people are lovely, you are likely to give them a good review online even if their service didn’t match their personal level of politeness or charisma. Whenever there is a personal relation involved, your neutrality tends to go away, because you think along the lines of “oh, but they were such nice people…” (this happens a lot on Airbnb too, because of the human factor involved!). This, along with everything else above, will tend to distort the straight-forwardness of Tripadvisor reviews.
Tripadvisor reviews are open to everyone, they are not curated – this means anything goes! Good or bad. Fair or unfair. It all counts the same on Tripadvisor, and this doesn’t sound quite right.
How to make the most of Tripadvisor reviews:
1. Senior and top reviewers tend to be more trust-worthy. They are users who haven’t come online to rant about that really awful experience they once had. Instead, they are people who contribute with a regular stream of reviews and, as such, have probably submitted good and bad opinions.
2. Reviewers who have accumulated “helpful votes” awarded by other users tend to be more reliable too. If someone has highlighted their review is because they are probably good at writing their opinions. They give practical info and make their experience somehow useful to other users out there.
3. When looking at one specific business you are interested in, you may want to see other reviews the people commenting on it have written in the past. This way you’ll understand the type of person behind it – keep in mind that taste is a very subjective thing. And so are personal standards for restaurants or hotels. Give a quick look at other places the same person has reviewed and try to understand their general tone – is this person always negative? Perhaps over-excited (people on holiday often see the world under their rose-colored glasses!)? If all the reviews sound the same, then it’s probably someone you shouldn’t trust, because any regular human being tends to have all range of experiences. Make sure you are looking at a review by a real person: if all the reviews by the same user award 1 star to establishments, then we’re probably just facing an internet troll.
4. When it comes to restaurants and you live in one given city, it’s easier to find other users with similar taste to yours. Furthermore, you can actually sort reviews and see what your Facebook friends have said about one given establishment. You’re better off trusting someone you know in real life instead of someone out there who might or might not have anything in common with you and your likings.
5. If you’re looking to book accommodation, give more importance to the reviews you’ll find in hotel/hostel booking sites. To the contrary of Tripdavisor, the reviews shared on those sites (like Hotels.com, Booking.com or Hostelbookers.com) are by actual customers. You might not agree with their opinion, but at least you know it is the one of a legit traveler, someone who’s actually experienced what they’re describing.
You can’t trust Tripadvisor reviews 100%.
This site has almost become a monopoly when it comes to travel planning (google anything holiday related and you’ll see!), and when businesses have this kind of supremacy things do tend to go wrong somewhere along the line.
But using your instinct and the tips above, you can certainly use this online resource to your best interest. Keep it smart, understand what this site can offer and what the reviews do and do not mean. Use Tripavisor for reference, but don’t forget to contrast the info you find on this site, because it is most definitely not the ultimate source of truth.