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.
lol some of those comments are SO funny! people are crazy. I also use tripadvisor way too much but agree that sometimes it’s very wrong.
I know what you mean: I too am very critical of it but end up using it way more than what it “deserves”. Still, I’d rather rely on Wikitravel (for example) for a lot more travel info and tips!
Interesting! I have to admit I never use tripadvisor or similar resources, I usually just discover attractions, hotels or restaurants on my own or mainly trusting the suggestions of the locals. If everyone did the same as me those sites wouldn’t exist :)
True! It’s best to use the “local sources” whenever there is an opportunity! And also trust your own instincts many other time.. it’s good to get surprises!
I never rely on Tripadvisor for hotel reviews, it’s annoying that people can’t make a difference between a 5 star hotel and a 2 or 3 star one. I trust the Booking.com reviews though. However, you can find some good information on the Tripadvisor forums.
That’s the main thing that annoys me about Tripadvisor reviews too: the fact that people criticize cheap places (restaurants or hotels) with the same metrics they’d use for luxury establishment. It ain’t right..
Great post! I work in a little pub in the countryside and my now former boss didn’t care too much for what people thought of him. It being a village of 280 people, this means that they can quickly get on trip advisor and write whatever they like. We even had one person make up a fake bill and put it on there and instead of doing it anonymously she posted it with her name and photo so we knew exactly who it was. When we asked her why she did it, she came up with some cock and bull story about being “hacked”. Didn’t remove it tho’ and we also had someone we barred write a bad review on there, saying that he had been barred for no reason– swearing was the last straw when he’d been asked 3 times not to, and the last time was calling me the C word, which unsurprisingly got him barred. So you’re absolutely right, you cannot trust it 100%. In fact it makes me sad when people spend a lot of time using trip advisor for things, I tend to use word of mouth more often than not when I’m travelling.
Intense, Sammi! ;)
I agree – use TripAdvisor reviews as a guide, but not a be-all-and-end-all Bible to travel services. I’ve had really mixed experiences with TripAdvisor, although I can gladly say that wherever the feedback has been overall outstanding, I have been lucky enough to agree with them :)
Yes, I have a similar experience: when a place is known as really over the top by most people, it’s normally true. But just in case, gotta take those other reviews with a pinch (or two!) or salt!
Absolutely – use TA as a guide, and always rely on the top tiered reviewers. I usually avoid reviews that are too far swung one way or the other (often exaggerated). Some are so incredibly picky and for me leaves an impression that the reviewer could never be pleased!
Some people only go online to vent when they’ve had a bad experience too, so that doesn’t help to paint the entire picture!
People have started using tripadvisor blindly these days. Some of the points you have mentioned here are very valid. We need to start using tripadvisor as a hint at what should be tried but also research otherwise, we mostly trust fellow bloggers while xonfused about what to try in a new place
If you like using other travel blogs as source of info (like I do too!) you should give the TRAVEL BLOG SEARCH a go: http://bkpk.me/travel-blog-search/
You can find a lot of travel tips & general inspiration, sourced from travel blogs only. No generic stuff, no commercially charged info either!.. :)
This is a great post–I use TripAdvisor a ton, but haven’t really looked at the top reviewers. Good idea! I also tend to know what annoys me, and watch for those issues. For example, I will overlook sort-of bad service for great food, so if all the crappy reviews are only about annoying service, I’ll probably still give it a shot. I think it’s important to know your own standards/preferences before you start on TripAdvisor!
Exactly! Your “style” has to somehow match the one of the reviewer, for all his/her comments to mean something to you!
I really like tripadvisor and contribute wherever I go. I got a local restaurant on tripadvisor and they gained some customers as a result. When reviewing I look for people who write comments that share my view. Yes sometimes people are too critical not sure what they expect. I am a big fan of tripadvisor but it is a tool for travel not a be all and end all.
I think Tripadvisor can be a very powerful tool for small businesses indeed! I too have suggested it to different small hotel and tour company owners we’ve met during our travels, and they did see an increase on their sales afterwards. As for the users side, just have to use it “carefully”!
Loved this article. I am spending the summer traveling in Europe and have spent a lot of time looking through trip advisor reviews. With one budget hotel this summer, I saw the phenomena you talk about where people pay very little money for a hotel then expect it to be perfect. In this case they were easy to pick out but sometimes they aren’t. I feel like reading all of the reviews and seeing what common themes arise tend to help if there isn’t the time to look through individual profiles.
I wonder though if it is such a bad thing if someone’s reviews are mostly possitive. I know this summer, so far, all of my reviews have been incredibly positive. Honestly though, my experiences too have been really positive. Its sad that when you stay somewhere or go on a walking tour there is often pressure to write a positive review whether it was good or bad. One of my friends had the experience where they said they would get a free breakfast if they gave a hotel a good review on tripadvisor. I feel like these cheapen the good (or bad) experiences that people have, and make tripadvisor so much harder to sift through. This article was helpful and provided some new tricks to navigate that
Free breakfast in exchange for a positive review?!
I would make sure to leave a negative review and expose that “scheme” if someone was to ask me that. What a cheap move!..
Great article. So true.
I do use Trip Advisor, but I tend to ignore all the 5 star and 1 star reviews. That tends to clear out a lot of the junk.
I once posted a review for a place in Morocco who effectively sold our booking to a tour party and never bothered to tell us. They eventually admitted it once we were sat in their reception.
The review was entirely honest and was on the site for a couple of days, but was then removed at the request of the hotel. TA refused to even consider my side and the review remains off line.
Thanks for sharing your TA story. I didn’t know they would actually take down negative reviews… I mean, the site if full of them, even some that are not even true or of actual customers. I guess it depends on how influential you are.. for instance, big hotel chains would probably have a bigger say on what they want in or out. It’s not a fair game over all.
Nice coincidence: “The devil’s in the details: How TripAdvisor ruins travel” is a recent post on our blog (click on my name to read it). I use the site mostly to weed out the places not to go to. Otherwise it’s a time sink, though some of the reviews can indeed be hilarious. Often it’s better to ask locals or inquire with people exiting a restaurant.
Thanks for also sharing your views on Tripadvisor!
Great article. I appreciate all the ideas listed on the article. I have met people who were ready to pay in exchange of a good review or a small treat in return for a great review after the meal at the restaurant. All I can say is that stay open minded.
No, you can’t trust Tripadvisor because Tripadvisor aims at serving third-parties interests instead of helping travellers. I wrote a one-star review of a restaurant that is high ranked in Wroclaw, Poland but at which I had a disastrous experience. Altough my review was genuine, it was removed from the website because it contained an allegation of fraud (sic). I found it strange since I’ve already written around 70 reviews (most of which restaurants) and never had such problem. Here’s a link to my Tripadvisor profile: http://www.tripadvisor.com/members/MikeDoviel. So I asked the Support about what went wrong. They replied that it contained a report of review fraud (sic) with no further explanation. I sent a second e-mail to ask for more details, they never bothered to reply. I then realized there was nothing wrong with my review. Tripadvisor just decided to censor it, probably in some effort to damage control the reputation of the restaurant I was reviewing. What’s worse, I denunced to Tripadvisor a review that was obviously fake: a first time reviewer who wrote a five-star review, listing items that were not served and stated “next time you’re around just pop in”. I was surprised to find out that my request was rejected, meaning that Tripadvisor finds this review to be genuine. Since, I’ve stopped writing reviews on Tripadvisor. When I travel, I’d rather ask locals or wander around the city and see for myself than trust Tripadvisor reviews.
I’m not sure why you think that Tripadvisor reviews “are not professional critics” some of us are. I always give honest but fair reviews on trip advisor.
I think my reviews on my website are equally honest. Sometimes, reviews on TA are not from customers, but from the hotel/pub/restaurant or from their competitors.
Use your common sense, if the majority say a place is ok, it’s probably ok. If the majority say it’s poo, it’s probably not great. I always disregard the best and worst reviews, I read the ‘average ‘ and go by that. I have (honestly) never been disappointed.