Is TripAdvisor evil?

Before we went to the Philippines, I blogged about the virtues of various travel guides. What I didn’t mention then were the considerable resources available on the internet, whether it is the individual blogs of travellers who have gone before us, official tourism sites, or Google Maps. And then, of course, there is TripAdvisor.

Is TripAdvisor a force for good or evil? There is a considerable debate about this, as reported in a recent article in the Guardian. If you are unfamiliar with TripAdvisor, it is a website that invites individuals to post a review of a hotel in which they have stayed. Apparently TripAdvisor gets 21 new posts every minute, and there is an average of 300 posts for each hotel. Simply wading through this mass of information can be hard work. As Kira Cochrane writes in the Guardian article:

The result has been a seismic shift in power, from hotelier to consumer, which has, in many ways, been enormously positive for travellers. Where once we were vulnerable to the quirks and rudeness of countless Basil Fawltys, we now have a source of both warning and redress.

But is TripAdvisor taking the joy out of travel? With its dense tangle of information on everything from the size of the towels to the brand of coffee a hotel uses, the site has become a bramble patch to negotiate. You can look at reviews grouped by rating (five stars is “excellent”, one star is “terrible”) and by type of traveller – people who were away on business, for instance, or on holiday with their family. But on some level this just adds to the difficulty of sleuthing out a verdict.

And then there is the question about what to do about a hotel that receives generally positive reviews, but a handful of negative, one star comments, such as ‘NEVER STAY IN THIS HOTEL!’ The article picks up the pettiness of some of these, quoting travel analyst Jared Blank:

No melon is ever ripe enough for people on TripAdvisor,” he says. “There are hotels that rate in the top five in the world, and people are still complaining. I’m always shocked by the comments: from the quality of the fruit, to the mobile-phone reception on an island in the middle of nowhere, to whether the person on the front desk was smiling sufficiently upon their arrival. It blows my mind.

Such pettiness adds to the frustration of the traveller, but for hoteliers this may be a serious threat to their business, to the extent that many are talking about taking legal action against TripAdvisor for defamation. One problem is that unlike Amazon or eBay, where users are invited to comment after making a transaction, there is nothing to stop anybody from posting a review on TripAdvisor, whether they have stayed in the hotel or not. Kira Cochrane quotes Frank McCready, owner of a guesthouse in Yorkshire, who is fighting back with an anti-TripAdvisor website, and would like

changes in the law that meant people who posted reviews had to be visible and accountable – if you publish something you have to use reasonable restraint, make sure your facts are right. I’m angry at the moment that it’s not transparent, it’s not honest, it’s not straight. It’s seriously damaging people’s livelihoods.

Whatever the merits of TripAdvisor, as Cochrane comments: “once you’re aware of TripAdvisor, it’s virtually impossible to look away.” I agree. Both in booking hotels for the Philippines and Hong Kong, I found TripAdvisor very helpful, but used it advisedly. During our trip we stayed in five different hotels, all of which I checked out in TripAdvisor, and all of which were quite acceptable. And for the benefit of future travellers I’ll post up my own reviews and – of course – try to be as honest as possible.



About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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