Can you trust online reviews?

Online travel reviews. Are they your friend or foe?

With the reliability of the internet difficult to trust at the best of times, this is not an easy question to answer. However, there are some clear clues to help you to recognise the reviews you need to listen to and those you should disregard.

Firstly, let’s look at the very nature of reviews and why people write them. Generally motivated by either an extremely good or bad experience people rarely take the time to write reviews about average or expected levels of service. It takes time for someone to leave feedback or reviews online. While it would be nice to think people would take time to do this from the goodness of their heart to help us make better, more informed decisions this is rarely the real reason people write reviews.

As the saying goes there are two sides to every story. And unless you are there at the time it’s hard to know who or what to believe. On the whole, good reviews can be taken at face (or screen) value. There is little reason for people to make these up, usually acting as a small way in which to thank a hotel, airline or service provider for a good experience. If anything, the points to take away from good reviews are those about cleanliness, location, and the knowledge that if something does go wrong you can likely negotiate a solution or remedy with the owner or provider.

 hand holding phone with tripadvisor app open

When it comes to bad or negative reviews, however, take heed. Not all guests or tourists are as well behaved or easy-going as they would like to believe. Again, if reviews are about physical factors they are most likely to be accurate. For example, if I ever read a review that mentions bed bugs, I close that hotel’s internet window quicker than you can say itchy and scratchy. Beware of colourful language or emotive negative reviews as these are probably driven by feeling rather than fact. It’s also wise to remember that there is a certain breed of traveller, often found on Trip Advisor, who like to believe they are budding adventurers but in reality really just want the same home comforts wherever they go. This is clearly not the nature of travel or a reasonable expectation. If a negative review calls out what appears to be a hotel or airline’s core offering, or specific quirks or charm it should be disregarded.

If you wish to write a review yourself, think about your motives for doing so. Are you angry and just wanting to hit back? Or has someone done something above and beyond that has made your trip that much better? In a similar way to giving criticism to an individual, reviews should be constructive and written with the best intention of helping future travellers to make a more informed decision. Remember to keep reviews short and sweet; no one wants to read a sob story of why the boutique hotel that was full was mean because they didn’t upgrade you. That’s where diaries come in!

What has been your experience with online travel reviews? Do you trust them? Have you ever given a review yourself?

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Written by SJ

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