21st Dec 2016
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Can you trust online travel reviews?
Author: SJ Fallick
Can you trust online travel reviews?

SJ is a regular travel contributor to YourLifeChoices. Her favourite place in the world so far is Positano, where she spent most of her time enjoying the view from her balcony at Hotel Buca Di Bacco.

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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    COMMENTS

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    MICK
    7th Jan 2017
    8:20am
    What you missed is that Tripadvisor removes some of its reviews because of the financial arrangements it likely has with the particular organisation or host who is offering rental accommodation.
    My wife and I stayed in Greece in 2014 in a particularly bad hotel which also rented to (Iranian?) refugees. There were also prostitutes who all but lived in the small foyer of this hotel.
    We had a bad time with significant levels of noise on top of the sort of people this hotel allowed through the doors. When I told it like it was the comment was taken down.
    As you said Sue be careful. Some of the glowing reports may be little more than advertising from owners and staff and Tripadvisor needs to watch itself lest travellers go to other site to get comments they can trust.
    KSS
    7th Jan 2017
    7:37pm
    Going by some of your contributions to this forum when people do not agree with you Mick, I can only imagine that your 'review' was taken down due to reasons other than it beng negative per se.
    Franky
    7th Jan 2017
    8:40am
    Mick has a point, I have come across hotels in India where Tripadvisor asked for a quite large amount of money, and the hotel owner decided not to engage with Tripadvisor. When I booked a three week holiday recently solely through Tripadvisor, about 80% of hotels didn't disappoint, but the rest did not live up to expectations going by the reviews.
    Another downside is that a big American multinational (Priceline) now ownes tripadvisor as well as most of the other major booking portals like Agoda, Booking.com etc. They are obviously aiming for a monopoly, and we consumers have to pay the extra price which instead of benefiting the hotel of the country goes to a multinational in the US.
    MICK
    7th Jan 2017
    9:43am
    The very reason I completely avoid these websites. Airbnb a good alternative but I do use VRBO which is another conglomerate.
    The market is being manipulated by the multinationals so be aware that there are alternatives out there.
    Jim
    7th Jan 2017
    8:57am
    I am a regular contributor on TripAdvisor and have never had a comment removed, I like to think I give honest reviews, some reviews are negative most are positive, I think people don't always take certain things in the correct context, eg if you are staying in a 1 or 2 star hotel you shouldn't expect the same standards as you would get in a 3 to 5 star hotel, what you should expect is a clean room and clean bedding etc. often people complain about noise but still book a hotel in busy areas because those hotels are close to everything, no matter where you book a hotel you should be able to feel safe and certainly not have to put up with unsavoury behaviour.In the past if I have followed a review and had a bad experience at a place that has had a good review on trip advisor I always put my comments on trip advisor.
    MICK
    7th Jan 2017
    10:03am
    I am pretty fair and not a nitpicker either Dim. I have only ever had 1 comment removed. It was damning of the hotel but it was factual and the hotel needed a wake up call. Removing the comment was clearly in the interests of the hotel so that customers would keep coming.
    After that I did a bit of research and discovered that I was not alone and many other Tripadvisor posters had experienced the same problem. Hence my comment above.
    FrankC
    7th Jan 2017
    1:03pm
    Remember , if you go to Italy, their star rating is one star higher than ours, especially in Venice We were told this by Flight centre and the hotel we booked was listed as 4 star, but was really 3, still it was ok except the room was so small, and breakfast always included a fruit flan !
    Ratty
    7th Jan 2017
    9:27am
    My policy with all helpful sites like TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Agoda is to use the service, obtain a price and book directly with the hotel. Sorry if this is wong but I have often had a better price this way or additional service in many different forms eg. earlier check in or later checkout.
    MICK
    7th Jan 2017
    10:07am
    Tripadvisor has its merits. Just don't believe the blue sky some places get.
    Booking.com.......I used to use this site but it is a owned by a multinational which owns pretty well most of the other companies in the same space.
    The thing I like about Airbnb is that customers get to have their reviews posted and, from what I can see, not removed because the merchant is unhappy about the review. That improves the industry. Just like Ebay bad reviews push people to another offer.
    Travelling Man
    7th Jan 2017
    11:43am
    Way to go, Ratty. You should change your name to Smarty!
    Zertzz
    8th Jan 2017
    3:13pm
    Ratty, everyone should book directly with the accommodation venue. You are not getting anything cheaper by booking through a booking site. These sites charge accommodation providers usually between 12-20% commission and who do you think is paying this? - YOU ARE. The accommodation provider cannot usually absorb this exorbitant commission particularly if they are small. Not only this, by contacting the provider directly you can ensure you are getting exactly what you want. When an accommodation provider lists on the booking site there are lots of restrictions e.g. numbers of characters used to describe something, names of rooms etc (particularly if the site originates in the USA - we were allocated ludicrous names we had to use like Executive Whirlpool Room etc which didn't suit our Australian market at all), therefore you can check that your needs are met over the phone, rather than arriving and being disappointed. You should also note that the booking sites don't always translate all the terms and conditions that a venue sets thus you may arrive in a foreign country and find out that check-in is not noon as you assumed but 4pm or worse. Also "last minute" rates on these sites are certainly not last minute - Booking.com (and all the other sites it has bought up e.g. Wotif, Last Minute etc etc etc) requires that a venue load its rates 12 months in advance. You are not getting a special rate. So check the rates online and ring and BOOK directly with the venue - that way you will get what you want, at the best possible price and the commission won't be going overseas!
    Hobbit
    7th Jan 2017
    10:24am
    We had a bad experience at a South African hotel and reported it on Trip Advisor. The hotel offered us a full refund to remove the review. We have also experienced restaurant owners who replied with completely fictitious refutations. Trip Advisor offers no opportunity to reply to those fictitious management replies.
    MICK
    7th Jan 2017
    1:20pm
    You have it in a nutshell Hobbit.
    jzb
    7th Jan 2017
    12:43pm
    I've always read Trip Advisor reviews before booking a hotel overseas and they've been exactly or better than anticipated. I also write honest reviews about hotels/restaurants I've been to to help other people as I was helped.
    MICK
    7th Jan 2017
    1:22pm
    Not all the reviews are legit jzb. Having said that everybody uses the site but you still have to cross reference or take a punt. You have been lucky!
    musicveg
    7th Jan 2017
    4:56pm
    It's all about the money, money.
    Bonny
    8th Jan 2017
    8:32am
    Yes I have been sent discount vouchers for poditive reviews.
    Bonny
    8th Jan 2017
    8:31am
    I only take notice of the negative reviews and work out if I can live with their problems and complaints. They are also useful when booking as if you mention them you are likely to be offerred a discount.

    I write lots of comments myself both on review sites and feedback to the business itself. If something is very bad I also write to the organisation they belong to or the town's tourist centre. I also let my neighbours know if I have a problem with caravan park managers. One park I had people aatching how I was being treated and coming up and telling I should not be putting up with that sort of thing.
    Zertzz
    8th Jan 2017
    2:57pm
    As an ex-accommodation operator I can tell you with certainty that you cannot trust any online review. Firstly you do not have to have stayed at a place nor eaten at it to write a review on TripAdvisor. Thus there are people out there blackmailing accommodation/restaurant venues. We have had guests request upgrades or discounts otherwise they "will write a bad review", we never gave into blackmail and sometimes suffered the consequences. Similarly we once reported a guest to the police for theft and received "bad reviews" from fake guests for the next 3 years purporting to be from countries we never ever had a guest from! It is extremely difficult as a provider to get bad reviews removed from sites like TripAdvisor (as they benefit from having a huge number of reviews on their site - I understand TripAdvisor was originally run by a couple of young people out of a single apartment in the UK - they couldn't care less about removing fake reviews on the other side of the world and only began to allow an operator to respond when threatened with a class action). Thus the only way to hide a bad review is to swamp it with good reviews - from all your family and friends, or as one operator close to our venue did - offer guests a free night for a good review. Secondly as an accommodation provider you could purchase a package (cost a few thousand dollars per year) with some of these review sites which removed bad reviews and arranged for you to have a nice array of good reviews thus pushing you up the line of "recommended places" (Mick is quite right). Thirdly, idiots who should never be published suddenly have a window to be heard. We once received a review we could not remove or alter, stating we had falsely advertised the apartment as having a microwave. These guests stayed a week and the microwave was in their apartment the whole time and worked perfectly! Another operator friend of mine had a similar complaint stating their room had no bins - when in fact the room had 3 bins. There is simply no accounting for stupidity when dealing with certain members of the public. Therefore you accept what is written in reviews at your peril.


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