Can you trust TripAdvisor?

On listening to the news today I was greeted by the revelation that I may not be able to trust Tripadvisor. As a frequent traveller who is always looking for tips and information I often use this online resource and it would be nice to know that most of what I read there is genuine but it would appear that it may not be. Not being a complete idiot I have always been conscious of the fact that some of the reviews were almost certainly less than honest but I was shocked to find that the places being reviewed might not even exist!

Revenge

Today I learnt that a disgruntled restaurant owner had been a victim of a rival organisation leaving detrimental reviews of his establishment on Tripadvisor. He was so furious that he vented his frustration by creating an entry for a fictitious restaurant on the site and then added several glowing reviews. Unsuspecting members of the public ended up looking in vain for the restaurant. He was anxious to prove that the site was open to abuse and obviously made his point very well!

I appreciate that it would be impossible for the site to vet every review that is submitted but it would be nice to know that they at least bothered to check if a featured attraction actually exists! I would be furious if I wasted my time searching in vain for a fictitious establishment but I don’t believe that this happens very often. Whilst any review system is always open to abuse it is surely better to have the resources of such sites at your disposal than not at all. It is, however, prudent to read several reviews where possible and to see if you can spot any deception.

False Positives

My awareness of the issues with reviews has been somewhat heightened by my own circumstances. I was mystified to find that a rival local business which is legendary for horrendous service had managed to gain dozens of favourable reviews on Google Places. On closer inspection many of these reviews were clearly false and written by staff and family members. I even recognised one of the names as being that of their Saturday girl! I wasn’t too bothered as these glowing reports were accompanied by several vitriolic pieces from many of their unfortunate customers. I am sure that most of the time with any review system, fake praise which is unwarranted is counterbalanced by due criticism. People are far more likely to leave a review if they have been upset than if they were satisfied. This is the way of the world.

False Negatives

Sadly it appears that some businesses have been seriously damaged by rivals leaving a string of unwarranted critical reviews on Tripadvisor and this is a different matter altogether. It can be more difficult to see through these and because people are always more ready to complain than praise they may not be well balanced by genuine, favourable reports. Business owners can respond to reviews and request them to be removed and so hopefully a lot of the questionable material does not stay up for too long.

Valuable information

There are clearly always going to be issues with sites like Tripadvisor because there will always be unscrupulous people but in general I have found the site very useful. You can get a good sense of the choices available and I have found all of the places which were highly recommended to be worthy of the praise. The site is a good place to source information on destinations, tourist attractions and accommodation and there really isn’t anything to rival it for breadth of coverage. If you need detailed information on specifics like where to buy frozen bait for your fishing trip or how to source new laces for your walking boots (yes I once needed to do that) then you will need to turn elsewhere but to get a good sense of the hotels available or the attractions you should visit there probably isn’t a better place to look. Just don’t believe every review you read!

  •  Sally Stacey is a frequent traveller and business owner who has experienced the ups and downs of online reviews.

Author: Muzi Mohale

Hi there, am your host and I blog about the tourism industry in South Africa. You're also welcome to contribute your expert content on matters affecting the industry. You can reach me on muzi[at]tourismedition.com

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