A Telegraph story details how consumers are using TripAdvisor as a threat to extract freebies in favor of withholding a bad review. Though I tend to think this particular problem is not as widespread as reported, I still see this as yet another reason not to trust TripAdvisor.
Craig Savage, 49, who runs the Double Barrel Steakhouse and Grill in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, claims that about 30 of the 1,000 meals he serves each week will be to malicious customers who threaten bad reviews unless they get a freebie. “What usually happens is that a customer will come to the bar, or say to the waiting staff, ‘I am a senior TripAdvisor reviewer’ and then you know that something will definitely go wrong.
“What we are finding is that these so-called reviewers will complain about the meal or the service and when you ask how to put it right, you can guarantee it will be some sort of freebie.
TripAdvisor used to be my go-to source to find the best hotel and restaurants in any given city. The concept of unbiased user-submitted reviews was great and while my rankings may have sometimes differed, I generally found the reviews spot-on.
But something changed over the last couple years. As Damian reported with his own submissions, hotels became more aggressive in trying to obliterate bad reviews, resorting to unethical measures to clear away any unfavorable comments.
At the same time, I have to suspect hotels are adding many fluff reviews of their own. I realize that a good review does not mean the hotel wrote it—after all, almost all of my hotel reviews are positive and without any coercion from the hotels reviewed. Still, most hotels have service lapses once in awhile and that is what drives many to write reviews in the first place. I suppose that is part of the problem too.
As TripAdvisor has grown in stature, I can only imagine that good and bad reviews make or break a mid-level hotel, especially in a leisure market. Thus, it becomes highly incentivized for a hotel to purge itself of bad reviews.
So we face three problems: blackmail from reviewers, a push to remove bad reviews by hotels and restaurants, and the addition of fluff reviews by those same hotels and restaurants.
Where to Get Honest Reviews
The proper venue to digest hotel reviews that are actually helpful are from sources you can trust. I hope my blog is one of those sources and travel bloggers often offer what I believe are much more comprehensive and honest hotel reviews than what appear on TripAdvisor. Sometimes TripAdvisor will be your only source to find out about the hotel you are considering and it still can be used as a guide, but use TripAdvisor with the attitude that it is well-documented that people extort hotels and restaurants for good and bad reviews and these same hotels and restaurants are often to aggressive to use any means necessary to remove honest constructive criticism from TripAdvisor.
The bottom line is that in most instances you have to experience a property for yourself to truly judge it and should weigh star level, price, and location more heavily when making your booking decisions than anonymous online reviews.