Trip Advisor, should we trust the reviews?

Written by Paul Nov 12 2014

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Last week we had arranged a great rate at a superb 4* London hotel for a client of ours. This is a hotel that had always been the recipient of highly positive feedback from previous customers we’d sent there, a place that we trust implicitly. In the end our client in question had decided that having viewed the ‘negative feedback’ on TripAdvisor, the hotel wasn’t for them. Given that our view is that TripAdvisor provides a similar level of rational debate as Katie Hopkins Twitter feed, this was somewhat bemusing and highly annoying.

TripAdvisor, on the surface, is a brilliant idea. Read up to the minute, impartial reviews from your peers who’ve previously been/stayed/eaten at the venue in question. Around 80% of the time it works just like this, however sometimes the deranged, attention seekers appear, drunk on the power of reviewing. All of a sudden that slightly limp piece of lettuce that, for a reasonable reviewer, would take a restaurant from five stars down to four has caused all out carnage and a lengthy diatribe of how meals/evenings/lives were ruined.

We see other issues too. Stories of non-existent venues appearing and garnering rave reviews or the homeless shelter in Glasgow that was rated as one of best hotels in the UK, all go to discredit this as a reasonable review platform. There’s also the rise of the TripAdvisor blackmailers, those guests who threaten bad reviews unless unreasonable demands are met, a practise that is both legally and morally wrong. It works from the other side as well, hotels/restaurants can (and do) easily submit positive reviews for their own venues, as wells as negative ones for competitors.

Because of these trolls & faults TripAdvisor becomes less of a quality review site and more of a sounding board for the stupid, however it’s not going away anytime soon so we must learn how to use it properly.

Which reviews should be taken with a pinch of salt (ignored)?

Any that start “I’ve stayed in many 5* hotels around the world” - chancers are the reviewer is a bona fide tosser. This is the online equivalent of starting a conversation “You must listen to me because I am very rich & important”, they’re neither, simply idiots.

Those where the reviewer feels they’ve been wronged by the venue without ever having visited - I’ve read numerous post where the reviewer hasn’t been to the venue in question but has somehow been offended enough to make the effort to log in to TripAdvisor and write a negative review, imagine having enough spare time to be able to do that! Not being able to book because the hotel is full or being turned away from a bar because your drunk & annoying are no reasons to damage the reputation of a business.

90% of the 1-star reviews - Sometimes I wonder if TripAdvisor should do away with their 2* option given how underused it is. It seems that the majority of reviews in the 1* category would legitimately come under 2-3 stars had the reviewer been of sound mind rather than having an axe to grind over a seemingly innocuous matter. The below review of the Niagra Falls Butterfly Conservatory is a beautiful example

How’s best to use TripAdvisor?

It’s all about the law of averages. For example there’s around 1000 hotels in London with TripAdvisor reviews. If you’re looking at somewhere in the top 25% then chances are it’s a pretty decent standard. Anything from 250-500 will be good enough, 500-750 caution should be taken and ultimately you’ll get what you pay for. Those in the bottom 25% are generally best avoided until a budget related emergency.

Another consideration is recent reviews are far more important than the historic ones. While it’s tempting to only peruse the 1* writings of the mad for the comedy, you should really be able to get a good picture of where the venue is now from the reviews on the first and second pages of recent musings. In the hotel/restaurant business change is a constant, new managers come and go, ownership changes hands and refurbishment is common. This means that anything over a year old is generally out of date.