How Reliable Are TripAdvisor Reviews?

Venice street

Tourists in Venice

By Jim Ferri

Although TripAdvisor promotes itself as being the world’s largest travel site – a place where you can get “trusted advice from real travelers” – many people now wonder just how much you can trust the advice it provides.

You only need to go to Google and search “fake tripadvisor reviews” to get a sense of the size of the issue. The more than 4.5 million results that pop up suggest that it’s on the minds of a lot of travelers.

It’s unfortunate but obvious: if hoteliers have the opportunity to boost bookings and revenue by posting fake reviews on TripAdvisor, many are going to do it. As a matter of fact, fake reviews on TripAdvisor, either positive ones posted by the hotels themselves or negative ones by their competitors, have long been a problem.

Hotel Alloggi Agli Artisti, Venice

Hotel Alloggi Agli Artisti, Venice

TripAdvisor and most hotel chains claim to be trying to do something about the issue, and appear to be making some headway, although TripAdvisor is usually very closed mouthed as to exactly what it’s doing.

Even though TripAdvisor may claim it’s trying to curtail the practice of bogus reviews, there’s another issue that travelers need to be aware of: hotels that misrepresent themselves on booking sites such as TripAdvisor. It’s basically false advertising.

How this happens is that some hotels, especially outside of North America, will renovate part of their hotel, then photograph it and put the photos on their website and tout it on sites such as TripAdvisor, Expedia and Travelocity, without advising that not all rooms are as advertised. You book what appears to be a nice room and when you arrive find yourself in some dumpy room up on the fourth floor.

It’s happened to me. Several months ago in Venice I needed to spend my last night in a hotel near the bus and train stations in order to catch a very early-morning bus.

Hotel Alloggi Agli Artisti, Venice

Hotel Alloggi Agli Artisti, Venice

I did some quick research and found that TripAdvisor awarded the Alloggi Agli Artisti, a hotel that appeared to suit my needs, 3.7 points out of five. There were negative reviews, of course, but 138 of the reviews said it was very good, and 49 said it was excellent. In my haste I booked it.

When I arrived, however, I was put in small room up on the fourth floor (the fifth floor in the U.S.) with no elevator. The carpets in the hall were worn and the bathroom and the shower were down the hallway, not in the room as advertised, and there was no air-conditioning, hairdryer, in-room safe, etc. as claimed online.

Even worse though, today as I looked at some of the negative reviews of the property on TripAdvisor I saw comments from hotel management insulting some reviewers for complaining about these very things (TripAdvisor puts management replies next to negative consumer reviews). Seeing insulting replies from management should warn you never to go near the property.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t use TripAdvisor to try to discern the quality of a hotel, but you do need to use it wisely and read the reviews with a bit of cynicism. A good rule of thumb is to disregard all of the “over the top” comments (possibly written by the hotels themselves) and all of the very negative comments, which could have been planted by the competition, and focus on the remainder.

You also need to go beyond TripAdvisor reviews and look at what’s said on other sites such as Travelocity, etc. Be aware, however, that Expedia owns TripAdvisor and all hotel reviews on Expedia are taken from TripAdvisor, so you’re not actually comparing anything perusing additional reviews on that site.

Lobby of Hotel Alloggi Agli Artisti, Venice

And when using TripAdvisor it’s not just hotels you should be concerned about. In this day when mobile phones and iPads have become our traveling companions, no matter where one is in the world many people also use TripAdvisor to search for restaurants. Remember, however, that some of these reviews are also likely to be bogus – a positive one planted by a restaurant’s owner, a negative one by the chef down the street.

And there’s also the issue as to whether or not the place is even still in operation. Keep in mind that while hotels are usually in business at the same location indefinitely, restaurants tend to open and close more often.

While in my original hotel during that same trip in Venice, one evening I used TripAdvisor to search for a good restaurant. I looked up the district of Venice in which I was staying and then wrote down the names and addresses of TripAdvisor’s three top-rated restaurants.

As it turned out the #1- and #2-rated restaurants on TripAdvisor no longer existed. But after walking a bit I did find #3, which turned out to be relatively good, as promised on the site.

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  1. says

    I’ve never turned to TripAdvisor … there are so many other options for reviews! I don’t need to state the obvious: consulting with a professional travel consultant with a vast network of colleague. No, I’m thinking of the travel guides which take no advertising. I trust Rick Steves. I trust Fodor’s. I don’t trust the reviews on Trip Advisor. I once saw a review of a tropical property in which the reviewer complained about bugs … there are certain things which are not surprising in travel and bugs in the tropics are one of them.

  2. says

    Don’t know if they are making good, but once I have found this guys selling reviews on tripadvisor XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX , never worked with them

  3. Jim Ferri says

    To our readers:
    All comments on articles that appear on Never Stop Traveling, both positive and negative, remain as written, unless they are spam or contain offensive material.
    In the case of this comment, however, I’ve deleted the web address referenced since I found the site to be a company one can retain to write phony reviews on TripAdvisor.
    This is one of the problems that plagues TripAdvisor and demonstrates why you should use caution and common sense when reading any comments on TripAdvisor or other review sites. J.F.

  4. Frank Levenstein says

    If you visit a restaurant don’t rely on Trip advisor reviews. Most of the people who post are the unhappy, miserable complain without reason, while those guests who has great experience don’t bother to post. I run a restaurant. Our comment cards shows 93% guest satisfaction while Trip advisor comments indicates 40%. So tell me

  5. Sander Davis says

    I wonder if they post all reviews. I have now posted twice a review of a recent stay at a hotel and have yet to see it appear. I definitely think they have their favorites.

    • Jim Ferri says

      Hi Sander,

      That’s not a good sign if a site doesn’t post your review – whether it’s pro or con — unless it has been blocked for negative reasons (profanity, attacking another reviewer,spam content, etc.) I’d send an email to the pr/communications person in their corporate offices and ask what’s going on. If you do, could you please update us on their reply and tell us what you’ve done?

  6. says

    Our client have ever written about us on Tripad “We highly appreciate your service” but that comment was not posted and our account was locked

    Then we contacted with Tripad but Tripad has explained that the comment about this company is not posted as this company does not have on the Tripad system.

    So Tripad does not keep the positive , they just concentrate on advertisement, there are many competitors buy good comment throught many websites. But we did not do that as we respect our clients who wrote true comment about service.

    • Chong says

      May I ask if Tripadvisor earn commisions or advertisement fees ? I read before someone asked them whether they are a commercial website or not, and they replied they are not and assure fairness.

  7. Chong says

    Besides those mentioned, there is another big issue which Tripadvisor’s forum a very unreliable place to rely for informations. I usually run through all the last few months of forum chat of the place before I travel. I find their moderators very bias and unfair. I notice they favour members who supported the higher price establishments. I notice whenever someone recommend some cheap finds, eg eating places, drivers or hotels, some regular members will appear to start an issue to flame and the moderators will delete the original post with some excuses like “inappropriate” or “gudelines” issue. It’s sad that an established travel forum could choose to be ruined or controlled by some regular members and lose their creditability. I am sure many of the regular members are in the travel industry or related to some establishment, writing there to protect their own interest.
    I think in future, travellers will not believe in travel sites forum or reviews if their moderation don’t improve for fairness.

  8. says

    Since tripadvisor monitors the posts very carefully that I think it will be very reliable for those who intend to find information before making a trip.

  9. Terrance Jeremie says

    The debit about whether to trust Trip Advisor or not keeps going but personally I can’t trust Trip Advisor. The reason why I can’t trust them is the because I rather go and talk to actual trip advisor face to face giving me actual information. Another reason why I can’t trust them because certain individuals give mixed emotions about where they stay, and makes you think whether you trust it or not. Having a actual interaction with someone discussing with you about your trip and giving you advise, I rather recommend them over trip advisor. As a hotel manager I would deal with the positive and negative message by sending out a statement, on the company website by thanking them for the feedback and send out recent activities, interactions, and entertainment/Food pictures showing that our hotel brand is a great place to come to to answer all the negative feedback the hotel gets. Also I would tell everyone that our hotel keeps on growing and we keep up to date with the trends that are happening in the hospitality industry.

  10. Hardeep Kaur says

    I firmly believe that trip advisor is not completely reliable. The site contains both real and fake reviews. There are companies that solicit to hotels where they charge to a couple of hundred dollars a month to post positive reviews. How do I know that? Well I work for hotels and I have personally received those phone calls. For some hotels it may be totally worth it to pay a couple of hundred dollars a month to be on the top of the list but it is totally unethical. Also, there is no way to verify or to prove if the person that wrote a review actually stayed at the hotel.

  11. says

    Sure, there are outright bogus reviews (both positive and negative) that erode the trust in Tripadvisor. I think nowadays users are getting savvy enough to sniff out if things are written more like a marketing push than a real review.

    What I have also noticed, as a tourism professional in Berlin, is that many of the tours, attractions, etc that are ranked highest on trip advisor are ones that actively solicit them from their guests. I did a walking tour where at the end most of us had a drink in a nearby pub. The tour guide then went around to each of us with his ipad asking us to write a quick review….. (I later learned that management was paying a bonus to the guide that got the most reviews)

    Tripadvisor has tremendous power with business in the top 3 of categories seeing direct results in terms of revenue. Is it any wonder that many of them try to cheat the system.

    The other issue is that the reviews are not necessarily representative of the experience. The majority of people will only bother writing if they have either a very good or very bad experience. So good little restaurants (particularly ones mostly frequented by locals – which are usually a good sign) rarely register on Tripadvisor.

  12. says

    As usual, you should check with a variety of sources. I have found that Tripadvisor reviews are just one of several sites that will give you a general idea. To their credit, I think Tripadvisor does try to do a good job…after all, if they fail to do that, then they lose their credibility, and that is the keystone of their business.

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