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.
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.
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.
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.