Last Updated on January 13, 2023
By Jim Ferri
Updated for 2021
Many travelers ask, with good reason, how reliable are TripAdvisor reviews? The answer is “it depends.”
TripAdvisor is a company that has changed travel. It promotes itself as the world’s largest travel site – a place where you can get “trusted advice from real travelers.” But many people wonder just how much you can trust the advice it provides.
You only need to search Google for “fake TripAdvisor reviews” to get a sense of the size of the issue. The more than 3.6 million results that pop up suggest that it’s on the minds of a lot of travelers. On the other hand, those numbers are down about 25% from a decade ago.
It’s unfortunate but obvious: if hoteliers and restaurateurs have the opportunity to boost reservations and revenue by posting fake reviews on TripAdvisor, many are going to do it. As a matter of fact, fake reviews on TripAdvisor – both fake positive reviews posted by the hotels and restaurants or negative reviews by their competitors – have long been a problem.
TripAdvisor Attempting to Curtail Bogus Reviews
To be fair, TripAdvisor, as well as some hotel chains claim to be trying to do something about the issue. And for the past few years they appear to be making some headway. But it’s impossible to stop all bogus reviews. TripAdvisor is usually very closed mouthed as to exactly what it’s doing.
Even though TripAdvisor claims it’s trying to curtail bogus reviews, there’s another issue that travelers need to be aware of. That about 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. They then photograph the renovations and put the photos on their website as well as TripAdvisor, Expedia and Travelocity, without advising that not all rooms are as advertised. You book what appears to be a nice room but on arrival find yourself in some dump up on the fourth floor.
The Result of Rushing Through a Booking
It’s happened to me. Several years 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 on the fourth floor (the fifth floor in the U.S.). To make matters worse, there was no elevator.
Also, the carpets in the hall were worn and the bathroom and the shower were down the hallway, not in the room as advertised. Additionally, there was no air-conditioning, hairdryer, in-room safe, etc. as claimed online.
Even worse though, next to some of the negative reviews 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.
By the way, the Alloggi Agli Artisti hotel is still open. And judging by the reviews, not a lot has changed.
But I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t use TripAdvisor to try to discern the quality of a hotel. It can, after all, be a valuable resource. 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 “over the top” comments, possibly written by the hotels themselves. Also disregard all 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 Expedia, Travelocity, Booking.com, Hotels.com, etc. As a side note to clear up any confusion, TripAdvisor used to be owned by Expedia but is now a publicly traded company.
Watch Out For Those Restaurant Reviews
And when using TripAdvisor it’s not just hotels you should be concerned about. Since mobile phones and iPads are also our traveling companions, many travelers also use TripAdvisor to search for restaurants. Remember, however, that some of these restaurant reviews may also be bogus. A positive review may be written 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.