Travel takes time and planning. Many believe that planning is part of the fun. Poring over guidebooks, searching the internet, talking with friends in search of recommendations for that hidden restaurant or travel tip that you can’t do without. With so much information at our fingertips, it is easy to hop right on the internet and find thousands of comments from our nearest and dearest strangers. TripAdvisor attracts over 40 million visitors a month but popularity does not necessarily mean quality. There is some debate about the veracity of some of the reviews. There are marketing companies who have publicly advertised services related to “seeding” online review forums (for a fee, of course).
We read TripAdvisor reviews like they are gospel. Please don’t do that anymore. The person who gave that fabulous hotel overlooking the Ponte Vecchio a poor review and said it was a waste of money? He’s a bitter cheapskate who was just dumped and went to Italy to drown his sorrows. The romance in the air was like a slap in the face and clearly influenced his entire experience. My point? The problem with Trip Advisor (or Yelp, or any review sites) is that there is no context. What were the expectations of the reviewer, how were they affected by past experiences, was the trip a once in a lifetime splurge or just an annual trip? All of these factors come into play and influence a person’s experience. I am not saying that reviews are not helpful. They certainly can be. But you should definitely embrace the philosophy of caveat lector- reader beware. Read dozens of reviews, throw out the best (those honeymooners who are skipping through life and would be happy sleeping in a cardboard box along the riverbank as long as they were together) and the worst (see jaded, single guy above) and see what those people in the middle of the road have to say. Read the comments carefully and think about whether or not they pertain to you. “This hotel did not cater to my children at all” – not going with kids?? Then this negative review might actually be a positive. And a bored millennial writing “there is nothing to do at this place at night” might just mean that the reviewer missed the point of a villa turned luxury hotel in the Tuscan countryside. This solitude may be just what you were seeking.
We have friends who own a hotel and I can tell you that the online review system has become the bane of their existence. One poor review and their ranking on TripAdvisor plummets. And if they respond to the comments, their reply seems like an excuse. It really is a no-win situation. Reviews are regularly “created”, i.e. made up, and while TripAdvisor is doing what it can to combat this, it is inevitable. Friends and family are keen to add their always favorable comments about a property just as they can write something equally as unsavory about a competitor. There is no requirement that you have to prove you stayed in said establishment.
My point is that your trip is yours. While it is important to learn about the places you are visiting and the anticipation and planning certainly add to the whole experience, do remember to consider the source. Trust your friends. And maybe not all of your friends. Let’s be honest – we all have friends who are fun enough to hang out with but are very different travelers. Those who choose to eat at McDonalds all around the world because they know what they are getting, those who think the coffee in Italy is terrible, those who think that Michelangelo is overrated. Maybe not your best source for recommendations (unless that is your thing too).
A good travel consultant will take the time to know you and what kind of traveler you are. She will ask the right questions about your preferences (luxury or more modest, traditional or modern, city or country) and she will have a large inventory of properties that will suit your needs. Who would you rather trust: a consultant with years of experience in the industry, who most likely has actually stayed at the places she is recommending or a review from Joe S. from Boise, Idaho who has only traveled out of the country once in his life? Put yourself in the hands of the experts. And for goodness sake, once you choose a place, stop reading the reviews on TripAdvisor. Somehow, the one poor rating is going to stick with you while the hundreds of glowing reviews are going to seem overrated. Just go on your trip. And then you will know what it’s like. And you can post all about it on TripAdvisor.