An Ugly Side of TripAdvisor

A TripAdvisor endorsement is highly valued in the industry.  But what lengths will suppliers and their customers go in pursuit of same?
A TripAdvisor endorsement is highly valued in the industry. But what lengths will suppliers and their customers go in pursuit of same?

Here’s an interesting article from the UK about hoteliers and restaurant owners complaining that they are being ‘blackmailed’ by patrons, who demand free meals, room upgrades, etc.  If they are not given these things, the patrons threaten to write negative reviews on TripAdvisor.

I’m sure this sort of thing happens, although it is interesting that most of the supplier pushback against TripAdvisor over the last few years seems to be coming from the UK.  Why are UK travel providers especially sensitive to TripAdvisor reviews?

Anyway, blackmailing suppliers with the threat of bad TripAdvisor reviews is clearly a bad thing and should be prevented, but how can this be done?  And what about the other side of the coin – inappropriate hotel responses to legitimate complaints.

I’ve posted negative reviews about hotels in the past (as well as plenty of positive ones too), and the hotels always have a chance to reply.  I also note that one particular hotel I complained about in a TripAdvisor review obfuscated to the point of lying in their response to my complaint, and while TripAdvisor allows the hotel to reply, it doesn’t then allow the reviewer to reply to the hotel’s reply, allowing any misstatements by the hotel to be safely offered without fear of rebuttal or further response.  (By the way, it was a UK hotel that I was complaining about.)

The other thought is that maybe the occasional threat of blackmail serves some hotels/restaurants right.  Many of them do all they can to almost bribe you to post favorable reviews or to friend them on Facebook or whatever else.  If they’re trying to cheat the system that way, isn’t there a certain amount of poetic justice that others are trying to turn the tables on them?

Bottom line – this is all another reason to treat everything you read on TripAdvisor with a grain of salt.  You need to try to ‘average’ the comments you read and look for consistent themes, and if you feel a particular review is credible and influencing your choice, you should have a look at the reviewer’s profile and see what sort of other reviews they have written too – maybe they are predisposed to always writing gushy positive reviews, or acerbic negative reviews – or maybe this is the only review they’ve ever written (which makes one wonder if it is a false review).

Even Honest Reviews on TripAdvisor Can be Inadvertently Misleading

Most of all, be extremely cautious at the rankings that TripAdvisor generates, and the resulting lists of ‘top/best’ hotels in an area.  Whenever I look at these lists, for an area I’m familiar with, I invariably note that some low-grade properties are near the top of the list, while some truly excellent properties are further down.

In part, this is unavoidable due to the lack of sophistication in TripAdvisor’s grading system.  Here’s the conundrum.  You stay at a three-star/budget motel and pay $60 a night for the experience.  The room was clean, the bed was comfortable, the bathroom had everything you expected in it, and so on.  So it was a positive experience and you give it four or five stars.  Then, a week later, you are traveling somewhere and your company is paying for your room (say $250), and you are staying at a downtown five-star hotel.  Unlike the budget motel, the five-star hotel has restaurants, bars, 24 hour room service, porters, a concierge, and so on.  But you called with a housekeeping issue and it took several hours for the housekeeper to turn up, and you didn’t like the fact that the in-room coffee maker had no decaf coffee packets, the Wi-Fi was expensive, and you felt the porter was a bit rude when collecting your bags from your room.  So you give the hotel a two or three star review.

But which is truly the better property?  Of course the expensive hotel has massively more amenities, services, features.  It has fluffier towels, a larger bathroom, a new large flat screen tv and 100+ channels of programming on it, half a dozen pillows on the bed, and so on.  Maybe that hotel, when judged by other five-star hotels, is not as good as its competitors, and maybe also the three-star hotel is better than other similar motels in town.  So – and here’s the thing – compared to other five-star hotels, the expensive hotel deserves a low review, and compared to other budget motels, the $60/night place deserves a positive review.

But TripAdvisor doesn’t make that distinction.  It just sees the no-frills motel getting four or five stars, and the deluxe hotel getting two or three stars, and so guess which property ends up being ranked as much ‘better’ than the other?

So you need to do a lot of your own ‘filtering’ and analysis when trying to work out what TripAdvisor reviews really truly mean and how they relate to the comparative merits of different properties.

3 thoughts on “An Ugly Side of TripAdvisor”

  1. Good points David – may I add one further step to your apt suggestion (” and if you feel a particular review is credible and influencing your choice, you should have a look at the reviewer’s profile and see what sort of other reviews they have written”)? I often send a personal query to the reviewer and have gotten some great information. Thanks.

  2. But TripAdvisor compensates for this by showing the “level” of property – 5 star, 4 star, 3, etc. based on the typical hotel rating system, so a reader can compare the types of hotels they are looking at, then look at ratings from consumers. It doesn’t seem that confusing to me. You’d have to be sort of foolish to think a $60 hotel is going to have the same amenities as a $250 hotel.

    I encountered this very thing in Sedona last week. I didn’t want to pay $200 for a hotel room, but TripAdvisor had good ratings of an $80 hotel. Of course I knew the $80 hotel wasn’t going to be as fancy, but it was great for what it was as the reviews reported, and TripAdvisor worked out great for me in that case.

    I think that calling this an “ugly side” of TripAdvisor is hyperbole. Maybe a “dilemma” of TripAdvisor?

  3. My problem with TA is the restaurant ratings…how can every Gelato and Pizza Shop in Rome be put in the same category as a fine dining establishment?

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