/ Travel & Leisure

Can you rely on Tripadvisor reviews?

Keyboard in the sand

Tripadvisor has been in the press a lot lately – and not always for the right reasons. Now the company is responding with a new ‘people like me’ function to filter out reviews that aren’t relevant to you. Will it work?

I’m not entirely convinced by the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and prefer to get views from people I know, or from acknowledged experts in the field.

So I’ve never been a massive fan of travel review sites like Tripadvisor. Although they might offer thousands of views, they don’t necessarily come from anyone I trust.

But I might be forced to think again after one of several announcements from the site made this week at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London – where Tripadvisor spoke at one of the busiest sessions.

Filter out irrelevant reviews

The site is launching a ‘people like me’ function that will allow us to filter the reviews so we see only the ones from people that reflect our interests.

How far this goes is unclear. You can certainly restrict the search to bring up results only from – for example – people with young families. But will I be able to specify people with young families who like holiday parks in rural parts of France?

Will I be able to narrow it even further to say I want reviews only from people who share my taste in music and think it’s important to use apostrophes correctly? Will I be able to screen out reviews from people whose main aim on holiday is to find something to complain about on Tripadvisor?

The more narrow I can make the search the better, as far as I’m concerned – not least because the narrower it becomes the less chance there should be of encountering a review posted by a serial complainer, or by a competitor of the establishment being reviewed.

How reliable are reviews?

Tripadvisor’s appearances at WTM followed a Channel 4 television documentary featuring hoteliers who had been the victim of what they saw as unfair reviews, as well as some enthusiastic (possibly over enthusiastic) Tripadvisor contributors.

The company chose WTM to tackle the issue, announcing it was launching a ‘customer care’ division to handle calls from people who wanted to complain about reviews on the site. Aimed at owners and managers who feel they’ve been unfairly treated on the site, the move is designed to emphasise its commitment to ensuring only genuine reviews appear.

The WTM audience was also told there are around 25 filters on the site – including checks of reviewer’s IP addresses – designed to screen out fake reviews before publication.

Yet the same week, the Advertising Standards Authority received a fresh complaint about Tripadvisor. Reputation management company Kwikchex is claiming that travel companies are using Tripadvisor reviews on their own sites without verifying the identity of the author – which it claims breaches advertising rules.

So the concern about the accuracy and motivation of Tripadvisor reviews is not going to go away. But once we can narrow the searches to a few select people, we should be more able to screen out the dodgy reviews.

Though if I get too enthusiastic about narrowing the search, I suppose I might be reading only reviews I posted myself.

Mikhail says:
10 November 2011

No no and no again we can’t trus this website. I had only a negative experience with their “top” recommendations. I will never trust them again.

I have always used trip before going on holiday and I must say the reports to date have been very good likewise I have submitted a few myself and given my honest opinion in the hope that fellow travellers would benefit from my experiences. I have been very fortunate that all the hotels have been of good standard(not 5 star)tho some deserve 5 stars with only one not quite so good and even then it was spotless and the food was good just the bells from the church ringing every morning at 7am (about 30 times) was the problem.So I can only say keep up the good work “trip” you will always get the bad apple

One woman’s brilliant holiday is another woman’s nightmare.

TripAdviser is by no means perfect but what alternatives are there ?

A bit of common-sense – being wary of extreme reviews, reviews by people with only 1 or 2 reviews to their name, ignoring reviews more than a few months old and being wary of places who are in top ranks but with only a few reviews – will give you a far better idea of a place.

Any self-selected review group it will tend to attract the disgruntled and the very enthusiastic and Tripadviser is not immune from this distortion.
Of course if more people posted about their “average” or “nothing wrong” experiences they would help produce a more balanced result

I do use trip reviews to aid my decision making process.I admit to being a bit anal in my research before parting with my cash. Last weekend I used their reviews to book a weekend away, choosing the 2nd most popular B+B (not liking the proprietor of the 1st on the phone) and was not dissapointed. It was everything it was cracked up to be and maybe even a bit better. I felt that having watched the C4 documentary, the owners concerned did irrepairable damage to their business with their attitude, although some of the reviewers were power mad and needed to get a life!

Polly says:
11 November 2011

I use TripAdviser and post on it a lot. Never been disappointed yet but you do need to treat it with care. Look for reviews that are balanced – few places are totally brilliant or dreadful, cross check against other sites, and lookout for the obvious posts by friends or rivals. Use caution over people who only post once, and check out reviews of regular reviewers – are they happy or discontented with everywhere? And do look at the cost of a hotel – a brilliant hostel won’t suit somone looking for 5* luxury and vice versa.

I am trying to remember HOW I booked B & Bs / hotels before the internet, but I managed it. Probably a list from a tourist board then I would book one (no looking up of reviews – no checking). I remember staying in dreadful places. I now use the internet, trip advisor and other review sites. I think TA is great- as I have stayed in amazing places I would not have chosen without reviews. Those with excellent reviews deserve them- I have never been disappointed. I now would not take a risk staying in a place with mainly poor or mediocre reviews. I have only left excellent reviews on TA- if I have a complaint, I take it up directly with the owners as I think they have a right to be able to handle this privately with me – and not have it broadcast across the world. I treat hotel and B & B owners in the way I would like to be treated myself.

betty says:
12 November 2011

After watching the documentary I could certainly see both sides of the story, with some of the ‘visitors’ being over fussy, pinickity and bullying. OCD or what? However I could also see some of the owners as ‘exactly what was said about them on trip advisor’ and it is hard for many of us to take even constructive critisism – it was also the way they were reading the reviews – over reacting to minute comments. After all the owners of the hotels etc have the right to reply – and when they did in this instance that reply also showed them up for what they were – rude, arrogant and condescending. I have relied on trip advisor ever since I had a bad experience at a hotel in Madeira, when I came home I looked on trip advisor and found that everything I had experienced was clearly on there. Since then I always look before I book but do not take every critisism as ‘fact’ after all its only one persons personal opinion. I looked at one hotel in Jersey, there was an awful review from one person, however the owner had then answered the reviewer giving the full details of what had occurred. I still booked the holiday and had a lovely time. So, I think we all have to use discretion and common sense. I think filtering everything down is ludicrous – leave it as it is, but perhaps look at these people, as were shown on TV, that visit multiple venues, perceiving themselves as ‘undercover journalists’. There certainly is concern that some, one shown on TV, are doing it to get their own back on something or someone in their childhood, or to feel powerful, but they should never be allowed to become so powerful that they destroy someone else’s life and income. How would they like it if someone came to their workplace and pulled holes in everything they did. Sad.

Obviously we cannot trust it completely. Anyone who thinks we can is clearly more than a little odd.

But that does not mean it isn’t helpful. I’m going to Spain next week. I’ve checked my hotel on TripAdvisor. There are many reports of poor food, but a closer reading shows that they were nearly all during 2010. The 2011 reports were fine, although there were some “iffy” ones during June. Conclusion? I’m looking forward to my holiday!

Coincidentally my daughter booked a hotel in Dublin a few weeks ago, then looked at TripAdvisor. She was horrified. She rang the booking agency back with her concerns. The lady on the phone at the booking agents went online, looked at the photos, said “Oh my God”, gave my daughter an instant refund and suspended all future bookings at that hotel until they’d had a chance to investigate further!

And on a completely different tangent…

If we’re going to criticise TripAdvisor and it’s ilk, how do we feel about the Which?Local site?

P England says:
12 November 2011

Writing as a “senior reviewer” on TA, I used to use it either to praise or to nail particularly good or bad experiences. However, following my most recent review, I will NOT be using it again. We stayed at a perfectly terrible B&B in the Peak District at the end of the Summer (booked by someone else in our party, despite some shocking reviews on TA). A while later, I posted a scathing review. This was immediately followed by a flood of 5 star reviews, which actually attacked my review. Funny how so many people had such a wonderful time in such a grotty establishment, and in the off season, too! Funny also, how all of them seemed to be from first time reviewers who thought this was the one and only time they had stayed in a B&B that they were moved to praising to the skies. I just feel sorry for the people who read the good reviews and end up booking that place. By the way, I think that as a result of the inundation of good reviews after mine, this establishment actually rose in the ratings, compared with before I wrote mine.

GD Kent says:
12 November 2011

TA can only be considered as a guide – at the end of the day it is up to the person concerned to use common sense and make the final decision. As a test I take the total number of reviews and then work out as a percentage the number of good, terrible, excellent reviews etc. If the excellent fall below 50% of the total number of reviews, then I may look more closely and see if there’s a reason. Also sometime it’s worth reading the terrible reviews – one I saw recently was rated one star simply because the hotel refused to give the reviewer a full refund because he wanted to cancel booking, despite the fact the terms and conditions warned about the cancellation clause. The reviewer had never stayed at the hotel!

I hate Trip Advisor with a passion, (although I am guilty of still looking things up). Here are a couple of examples why…

I stayed in an amazing hotel in Mexico a few years ago, on checking Trip Advisor people were giving it negative reviews for reasons such as “the orange juice was fresh not sunny delight” and “the beach had shells on it”. Seriously? How do these people even get passports.

This year I went to Santorini & wanted some restaurant recommendations. What was the number one restaurant in Kamari, a resort rammed full of genuine Greek food? An English pub run by an English couple serving fry ups all day long.

It’s a great idea in principal, travellers giving fellow travellers advice based on their experiences as opposed to only having travel brochure or website puff to go off, but the reality is sadly lacking. People will vote some hole of a hotel as being fantastic & great value for money & then moan that an actual luxury 5 star hotel is over priced & therefore rubbish, which means that a hotel that probably IS the best in a city or resort is according to Trip Advisor lessor to a 1 star Travel Tavern.

My personal opinion is that travel reviews should be left to the pros, at least they’re objective.

I never book a hotel without taking a look at TripAdvisor first. I think you just need to use common sense and never just base your opinion on one review but take a sample.

I have used trip advisor for quite some time,and i think anyone who uses it just needs to use common sense.If a hotel is highly rated by hundreds of people then you can expect it to be good,the same way as if it is slated by hundreds then there must be problems.however if there are only three or four reviews then i would not consider it to be in any way accurate untill there are at least another twenty or so reviews.The same way as which? would not base a cars reliability based on just ten feedbacks from owners.

Mikhall sounds like a disgruntled hotel operator.

[Hi mmap, please do not make your comments personal. Please read our Commenting Guidelines to see what we expect here on Which? Conversation. Thanks, mods.]

Mikhail says:
15 November 2011

Oh if I would reply to all trolling scamps, I would waste my life in their misery.

Tiger Lily says:
12 November 2011

I too use TA before making any bookings, as I tend to read quite a few reviews before making my decision. It is fairly easy to pick out the spiteful and disgruntled customers, but feel that most reviews are fair and honest. I certainly do not make it my life’s work trying to find something with which I can complain about, and will try and resolve the problem with the hotel direct rather than tell the whole world about it. Of course there are times when these hoteliers deserve everything they get as some of them are arrogant and do not like criticism. Of course there are ways of putting things, and you don’t have to be spiteful to get your point over. I do enter reviews myself and must say that they are honest and true and I resent being lumped in with all those other reviewers who have nothing else to do but to complain.

I have usually found TA reliable and now always check any reviews before booking.

I once chose to ignore the bad reviews on TA for a particular hotel as I thought the reviews must be ott – I knew the area and could not believe that a hotel in that area could be as bad as the reviewers said it was. Unfortunately I discovered that the reviews were accurate!

By failing to moderate reviews properly, TA are damaging their asset, but people who rely on these reviews should apply their own common sense too.

If someone has only posted one review on TA, it suggests they don’t have much experience of travel or eating out, so how is that review going to be of much help in assessing the relative merits of an establishment, regardless of whether it is genuine? And if they appear to be a local and on first name terms with the owners, I’d give it a very wide berth.

With a bit of careful digging you will also discover the weird reviewers who prefer to sleep in the hotel lobby, as they seem forced to describe the unseen bedrooms with sentences cut straight from the hotel’s own website. Then there are the serial bigamists who have held their weddings and been on honeymoon at several different hotels within the space of a few months.

But for all TA’s faults, we have had the most enjoyable holidays ever, based on itineraries planned around small B&Bs, and discovered some excellent restaurants that we would have overlooked in guide books.

Restaurant reviews I find more problematic than hotel reviews.
People’s idea of what is “excellent food” and deserves 5* seems very varied and would suggest many reviewers dont eat out much and not at proper restaurants.
I live in a very touristy town with many pubs, cafes and a few restaurants, I’ve eaten in several of them several times and I fail to understand some of the , I believe genuine, reviews which have phrases like “the best food we have ever eaten..” when referring to an average cafe serving good value unexceptional food.
However there is I believe a general problem with reviews and surveys , many people will give a score of 5 (1-5) for good or perfectly acceptable service/food/quality etc rather than reserve it for exceptional/excellent. So with restaurants good cafe/pub quality food will get rated as 5* the same as the food in an excellent proper restaurant.