Today, hardly anyone plans a vacation without taking at least a cautionary glance at TripAdvisor to see how one should spend their valuable time and money whilst abroad. Why not hear some honest feedback from likeminded travel bugs? It sounds great in theory and perhaps it was in the early days of TripAdvisor however in more recent years, some major flaws on the site have been exposed. In a recent survey, 80% of business owners believe that TripAdvisor is easily abused. Unfortunately, this message still hasn’t trickled down to readers of the site who still take it as gospel. Despite its flaws, there are obvious positives of TripAdvisor, it is just important to be aware that not ALL reviews can be trusted! We suggest 7 things to be mindful of when reading TripAdvisor reviews.
Only 1 review
This is actually the most tell-tale sign that a review is suspicious. We all write our first review at some point. However, what are the odds that someone goes to the effort of writing 1 or 2 reviews and then never returns? Slight. Now what are the odds that this isn’t about their hotel or the largest and most popular attraction but about a tour? Highly unlikely. Now what are the chances of a single company having 70-90% of their reviews written by people who decided to open an account, write 1 or 2 reviews and never return? Impossible. If you ever see a company loaded with reviews from people with just 1 or 2 reviews – stay clear.
Companies write the reviews themselves
No matter where the guest is from, do they always spell the Guides name correctly, is their English perfect whether they are from Lhasa, Lithuania or London?
This is when companies pay 3rd parties to write good reviews for them and bad reviews for others. Although it is not permitted by TripAdvisor, the practice still continues as it is very difficult to prevent.
Companies write about their competitors
You see a first-time reviewer writing a terrible review that goes against the grain? Chances are this is a competitor. Business owners plead with TripAdvisor to insist that a disputed reviewer is asked to produce a receipt/proof of payment or at least evidence that they attended the tour. To date, TripAdvisor refuses. Why? Because as a “business” TripAdvisor needs to show a large number of reviews, users and site impressions. They do not want to start removing a large number of reviews just because they may just happen to be fake. TripAdvisor boasts that they have 400,000 user contributions per day. However, they only have 300 people within their Content Integrity department to sift through all these.
In Dubai we once heard of an operator who carries an iPod on tour and asks people to review when the tour is heading back to the Hotel. No TripAdvisor account? No problem, let me help you open an account. What’s the chance of an honest review when the owner is sitting watching over your shoulder?
Companies pay to have reviews removed
In order to make bad reviews go away, many reviewers just refund money in exchange for the removal of the review. Despite this being against TripAdvisor rules, it is not in either parties best interest to report it (guests gets their money back and the business has the bad review removed). Therefore, this practice continues basically unchecked. This causes two major issues; problems that could guide a person’s decision disappears and this practice has also lead to a terrible amount of blackmail. People know that businesses want reviews to go away so they complain and threaten to write a bad review unless the company compensates. Some businesses refuse to pay blackmailers so even if you come across bad reviews on TripAdvisor, sometimes they might not be truthful.
Incentives to write reviews
Some companies in Dubai will give significant discounts (up to 50%) on future tours if a person can provide evidence that they have submitted a TripAdvisor review. How many people do you think will give anything but a 5-star review if they want to avail of this offer?
Given all of the above, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no use visiting the site at all. We don’t think this is the case, because just like us there are passionate travellers who like to share their experiences with the travel community. You just have to be savvy enough to spot the helpful reviews from the invalid ones.
So the next time you visit TripAdvisor, remember all these points mentioned. The golden rule with TripAdvisor in Dubai is to have a look at several reviews to get a more balanced opinion – if the majority are really good with one bad, don’t let it put you off. Another indication of valuable reviews is to check whether a business has received any awards from TripAdvisor. Certificates of Excellence and Hall of Fame awards are all signs that the business has a high percentage of really positive reviews!