It’s highly likely that any traveler out there planning a trip will wind up on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor is arguably the largest travel platform out there, with over 315 million users. It provides users with recommended restaurants, hotels, tours, and flights, among plenty of other things. On the surface, the site is basically run by users.
While it sounds good in theory, this mega-site isn’t exactly as good as it seems. There are plenty of things that happen “behind closed doors” or aren’t as apparent as they should be. Here are some important things to keep in mind when checking TripAdvisor while planning your next vacation.
While we may have once thought we could look to TripAdvisor as a place to find unbiased info on hotels, restaurants, tours and other services, this isn’t exactly the case as they had originally advertised. When TripAdvisor was created in 2000, it was built on the trademark “World’s Most Trusted Travel Site.”
After countless lawsuits in different countries, words like “trusted” and “honest” were removed from all website marketing by 2013.
There is very little supervision and filtering done by admins, so you can already imagine how reliable some of the reviews might be. Users can create an anonymous account to make one awful review after an experience, and fake reviews are abundant. On top of that, even legitimate reviews from customers should still be taken with a grain of salt because reviews are subjective and everyone has different needs and expectations.
There is also something to be said for businesses offering discounts or free stuff to patrons leaving positive reviews as a way to game the system. How much truth can be found in reviews given in exchange for incentives, and monitored by the respective management to make sure it shows them in a good light?
Regardless of TripAdvisor promoting bookings through its website, it isn’t liable for any problems that come up during or after the booking process. That means that you’re risking minimal customer support, and TripAdvisor won’t be held responsible if anything goes wrong. For instance, if you show up at your hotel and they don’t have your room, who is going to be liable for fixing the issue?
There is no way for a business to opt-out of being on TripAdvisor. Anyone can create a listing for a business, regardless of any involvement or participation from owners or management. They have no control over their information or reviews. TripAdvisor will then pressure business owners behind the scenes that they need to get on TripAdvisor to add photos, videos, and interact with reviewers to try and maintain a high rating.
They also apparently ask businesses for their clients’ emails so that they can send automated emails about submitting TripAdvisor reviews, which seems a little unethical to give out contact information to a third party like that.
There’s something to be said for hotels and other businesses getting preferential treatment if they’re willing to pay for TripAdvisor’s hefty “Business Listing” package. It doesn’t matter what their reviews, rankings, or ratings from travelers are, they will get increased visibility and increased possible traffic if they’re willing to fork over the money for it. The Business Listing package overrides any filters you search with.
I’m sure that this business model works great for TripAdvisor, big hotel chains, and other large corporations, but it is unfair to small companies or independently owned businesses that can’t afford to fork over as much cash as a global brand like Hilton. It can also skew what you thought was a just basic search.
Because of the way the site works, businesses rely on reviews. This has opened up a “reputation management” industry, where companies exist solely to restore faith in particular businesses or interfere in the reputation of another. That means that they create fake positive reviews for the restaurant or hotel to help bump them up, and they can also create fake negative reviews for rival or competing businesses to try and trash their reputation.
How reliable can a website of reviews be, if you don’t now that the reviews are real or not?