Online reviews are great sources for information about a hotel or restaurant — except when they’re not. Here’s how to spot a fake.
Don’t believe everything you read online, especially on user-generated review websites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp, which claim to help you find the best hotels and restaurants.
At least that’s the standard warning issued repeatedly by travel experts for the last decade. The ratings are rigged by hotel or restaurant operatives, or by unhappy patrons trying to shame a business, they say. Since the sites make no meaningful efforts to stop these bogus posts, all the so-called user-generated sites should be ignored when you’re planning your next trip.
TripAdvisor is a regrettable by-product of the information revolution whose user-generated ratings too often hurt travelers and travel companies more than they help.
As I’ve noted in the past, the company cynically monetizes the labor of its unpaid contributors while making virtually no effort to verify its reviews.
TripAdvisor doesn’t promise its readers much, but the least it can do is to live up to the few guarantees it makes.
Even so, when I heard from Ellen Garland, who charged the company with allowing a hotel in Anguilla to brazenly game its ratings, I didn’t want to go there.
Glenn Monroe and his wife own the Westbrook Inn, in Connecticut, which he describes as the “perfect” place to “step back in time to the romantic Victorian era.”
But that isn’t how some TripAdvisor reviewers see it. Although the Westbrook Inn is fairly highly ranked on the site, it has a few critics, some of which claim his rooms are overrated and that Monroe’s staff is “not nice.”
Who is hunnyb62?
The answer matters to Daniel Corcoran and a group of contributors to TripAdvisor’s Baltimore forum. It should matter to you, too.
Hotels want to know who you are. Especially if you’re reviewing them anonymously.
An increasing number of image-conscious properties have begun connecting the dots between unbylined write-ups that appear on such popular travel sites as TripAdvisor or Yelp, and your personal information, such as your loyalty program preferences.
If you write a positive review, you might expect a reward from the hotel — a gift basket or a discount on your next stay. Pan a property, and you could get a concerned e-mail from the general manager asking you to reconsider your review. Or even a black mark against you in the chain’s guest database.
Oh, the things hotels will do for a good review.
It’s not enough to ask guests for a write-up on a popular site such as TripAdvisor or Yelp after they’ve checked out. Lately, some innkeepers have been pressuring their customers to say positive things online — in extreme cases, even before they’ve checked in.
Take what happened to Pam Stucky when she recently made a reservation at a small hotel in Scotland. Before she arrived, the owner sent her an e-mail soliciting a recommendation on TripAdvisor, even though she’d never been to the hotel.
“Two or four guests staying together can send two to four independent reviews,” the innkeeper wrote. “Different pseudonyms should be used.”
Stucky, a Seattle-based writer, was uncomfortable with the come-on.