I’m sure i’m not alone here. Normally before going anywhere, I’ll look at consumer feedback. In the normal day to day world this is just totally commonplace for me and many others. For example when looking to buy a product for coming on this trip, I consulted Amazon (where most of my purchasing was undertaken), and took the obvious advice of the thousands that purchased similar products ahead of me. We’re hardly talking about quantum mechanics here are we; this is now what i’d classify as basic consumer behavior surely?
I used to apply similar logic to locations, restaurants, and attractions, primarily using Tripadvisor. I should say now, i’ve been a user of tripadvisor for a number of years, and got quite into reviewing basically every place I ever stepped foot in. The digital badges they apply to their members activity were for some reason a driving force for me (I’m a level 6 contributor apparently, with some other shite that means very little to most of humanity…), and what have I gained from all this? Absolutely nothing…
At times particularly back home, Tripadvisor was really quite useful, I definitely won’t deny that. There’s been occassions where a previous guest at a hotel i’m staying at has advised on a floor to avoid, or side of the building to try and stay on for city views, restaurants who advise the gluten free options are lacking at certain restaurants, an almost mandating recommendation for a certain cut of steak, or the obvious “This place is crap, just avoid it” which is obviously appreciated, but whilst backpacking this just isn’t the case!
I don’t know if it’s the type of places we frequent now, or the fact i’m now the other side of the world, or the changes that have been made to Tripadvisors UI, or all of the above, but it’s just been useless on this trip. I gave up on a system I used to have as my first port of call almost from the offset of this trip. Here’s what’s bugged me about it all.
You’re probably being conned
Tripadvisor offer a business listing package, enabling establishments to drive up their reputation, visilibity, and general traffic. On the opposite side of this, unless you pay a large subscription to Tripadvisor, you can’t even request things to be removed, regardless of their slanderous nature!
How they calculate the ranking of establishments
Tripadvisor obviously works on a 5* ranking system like so many other sites. This is simple, intuitive, and just makes sense. HOWEVER, Tripadvisor seem to work on an interesting algorythm for calculating rankings. Let me explain deeper.
Venue A has 5 reviews, all of which are 5*, therefore this venue has 100% 5* reviews.
Venue B has 100 reviews, has 50 5* reviews, 30 4*, 20 3*, and 10 1*.
You can always assume that 10% of the population are going to just moan, so this isn’t out of the ordinary. I’m sure you can see from this simple example that 50% of these 100 reviews are 5*, etc etc etc.
Now by my logic, which may be flawed of course, I would assume this rating system should take into consideration the number of ratings too, rather than just the proportion of ratings at a certain level. This is just bonkers to me, and has often skewed the rankings for places i’ve been (location based rankings in particular can be thrown off massively here)!
People are moany bastards
Especially this side of the pond, people seem to only use systems like Tripadvisor to have a bitch and moan. I’m definitely one to have the odd rant myself, but i’ve done some profile stalking ahead of writing this, just to see if i’m waffling or not (still undecided to be honest), and the amount of people on Tripadvisor who have only 1* restaurants and hotels is quite alarming! Sadly, people have now realised if they bad mouth a restaurant online, sometimes they’ll get another meal free. I’ve seen this before, where restaurants try and redeem their bad review by getting another chance, of course, free of charge. My friends back home working in hospitality can spot you from a mile off, if you’re thinking of trying this by the way.
Your option matters, others don’t all the time
What I think is great, someone else will probably think is shite. I’ve found this so many times on Tripadvisor in particular, but also when using others blogs for travel research. I remember going to a restaurant in Greece with my family because someone said the seafood was amazing, and it was a total let down! The following night we went to a hilltop restaurant with fairly average reviews and all had outstanding food and equally good service.
At the end of the day, it’s bloody obvious if a place is going to be great, or terrible. Look for large volume customers, and very obvious swings towards 4 and 5*, rather than the terrible ranking system I mentioned earlier…
The use is totally sporadic
This is particularly prevalent in south East Asia, where we found waaaaaay more places to eat and stay than on Tripadvisor (and booking sites like booking.com too!). Unless you’re looking at high end establishments, it’s kind of pointless looking online because there’s an abundance of places to get great grub as soon as you turn up wherever you’re going.
I DONT WANT WESTERN FOOD WHEN IN ASIA!!!
This I’ve found particularly prevalent whilst in Asia. Those restaurants that utilise Tripadvisor to drive western trade have fully Westernised their menus. This means 10 pages of Schnitzel, burgers, pizzas, chips, and battered crap. Not only is this completely the opposite from what i’m looking for when away, but the quality is nearly always sub standard from my experience, and again, why would you travel to a culinary capital of the world and eat food you can get back home?
It’s constantly trying to rip me off
Yeah I get it, the company need to make money; totally understandable. But for ‘things to do’ the deals they offer on certain activities are just OUTRAGEOUSLY EXPENSIVE! Seriously, i’ve just had a look around Sydney things to do, and FREE activities are being charged at $30+ for tours. Sorry, not going for that! After reading some other posts, it seems that the company Tripadvisor use to book trips and packages is actually a subsidiary, charges around 20-30% commission, and accepts no liability for things that go with the final booking.
It kinda takes away from the fun
I’ll admit, i’ve only just realised this really. I’m a planner, have always been a planner, and probably always will be, but on this trip I’ve really got into the habit o just rocking up somewhere, going for a wander, seeing where there’s a buzz, asking around, and winging it..
Just follow the locals!
Without a doubt, this is the preferred method now. Arrive at your home for the night, ask the staff what’s good, within your budget etc, and go from there. You’ll also see very quickly the popular places around, and those that are empty, or full of tourists. I know where i’d rather eat.
And what about accommodation?
Tripadvisor hasn’t really been my go to place for accommodation for some time, it’s just not what I perceive Tripadvisor as being about (although they are trying). Regardless of what system you use though, just remember, PEOPLE USE THESE SYSTEMS TO HAVE A MOAN, AND PROBABLY HAVE DIFFERENT PERCEPTIONS OF QUALITY TO YOU! I must confess, I have become a HUGE fan of couchsurfing now, not because it’s free, but because you get a PROPER experience of local culture. Some of the best experiences we’ve had on this trip have been through Couchsurfing (street cricket in India anyone??). In this instance the consumer feedback is very useful (for example the sheer number of guests a host has had is a quick way to tell their not a complete tool).
Sorry, this probably isn’t the most helpful blog i’ll ever write, but I felt the need to rant. Best advice, just follow your own nose and make your own decision.
Think I’m having a rant, i’m not the only one clearly. Check out this article that’s saying similar things.