Travel Reviews: A Platform for Critics and Crooks

Travel Reviews: A Platform for Critics and Crooks

How do you separate honest reviews from dishonest ones? A long-time passion of mine, travel review scam is something I’ve written about for a long time, and dare I say I’m even known for.

There are recent changes in the travel review community. Competition and economic uncertainty continue to give rise to a desire to change the outcome of all-important travel reviews. The impact of positive and negative comments is huge. So why wouldn’t a business want to improve its reviews, even if that involves writing negative reviews about its competitors or buying positive ones?

What’s New at Expedia and TripAdvisor Since Their Break-Up Last Year?

TripAdvisor removed their “Reviews You Can Trust” slogan on hotels, replaced with, “Reviews From Our Community.” Doesn’t that say a lot? Immediately after spinning off TripAdvisor last year, Expedia launched verified hotel reviews in order to help make them trustworthy. Time will tell. Under the new model you can only leave a review if your trip was booked on Expedia so they can verify you actually stayed at the hotel. I’d suggested many times that TripAdvisor move to a review verification process and had explained why. That was met frankly with a bunch of party line chatter.

The critics

Our new found consumer voices seem to be tied to ever increased expectations and a demand for excellence, no matter the price paid. Even legitimate reviews are becoming more polarized with either glowing over the top accolades or free for all complaints. We know that these at times fun to read extremes may be justified, or can as easily be vindictive and emanate for a variety of other reasons.

Crooks: the black market of reviews

At the bottom line, anyone can write anything and reviews for the most part aren’t verified in any way. Last year, there was big news of something I’d addressed previously when the NY Times wrote about the business of soliciting and creating fraudulent reviews.

Damage caused by reviews

Valid or fraudulent, review based harm can be done quickly and have long lasting or even irreparable ramifications – reading that a hotel has bed bugs or someone found a cockroach in their food for example. A review I just read at one of my favorite eateries suggested the later. The guest was dismayed when the establishment would only give him one free meal, instead of the four for his entire family that he had requested. Apparently they were all damaged emotionally after having consumed all of the food.

I’ve also heard of requests for discounts in order to avoid a very poor review and have learned more than once about businesses being otherwise extorted in order to avoid falsified, negative reviews.

With nowhere else to turn

There are so many travel options to choose from, how else can we try to be sure that our choices will be to our liking? Review sources seem like the only option for starting to whittle down the field. As for me, I’ve taken more to using Expedia and Yelp rather than TripAdvisor. Yes, Yelp, even though they were once accused of extortion. I also like Amazon reviews. It doesn’t mean I completely trust even the verified reviews, but it feels somewhat better.

Go with the numbers

My best advice is to check the profile of each reviewer to see how frequently they write and the history of past reviews. From that I can decide on trust. If there’s only one review in the profile history, I move on quickly.

Has your use of travel reviews changed? How do you determine accuracy?

Want to read more – see related posts below.


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9 Comments

  1. Michael (2 years ago)

    Well, I don’t tend to post reviews very often — only when I have something to add, so I guess there are a few places with just one review from me.

    But like others I tend to try to plot an average, sort of like old Kentucky windage (lick your finger, hold it up and see which way the wind is blowing) and look for trends, especially with the most recent reviews that have solid plusses or minuses, not that the desk clerk had an ugly piercing or one server was “rude.” A lot of people are either easily pleased or easily offended and expect Ritz Carlton service and style at Motel 6.

  2. Joe (2 years ago)

    I post reviews on TripAdvisor. One of my latest was of a poor local restaurant. I gave it two stars, one other person gave it three, yet TripAdvisor has it listed as four stars. I believe most people assumed that the overall rating reflected the reviews, not some mystical system. (There is a hotel in Hawaii I reviewed a few years back. By the written reviews, it’s only gotten worse, yet it’s overall rating is still high.

    (Plus there’s the matter of logic: if you go through 100 reviews and 90% have four stars or less, it is statistically impossible for the place to have four stars. But I noticed that hotel management is very active in responding to reviews, though apparently not in fixing their hotel, which makes me wonder if there is payola going on.)

    Bottom line: TripAdvisor claims to use sophisticated algorithms, but without transparency, it’s fraudulent.

  3. Cat (2 years ago)

    I completely agree with Colleen but from the other angle – VRBO seems okay but TA is loaded. There is a person in our area who hates my neighborhood so they post and post on all the sites and same verbage. So no matter how you respond they just pop up with another name.

    I tend to weed through them like the others have already mentioned. Disregard Bridezillas most of the time unless I guess I was planning a wedding. Then it would matter. Another thing I do is go to a yellow pages on line for the area I am going to and see what is listed. Some of the “vintage” but smaller places are not as social media savy as the newer larger places.

    -Cat

  4. Colleen (2 years ago)

    Another thought – sometimes you see all these glowing reviews and they seem to have a ‘familiar ring’ – as though possibly written by the same person. I noticed this on a VRBO listing that has NO HISTORY on TA and about a dozen recent 5 star reviews on VRBO and they all sounded similar. Perfect grammar, punctuation, similar wording, glowing remarks about people and frequent use of first names. It just made me nervous and I booked a different property because of it.

    Bet you thought I fell into THE BIG BLACK HOLE, huh, Jeff?

  5. Colleen (2 years ago)

    I tend to gravitate to the ‘average’ reviews. I am sort of an ‘average’ traveler – I enjoy the finer things but some glitches are not going to make me give a horrid review – especially if someone tries to ‘fix’ whatever – and I don’t expect a FREE stay either :0) Sometimes, people expect an awful lot.

    I, too, skip over any review given by someone who has ‘no history’ and I also click on the profile and read some of their other reviews and check to see if they have done any ‘forum posts’ – especially on Tripadvisor. That shows me that maybe they really were planning a trip to Kalamazoo.

    Just a side note – and I am not saying all brides are Bridezilla’s – but I tend to skip over reviews given after a destination wedding or honeymoon = especially if they are terrible. I think the stress of getting married makes some folks overly sensitive. It possibly can’t be helped, but I take those horrific reviews in stride and, sorry, take an average.

    I still tend to check out Tripadvisor – but prefer the forum over the actual reviews. I will check out Expedia’s reviews a bit closer now and see if they seem any more ‘legit’ than TA’s.

  6. soozzie (2 years ago)

    I have been annoyed at the verification requirements for a different reason. We stayed at a hotel in Boston that had been well reviewed. It was absolutely awful. The night clerk left the hotel in the middle of the night while a rowdy party was going on the in the breakfast room. The party took over the whole hotel including our hallway. We called for help, got no answer, called the emergency line, so the off-site management company learned their clerk had abandoned ship. The party went on for a couple of hours, the clerk came back but was locked out and got in by hammering on the door at the end of our hallway until we finally got up and went to let him in. So no sleep at all AND they wanted to charge us for the next night when we said we were checking out to go to another hotel.

    We had made that reservation directly, but wanted to warn others. Can’t do it unless we made a reservation through the service hosting the reviews. No doubt many others will suffer as a result. But it sure made me question all the good reviews this place got.

  7. Julianna (2 years ago)

    I cross-reference reviews from different sources, including AAA for hotels, which says if they have stayed there (many times they have.) For rentals, I also gauge the pros and cons. I don’t trust TripAdvisor as much as I once did. I find Yelp usually has a good cross-section of reviews.

  8. Paula Smith (2 years ago)

    Absolutely take the overall and not just one good or one bad. Personally, I give more credit to those who explain a bit about the situation and offer more of a “pro and con” type of review. This allows me to decide if it’s applicable to my situation or if their negative would even be of a concern to me.

  9. Bitter (2 years ago)

    I look for trends in reviews. Are a large number of customers saying similar things? To me, that reflects a higher chance for accuracy, good or bad.