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Adventure Blog

Who to Trust When Everyone Is an Expert?

Buzz Poole
03/08/2011 - 11:56

Gulliver, The Economist’s travel blog, has raised an intriguing question about TripAdvisor hotel reviews: “[T]here is a kind of vicarious thrill to be had from reading about people’s dreadful experiences: the dead rat found in the room fridge, the vomit left in the washbasin. But what about the rave reviews? . . . It seems likely that people will only be inspired to write a review if their experience is either very good or very bad.”

 

This is sound logic and the issue at hand extends well beyond TripAdvisor. In this day and age anything you might want to experience, from a hotel to a hand drill, has been experienced by someone else and in most cases reviewed, or ranted and raved about in the public forum that is the internet. As the Gulliver post points out, most descriptions of hotels, and restaurants and tools, are either rants or raves. While expertise is something we still appreciate from established pundits that share their opinions across myriad media outlets, the peanut gallery has more sway than ever because its multitudes have outlets. This can be quite powerful but it can also be daunting, if not completely disorienting. We don’t all like to sleep on the same kinds of mattresses and ideal location can mean different things to different people.

 

I’ve consulted TripAdvisor but never have been tempted to post a review. But after reading this item from Gulliver I decided to see how places I’ve stayed fared.

 

For my tastes, the Art Hotel in Buenos Aires was fantastic; located in a leafy, busy residential neighborhood, offering ample, fresh breakfast options and comfortable, clean rooms, I wouldn’t ask for more in a hotel. But, if you look at the TripAdvisor reviews, while mostly positive, people quibble about the location, the breakfast and the quality and cleanliness of the rooms. On the other hand, when I travel to London for work, based on its proximity to where meetings take place, I have stayed at the Travelodge Covent Garden on several occasions. Cheap and short on customer service I would never voluntarily stay here; yes, the Tube is close and there is plenty to do within walking distance, but the hotel, even as a cheap place to just sleep and shower, is bleak. I’m not the only person with this opinion, but there are people that seem to really like it, which I just cannot understand.

 

The same as established media outlets might have ulterior motives when it comes to promoting goods, people posting about their personal experience somewhere or with something might also be motivated by more than adding to the conversation (check out this great piece from Slate about a Top Ten Amazon reviewer). As the comments for the Gulliver post suggest, certain kinds of business owners might enlist people to smear competitors or shower undeserving praise. Sitting on your couch thousands of miles away from a place, however, the words of others are all you have to go on as you make plans, whether it’s Yelp or Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum. As with anything, there is no real way to know that you are going to get until you personally experience it.

 

What sites and resources do you find most helpful when preparing for a trip?

 

Bonus Link: For fifteen years a Dutch ad agency ran a campaign for The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel in Amsterdam, marketing it as “The Worst Hotel in the World.” Stay if you dare or save yourself the rash and check out the book.

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