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I haven’t relied on TripAdvisor reviews (or reviews posted on most other travel/retail sites) in years but I know that a lot of people still, for some reason, put an incredible amount of weight in the opinions of strangers on the internet and they really, really shouldn’t.
(Yes, I get the irony here).
My first doubts about the usefulness of TripAdvisor reviews arose well over a decade ago (before we had to worry about bots posting fake reviews) when I found a one-star review of Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club which was based entirely around the fact that the reviewer didn’t like the weather during her trip.
The reviewer didn’t make a single negative comment about the resort itself but still felt justified in handing out a one-star rating based on nothing more than the fact that it rained for a large part of her stay.
I’m not sure what the reviewer expected the resort to do about the weather or why she felt the need to blame the resort for her decision to visit the Caribbean during a time when heavy rains can be common, but I am sure that the person in question is an idiot and whose opinions are therefore worthless.
I’ve also seen reviews of properties based on the first four hours of a person’s stay and in which the main complaint (sometimes only complaint) is that the reviewer didn’t get special treatment.
How can this be a realistic and worthwhile opinion?
I’ve seen similarly idiotic “reviews” on Amazon where people actually start off their narrative with phrases like “I haven’t actually used this [product name] yet…” and then proceed to give the product a rating based on nothing whatsoever and I genuinely worry that people such as these are allowed to roam our streets and, much more importantly, vote in elections.
I’m not sure a word has yet been invented to describe just how brainless these people are.
As I don’t have the time (or the inclination) to go through the hundreds of reviews that most hotels and products now have online I have no way of knowing what proportion of the reviews being left are being left by idiots or, worse still, bots that have been programmed to improve the ratings of hotels or products by posting fake reviews.
Online reviews are mostly useless to me and a rather incredible story published on the BBC website yesterday just cemented my belief that there’s absolutely no point in believing the ratings on TripAdvisor.
In a nutshell, this is what the BBC reported:
In 2015 a developer, Charles Goodall, bought a derelict pub which had been closed since 2011 and while he was looking for old images of the pub on the internet he came across the pub’s TripAdvisor page complete with reviews.
None of that seems particularly odd as it’s perfectly normal for a pub to be reviewed on TripAdvisor…but it becomes incredibly odd when you find out that some of the reviews were written by people who were claiming to have visited the pub long after it closed down.
Some reviews were claiming visits in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and included reports of people ordering Sunday lunch, experiencing poor service, experiencing great service and enjoying the “best lamb roast and gravy in town”…and that’s all more than a little strange considering the pub closed in 2011!
It’s also a little strange that some of the reviews appear to have been written over a year after the supposed visit took place (who remembers all the details of a meal a year after it was consumed and, bloggers aside, who remembers to review something a year after they visited?)
Mr Goodall says that he contacted TripAdvisor to let them know that the reviews were clearly fake but found TripAdvisor to be “slow to respond”.
TripAdvisor eventually listed the pub as “closed” earlier this year but the reviews stayed in place and were not taken down and, as you can see from the screenshot above, they’re still on the site right now.
There are undoubtedly many honest and reliable reviews posted to sites like TripAdvisor and Amazon but the fact that these sites have contributors that are either dishonest, non-human or just plain dumb means that the overall scores that these sites give the products and properties cannot and should not be trusted.
If you really need an outside opinion of a product you’d like to buy or a property you’d like to visit don’t rely on the high-level scores and ratings that you’ll find all across the internet – drill down into the reviews, try to find some that appear to be written by actual humans (ignore any account which seems to have written a low number of reviews) and then use what you read as guidance and not as a major decision making tool.
You can also use Fakespot.com to get an idea of how reliable a set of online reviews actually is…and you’ll probably be amazed at how unreliable a lot of what you’ll find on the internet actually is.