I’ve long had an ambivalent feeling toward the reviews on TripAdvisor, the extremely successful user-driven website that provides readers’ takes on everything from hotels and restaurants to museums and travel activities.
Like many baby boomers, I find the reviews can be extremely helpful in sorting out the travel-related chaff from the wheat — a long as I can first sort out the chaff from the wheat of the reviews themselves.
It’s not uncommon to come across restaurant reviews, for instance, that are the diametric opposites of each other:
“Ate at Luigi’s last night, and it was the greatest meal I’ve ever had — maybe the best that anyone has ever had! Love those meatballs!”
And, right below it: “Don’t listen to anyone who likes Luigi’s — this place is the worst! Worst food, worst service, and the meatballs made me vomit!”
Sure, it’s easy enough to toss out the extremes: the really really good ones that might have been written by, well, Luigi’s mother, and the really really bad ones that might have been written by the mother of Franco, who runs the competing eatery next to Luigi’s. But plenty of other reviews seem legitimate enough — yet reach such disparate conclusions — that it’s hard to believe they’re talking about the same place.
All this causes those who do marketing for travel-related businesses to pull their hair out, if they have any left, because TripAdvisor (and related sites like yelp, etc.) can drive business in — or out — of their establishments faster than front-page health inspection reports in the local newspaper.
So, what to do if you feel the reader-reviewers are treating your business unfairly? Do you rally your own relatives and friends to strike back with super-favorable reviews? That can seem fake. Do you write in under your own name and try to set the record straight? (“I, Luigi, guarantee you’ll love my meatballs, unlike that lowlife who was in here the other night and probably stiffed the waitress as well!”) That can seem desperate.
Now, according to the great travel website skift.com, TripAdvisor has started to take pity on hoteliers, at least, agreeing at hotel owners’ request to remove old and presumably outdated reviews if the hotels have made major renovations.
The hotels do have to offer proof that they’ve made significant structural changes beyond just “cosmetic” changes, providing strong documentation that they’ve completely overhauled their properties or added all new rooms.
If they pass this test, the hotels will get “a clean slate and any comment about bed bugs, rude staff or disruptions from ongoing renovations never happened as far as new customers can tell,” skift’s Samantha Shankman writes.
The same allowance will prevail if a property changes brands altogether: old reviews are wiped away. Either way, TripAdvisor doesn’t inform users that there even were old reviews.
The only downside is that with fewer reader reviews, the hotels’ competitive rankings essentially disappear until a new body of reviews is built up. But that seems a small price to pay for not getting dinged for having hopelessly outdated decor or, even worse, a dank, moldy smell permeating the carpets and bedspreads, when all those are past history.
Meanwhile, I’d like to see TripAdvisor somehow extend the same practice to restaurants and other travel-related businesses: especially if Luigi can prove he’s changed his meatball recipe — and now uses real meat.
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