Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Don't neuter TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor, the website where reviews can be posted about hotels and restaurants, has come in for a lot of flak of late. It is to be investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK for its apparent propensity to publish fake and unchecked reviews. While the site, which is now a giant money-spinner, may need to tighten its procedures, it would be a big mistake to make it too difficult for ordinary travellers to add their reviews to the website.

I write as one who has been awarded a gold star, no less, for having contributed in excess of 100 reviews to the website over the last few years. I also write as one who has enjoyed excellent hotels and restaurants in places as varied as Istanbul, Dresden and Alnwick as a result of recommendations on the site. Of course, I've come across fishy reviews along the way: the number of glowing reviews for a pleasant, but hardly outstanding, Italian island hotel suggested a degree of conspiracy. Its location still persuaded me to go, and I didn't regret it, though my review was more measured. And it isn't just the obviously fraudulent reviews that irritate: it is just as annoying to wade through the overblown complaints about a trivial reception incident in an otherwise excellent hotel or the numerous moans that Spanish hotels don't do a proper English breakfast.

Yet, for all its flaws, TripAdvisor has greatly enhanced our lives. It can also be a useful corrective to the clever photography and absurd descriptions that too many hotels use to hide their true location or nature - a rather more pervasive example of fakery than dodgy TripAdvisor reviews, in my experience.

In the past, I might have relied on a small number of guide book recommendations, and some of them have been pretty wide of the mark while others have been excellent, or on the brochure choices of travel agents. By offering near complete lists of hotels in cities, and at least an indication of the top 20, one has a great starting point to research further online.

Rarely have I been disappointed in the resulting choices, and most of my later reviews have reflected the original 4* or 5* rankings given by TripAdvisor reviewers. On those rare occasions where a hotel or restaurant has defied its online reputation, TripAdvisor has given me somewhere to let others share my disappointment.

I hope it will continue to provide that forum.

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