The rise and rise of Tripadvisor

For many consumers, TripAdvisor can feel like a fun past time to peruse the next holiday destination or perhaps pick out a pudding recommendation for your next evening out. For many hospitality business owners out there though, an email stating ‘A review has been submitted to your profile’, can drive fear and panic into the hearts of even the loudest and proudest pub landlord or restauranteur.

As positive as TripAdvisor’s mission may be, allowing customers to “Read reviews, compare prices and book your next trip” the reality for some businesses is that anyone can say almost anything, it has the power to bring a business to its knees and many business owners feel powerless to fight back. Even without any induction or formal training, members of the public can suddenly be propelled to feel like expert critics within a few sentences.

A local Italian restaurant close by to my home, is currently caught in a battle of the pasta experts. If you believe their 5 star reviews, the pasta is “Authentic Italian, impressive and distinctively home made” whereas a 2 star review deems their pasta “hard, chewy and inedible”. The reality could lie somewhere in between but most definitely, the fact is that we are all different and we all like our pasta (or eggs/toast/cocktails etc) served, just the way we like them. In fact, those reviews sum up all that is simultaneously brilliant and annoying about TripAdvisor: its celebration of consumer power, of the right for everyone’s opinion to be heard and accorded equal weight – and the bewildering contradictions in its reviews.

TripAdvisor gives the consumer a voice, and in turn a power that we have not seen before, which in many ways is very positive for travellers, diners and visitors. Where once many were vulnerable to the quirks and rudeness of countless Basil Fawltys, there is now a platform for warning and redress. But, with great power comes great responsibility, and for many that write reviews to feel empowered and in some way gain revenge for a particular incident or upset, the ramifications can be devastating for a business owner. There are different approaches taken by businesses. Some reply to the review with a scathing attack on the guest, in defence of their business. Others attempt to kill with kindness and hope this won’t create a barrage of complaints by people excited at the offer of a complementary return visit. Or there is of course, those that relish the good ones, then ignore the bad ones and simply feel angry and upset until the next good review sails in.

One of the main complaints from a business’s point of view are that these reviews last forever. One restaurant owner told me, “The majority of our low star reviews are based on an assistant manager that left my business three years ago. People still look at all the star categories and I think these reviews still put people off, and without access to a time machine, there’s very little I can do about it.”

Another issue of course is there is no guarantee the person writing the review has ever stepped foot inside the establishment. From competitors, to spurned ex employees, the opportunity to damage a business is there for the taking with a few taps of a keyboard. Unlike Ebay where you can only review following an actual purchase, TripAdvisor simply allows you to login and review to your heart’s content. Or the opposite could be true and those positive reviews that all sound a little familiar, could sometimes be accredited to business owners themselves. Now TripAdvisor of course tell you:

“It’s illegal to post fake reviews on the site in the UK, the US, and a number of other countries, and we do penalise hotels that have been found to be manipulating it. We have a number of measures in place to make sure that the reviews on the site are legitimate, we’ve got a whole content team that’s responsible for finding and eradicating the fake reviews . . . If the reviews people read didn’t match the reality, and the experience, people wouldn’t keep returning, and we wouldn’t have 53% year-on-year growth.”

Which is all very well and good but I do wonder how could they really know if I had found a fly in my soup or I was simply broken hearted by a rejection from the hot, Italian restaurant manager? I jest of course, but the reality is getting to the “truth” may not be all that easy.

From complaints and lawsuits to court injunctions, TripAdvisor has been under fire from many in the hospitality industry for years, however the facts as they stand at the moment, are that TripAdvisor is used by millions and is only becoming more popular. Rather than trying to kill the beast (or ignore the beast hoping it will somehow go away), taming and riding the beast may be business owners’ only way forward when dealing with the dreaded TripAdvisor.

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