Travelling days like this are now a thing of the past. Trip Advisor has given the traveller choice and the traveller has responded in kind by enthusiastically rating restaurants, hotels and sights in a free-for-all reviewing frenzy.
I've got no beef to grind with the internet's tourism giant. I don't think Trip Advisor is a guidebook replacement but due to page count restraints and publishing schedules I do think it can be a useful medium for travellers to use in conjunction with one. Unlike a guidebook, Trip Advisor has space for every hotel and restaurant in town so everyone gets a look-in and the right-up-to-the-minute efficiency of the Internet means that all those new hotels and restaurants manage to start building reputations long before the next guidebook author is due in town. It should be a win-win situation for all sides. But it's not.
Everyone knows hotels and restaurants often post fake reviews on their Trip Advisor sites but lately I've stumbled across something far more insidious, and damaging, in the Trip Advisor fake reviews game.
In Town A (which I know well), a person is making money by creating fake Trip Advisor reviews and forum posts for local hotels and restaurants. For the princely sum of US$165 this person will not only post fake positive reviews and forum posts for their clients but also nastily post fake negative reviews on the sites of three of their main competitors.
Now Town A is a small town which lives and breathes tourism. It's the main business there and competition between hotels and restaurants is already ridiculously high. So what happened when this Trip Advisor entrepreneur started selling their dirty service? Well Hotel A used this service and their Trip Advisor rating shot up thanks to the fake positive reviews. They also managed to make their main competition, Hotel B, have a lower ranking than them because of the fake negative reviews this person posted.
Now Hotel B and Hotel C, D, E and F then got wind of this new service and felt like they had no choice but to join in. Otherwise maybe Hotel G, H, I and J were going to use it and end up higher in the Trip Advisor ratings than them. So this person made (and is making) a killing feeding paranoia to Hotels A through to Z. Which explains how Hotel E has managed to get over 100 Trip Advisor reviews despite being open less than a year while Hotel X (currently not using this service) has fewer than 100 yet has been open for three years.
I guarantee that this isn't the only town across the world where this sort of thing is happening. You put a tool like Trip Advisor out into the world and then fail to police it properly and there's always going to be someone who successfully cheats the system. Anyone can create a few different user names, log in and begin writing a bunch of bullshit on Trip Advisor. And some people, with unscrupulous morals, are going to start charging for it.
The just plain dumb
On a funnier note there's another reason why travellers shouldn't take everything on Trip Advisor at face value. This is a REAL review for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Goreme National Park (another place I know well) by Trip Advisor Senior Reviewer Marcia58:
"This is disappointing to hike. What seems to be the best areas are closed to the public. There are some nice views if you have a car. I took one short hike and turned back due to flies and nothing much to see. I'd skip it."
Yeah Marcia58, I agree. It really is terribly disappointing: