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The Use and Abuse of TripAdvisor

Posted December 22nd, 2010 by Andrew Goodman

Back fresh from a week at a resort in Costa Rica, I’m kicking myself… for being taken in by a “TripAdvisor scam”. Essentially, we trusted a tour company because they touted their “great reviews on Trip Advisor” on the brochure, and verbally referred to it in their pitch. In short, we were done in by our love of user-generated content. :)

The good news is, the resort itself totally exceeded expectations. And TripAdvisor’s large number of reviews accurately reflected that. It’s not too tough to sort through a few misguided complaints by grouches who show up in a rain forest in rainy season, when the hotel is half under construction (as you can predict like clockwork, every year).

The problem: the tour company we fell in with, Issys Tours, doesn’t really have positive reviews on TripAdvisor. But you don’t have your Blackberry on the beach, and the smooth talking salesman (“Michael”) knows it. They have a single positive review (if you search high and low), and part of that was praising the company for taking the visitor in a van from the airport to the hotel. Not exactly a “tour”.

Our (private) tour was supposed to be to a volcano and was supposed to involve hiking. It had better involve a lot, because it was nearly four hours’ driving to the destination. Incredibly, when we finally got finished with all the driving, it turned out the highlight was going to be a shopping and poking around in a tiny, uninteresting town called Fortuna, where maybe we’d pick up some nice brochures for local real estate, and then four hours back. (Lunch in Fortuna was delicious. Unfortunately we didn’t require the calories for hiking.) Fortunately, we wheedled some small amount of hiking out of the driver. The driver, by the way, was a friendly and reasonably well-informed chap. It just wasn’t a real “tour”.

The promised “hot springs,” though in the end pleasant, weren’t as expected either. Somebody built a hotel around a hot springs and created a Rainforest Cafe-like effect with diverted pools and so forth, all man-made. Fun, and hot — but not exactly the nature walk we had planned.

What a rip!

And all because we simply took at face value a salesman’s claim that his company actually had “positive reviews on TripAdvisor.”

The established tour companies on location, namely Swiss Tours and the one affiliated with the Sunwing package holiday company, were far more reputable. No major harm done: we booked a wonderful national park river tour through Swiss Tours and had a great experience.

Tour companies come and go. Common sense indicates that if a major, respectable resort provides permanent office space to a tour company, you can probably trust them more than the guys relegated to hawking from the beach. Those salesmen have taken to making up TripAdvisor reputations they don’t have. I shouldn’t be surprised. Trust, but verify.



3 Responses to “The Use and Abuse of TripAdvisor”

  1. Ed Kohler says:

    Not surprisingly, there are two ways to leverage the influence of review sites. Just last night, I heard a story about people, without a reservation, walking into restaurants that use OpenTable. Then, when asked whether they have a reservations, say, “I booked it on OpenTable. Did you lose my reservation?” This puts the restaurant in the position of potentially getting shredded in a review if they don’t seat the scammers.

  2. Ewan Heming says:

    My wife and I were considering moving to a quite touristic island a while back. She’s quite into TripAdvisor and also a bit of a foodie so spent some time checking out the reviews for good restaurants.

    After eating at quite a few of these places and finding that they were either mediocre or sometimes even terrible we got the impression that something was up. With closer inspection of the reviews and comments being made by the site members and “Destination Experts” we started to notice a pattern: many of these people were expats and owners of various kinds of business on the island such as hotels, restaurants and boating companies etc. We even dealt with some of them while looking at rented property. It appeared to us that what was probably happening was a group of expats had got together in an effort to promote each others companies.

    I guess it goes to show that, in some cases, the “old boys club” style marketing from the days of old media has now taken a new twist in the generation of user generated content where anyone can have a say. Moreover, it also shows the ease with which people can establish themselves as “Experts” on a subject. In reality TripAdvisor Domain Experts are just volunteers and don’t even seem to be vetted properly.

  3. Most of the tour companies in Costa Rica are honest. It get hurt to ask for personal refereces from any company. They should be able to provide that information.

    Lic Giovanna Barrantes
    http://www.lawyerofcostarica.com


 


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