By sharing all your experiences, you’re helping other travelers make better choices and plan their dream trips. That’s what you are told before posting a review of a hotel or restaurant on the website TripAdvisor.
But better choices and dream trips don’t always play a factor in the reviews.
You might just as easily be unleashing your venom on a rival establishment.
Or talking up your own enterprise. Or simply settling a few scores.
What’s certain is that even those of us who are suspicious of TripAdvisor, and know deep down that we’re not getting the full story, find it hard to resist reading comments from happy or not-so-happy anonymous customers before booking a holiday, hotel room or even a restaurant table.
And there’s never a shortage of opinions on offer.
TripAdvisor receives 70 of them every minute, with more than 100 million reviews on the site at any one time. It has around 230 million online visitors each month and lists nearly three million hotels, restaurants and other attractions, along with eight million accompanying photographs.
This year, TripAdvisor — which bills itself as the world’s biggest travel site and employs 1,800 staff — is on course to achieve revenues in excess of $1 billion.
The trouble is that there is no way of proving how many of its reviews are genuine and how many are the work of fraudsters with axes to grind or hoteliers blowing their own trumpets.
It is a win-win for TripAdvisor. But could it be a lose-lose for the rest of us?
After all, it’s further evidence of an encroaching X Factor-culture, where becoming top in a popularity contest is mistaken for real talent.
The firm was launched 13 years ago by an American, Steve Kaufer, who remains company boss, above a pizza shop in Newtown, Massachusetts
TripAdvisor’s latest embarrassment involved a “simply divine” and “mind-blowing” restaurant in Brixham, Devon, called Oscar’s, where scuba divers were on hand to catch any particular fish that customers wanted served up on their plates.
This “irresistible” floating restaurant was built into the hull of an old fishing boat off New Quay Lane, but moved with the tide.
The food was so delicious (“Impossible to get seafood any fresher than this … something bordering on sorcery,” said a TripAdvisor review) that, despite sounding slightly implausible, customers started turning up in the hope of getting a table, even after being warned by email that it was booked out months in advance.
They went hungry — because Oscar’s did not exist. There were only a few bins and, latterly, some disgruntled foodies in New Quay Lane, but no restaurant…