Wisdom of the Crowd or the Crowd Against Wisdom.

  Ok, that’s it. I’m going to speak out and if it’s going to be too emotional for somebody than readers’ discretion is advised. I can no longer stand hearing, “I know because I’ve checked this hotel out on Trip Advisor…”

  Well, you’ve probably used it yourself, this hotel review Web site that annoyingly pops up every time you are trying to Google something remotely related (and sometimes even not related) to travel. The site has become popular lately and I can see why. The travelling public had learned the hard way that the hotels and resorts sites are biased – you’ll see what the owner wants you to see: flattering or even altered pictures and sometimes too-good-to-be-true descriptions. And here they are billing themselves as the most trusted and claiming to have 25 million independent reviews. You just type the hotel in the search box and all the wisdoms of the crowds are readily appearing at your fingertips.  

       Another possible reason for its popularity is that it’s free for both the reviewers and the information seekers. So, what could be better than free and unbiased opinion of a fellow traveler? For this, all travel enthusiasts rejoice. Except maybe we should first read the warning posted by the site’s administration: “Trip Advisor has reasonable cause to believe that either this property or individuals associated with the property may have attempted to manipulate our popularity index by interfering with the unbiased nature of our reviews. Please take this into consideration when researching your travel plans.”

   In plain English that means the acknowledgement of the known fact that some hotel mangers encourage the staff to post good reviews about their property and write bad posts about their competitors. Some properties have been known to offer a discount for good reviews. Not all of the posts are fake, of course. Out of 25 million, at least some must be independent and objective. But are they really helpful?

  I’ve decided to do a more or less scientific experiment: take the property I personally know well and look it up. I chose the lovely family-oriented resort in Mexico. The hotel is beautiful, the grounds are fantastic and very well kept. It is located in a gated community, so it feels extremely safe. I’ve typed the name in the search box and started to read.

  Well, it seems like most are in agreement with my opinion. Oops, wait a second, not everybody. There are plenty of negative comments. Negative comment number one (I’m keeping the author’s vocabulary and grammar) : ” any hotel nigthlife is unheard of, tiny little bar with 10 ppl if you are lucky on any night and they all retire by 11 and hotel turns into a deadzone and you find yourself looking down the ocean wondering hwta is happening in all of the fun places”.

  Here is another mildly flattering review : “The service was horrible and some workers were just out right rude.” And some more : “Limited to no availability and access to sail boats,scuba and activities, which are all booked by 9:00 a.m. Only one Hobie Cat and One wind surfer in use at a time.”

  Other complains: inadequate spa equipment, small beach, bad food and … bad weather. Bottom line: 25 million of voices might sound loud, but could also create a cacophony and, as a result, confusion. Have you ever tried to ask the opinion of the Turkish Grand Bazaar?

  Ok, maybe it’ll work better if we’ll read just the first 5 pages? Relying on the wisdom of just a few reviews or the most recent posts can be risky. It’s not just that beauty lives in the eye of the beholder, everything else lives in that eye also. And when we ask about somebody’s opinion we are usually very specific about who to ask. Like we wouldn’t ask the Grandma about the best bar in town. And we wouldn’t seek the neighbor’s teenager opinion regarding the latest Metropolitan Opera performance.

   Yet some of us trust the post on Trip Advisor without knowing an author’s background, previous travel experience and his or her real intention. So, making the decision after consulting with Trip Advisor is actually as much a lottery as making a decision without consulting it.

  In my humble opinion, if you still feel the need to use the Trip Advisor, at least do it with a grain of salt and tons of common sense. Do not take into account any complaints about food or staff rudeness. Food is subject to taste and habits, and some unbearable individuals can force an angel to be rude.

  Pay attention to the author’s language and activity. If he speaks the specific industry terminology or comments only on the specific property in terms of “best hotel ever” or “incomparable service”, the review might not be the “real” one .

  Try to determine the poster’s background. How many resorts has he or she seen before reviewing the one you are interested in? What was his/her opinion regarding the property you know? How close is it to your own? Or maybe save yourself some trouble, find the professional whose judgments you trust, and rely on that.

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