TripAdvisor: Typing on the floor of the airport (Photo: Bruce Parry)

TripAdvisor: Can they keep us angry and writing for free?

If you are running a travel business, or a tourist spot, or a hotel, restaurant, cafe, or nearly any other small enterprise where you have to interact physically with other human beings, then I’m sure you are aware of the mighty TripAdvisor review site and how one has to bow before them.

But should it be that way? At what point does scale become a monopoly? At what point do we have to intervene with proactively extracted positive reviews to balance the flood of continuous angry writings?

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that negative outweighs positive by some distance.

So far I estimate that I’ve undertaken over 23 different jobs. That’s not 23 different employments, and it doesn’t indicate a trail of failed probation periods in my wake. But that’s over 23 different skill sets that I have learned and delivered over 25 years for all the various tasks that have been thrown at me.

The list of jobs I’ve completed ranges from Paperboy to Consultant via Door-to-Door Double-Glazing selling and large-scale Event Management. When you look at it like that, maybe my life-long skills were honed during my childhood. Note to self: tell my therapist she was right all along.

The point is that whatever you do, reputation matters. And it takes a higher number of positive reviews to counterbalance a single negative review.

The biggest problem with this equation? Busy people don’t take time to sit down and register an account on TripAdvisor and log all their details, fill out a 500-word review of a place that delivered a great holiday. Pissed off people do.

TripAdvisor Reviews make me so angry that my posture is all out of alignment
“TripAdvisor Reviews make me so angry that my posture is all out of alignment” (Photo: Tim Gouw)

The Travel Behemoth

456 Million people a month use TripAdvisor in some way, and it has grown into a $7 billion business based on content written for free, by angry people. Maybe it’s in their interest to keep us angry.

On the other side of the figurative departure lounge is me. Me trying to plan my next holiday vacation. I don’t get to go away loads, but both my partner and I have previously travelled well, and therefore it’s a balance between making sure that the big annual holiday is great and trying to find somewhere new to go, about which we know nothing. What could go wrong?

Well according to Marjorie from Boston, Lincs. Everything can go wrong. “The problem with the hotel in Spain,” Marjorie writes, “is that everyone was speaking in Spanish. All the writing was even in Spanish, all the waiters were Spanish, and even the instructions on the hotel TV room were all foreign”.

A little part of me dies inside everytime I read some insignificant problem that a traveller feels they can’t contain, must share and must deduct a star for on their arbitrary scale.

One extra star on a review site can make a difference of 5-9% in revenue.

Marjorie isn’t real, and I made up her review. But the point is that you probably believed it to be true because you have read similar useless nuggets of negativity when scrolling through page 27 of reviews of the little boutique hotel on which you’ve got your eye. All the reviews on the preceding 26 pages were positive, but what if you missed that one glimpse of truth and you blindly booked a room where the window opened out onto a tree of birds who dared to sing first thing in the morning.

So has TripAdvisor got too big for its boots? They have certainly changed the face of travel forever; Google and Facebook are still playing catch-up.

Linda Kinstler, for The Guardian, takes a deep dive into the world of TripAdvisor reviews and explores the history of travel reviews. Linda talks about her own horrifying travel experience and how TripAdvisor’s smart marketing can miss the nuance of human need. Check out “How TripAdvisor changed travel“, our recommended weekend long read.