When TripAdvisor found access to the bigger public somewhere back in the early 2000’s, I was only mildly interested in what they had to offer. As a traveller and strong appreciator of advice on what to do, activities, accommodation and where to eat and drink, I couldn’t imagine that co-travellers and holiday-makers could advise me better than my gurus who had composed my meanwhile polyglot-ish collection of Lonely Planet’s, Rough Guide’s and Petit Futé’s.
Some 10 years ago I eventually caved and planned to join the crowds who contributed to the travelling community with their reviews and tips. Focusing on water sports –mainly (wind) surfing- , gastronomy and culture, I quite rapidly became a fervent donator of unbiased advise on surf spots, places of interest, hotels, restaurants and bars.
With that intention, I equally spend a lot of time reading reviews of others. Obviously to learn more about a certain place but also to see how serious or unserious my anonymous fellas were. More so when I became the subject of reviews having my own restaurant and bar on a fabulous Thai island.
Suddenly, the game had changed: I was baffled with one star reviews from people we never served that had funny online pseudonyms and suspiciously enough only one review under their reviewers profile. One lovely afternoon, coming back from my daily wave riding session, I bumped into a colleague who owned a water sports rental outfit. He was the first one to rent out long boards, SUP’s, kayaks and organised fun sea and beach activities. He pointed out that he had received several negative reviews in recent days from “clients” he had never even met. We looked at each other and started laughing, although it was at our own naivety. We quickly found out that the new surf club on the adjacent beach had many 5 star reviews and hey, small but fatal error: The owner’s best mate had the same profile on FaceBook as the unhappy ghost client of my friend.
This made me wonder, a lot. My honest soul had never thought of abusing the advisory platform to torpedo other businesses nor deceive other travellers. Correction, platformS in the meantime. As Agoda, Booking.com, FaceBook, Google and many other internet giants had in the meantime thankfully embraced the online reviewing community for their own benefit. And market demand being a beautiful intangible and self-directing animal, many witty entrepreneurs now provided fantastic tools for one’s business to boost one’s market presence and perception.
Chatting with a good friend that made his fame by making the best mojito’s on the island, I learned a lot. He explained how simple and cheap it was to be on top of the list on sites like TripAdvisor. For a few Euros per day, you let a digital robot click you to the highest rank..... Now I had to take my pink glasses of and gear up my game. Which platform was dealing with these misleading reviews seriously? Could I still believe those words of praise about a surf spot or cool bar? I certainly became more cautious taking advise from co-travellers and as with all things that progress, the platforms progressed as well under pressure of both the businesses and individuals. Tripadvisor & Co. had to get rid of their credibility issue if they wanted to keep their head above water.
Reality checks were put in place, machine reviews were disabled, suspicious flows of likes intercepted and, most importantly, the majority of the establishments under review also woke up. Venues that take their clients and guests seriously, make time to write a decent reply to a review, be it good or bad; It displays a minimum token of appreciation and gratitude to their most valued asset: Their clients.
Anno 2019, residing on the paradisiacal island of Phuket I keep reviewing seriously and unbiased and I strongly appreciate the expression of thanks of my +130.000 readers. Numbers speak for themselves and as such, never base your judgment on occasional reviewers. The Lonely Planet authors remain gurus after all.