User-generated feedback sites proliferate on the Internet with the promise of honest consumer comments and first-hand experience about the places we frequent as travelers. Hotels, restaurants and tour companies rely on people sharing their feedback and advice, which serves as another form of promotion or advertising. But as with many things online, it is hard to determine what and who to trust.
Like advertising, what we see and read can influence our decision making unconsciously and consciously, which is why when it comes to buying travel, review sites are not something that can be ignored. Still, exercising judgment when reading the commentary of strangers could go a long way in managing expectations when we travel.
REVIEWING THE REVIEWER
Online sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp have revolutionized the way we analyze the quality of businesses. While we use these reviews to make travel decisions, it is important to realize that we don’t always know the user’s frame of reference.
Is what is important to you the same that’s important to another patron (think about families versus business travelers)? Is this the reviewer’s first time visiting that type of hotel? Or that destination? Do they normally dine out at similar establishments in the same area or price point, which would give them a framework within which they can judge? Is the service culture similar to what they are accustomed to or could there be misinterpretation?
The person who complains about bugs on a Caribbean guest room balcony may not realize that the problem is a function of the destination and not necessarily the property itself. In a way, we must “review” the reviewer before accepting their comments as fact. Since there is little information on the personal interests and experiences of each reviewer, it becomes difficult to weigh their opinions against what our own preferences, beliefs and expectations are about a place.
Traditionally, we have relied on trusted publications with seasoned journalists – think Business Traveler here – to put bias aside and report with objectivity and an understanding of the overall market. But with user-generated reviews, this scale of trust is shielded by anonymity and the possibility the findings may be colored either by lack of knowledge on a particular destination or by a different set of personal expectations. Therefore, taking the reviewer’s frame of reference into account becomes imperative.
A GRAIN OF SALT
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