Online travel review sites, most notably TripAdvisor, have been on the receiving end of a bit of a backlash lately.
The openness that allows anyone to voice their opinion unfortunately lets... well, anyone voice their opinion.
However, online reviews can be really useful too - lots of people here at The Career Break Site like to use them before booking a trip, and contribute to them as well.
Here's a handy little guide to helping you get the most out of online reviews - what to pay attention to and what to ignore.
Online reviews you can trust
- When the person commenting seems to have similar needs and interests to you. For example, you might not have a car, so if someone says how close a hostel is to the station, that's useful information.
- When a reviewer appears to be the same age as you - it's a bit of a generalisation but people in the same age group tend to care about similar things.
- If a lot of reviews say the same thing. If 20 people go on about the amazing food, it's unlikely they're all lying, or gastronimical numpties.
- If the reviews mention the owners or managers by name - this is a really good sign, not only that the owners care about their customers, but also that the people writing the reviews appreciate this.
- When the review is recent - things change quite rapidly so recent reviews are more valuable.
- A detailed review can be trusted more than something vague like 'it was very nice' or 'didn't like it'. If someone puts some effort into writing their review, chances are it'll be more accurate.
Online reviews you shouldn't trust
- Positive reviews that list facilities or mention something that most people don't care about - such as how many toilets there are. This is a sign that it's been written by the owner.
- One or two good reviews in a sea of bad ones - again, signs that these have been written by the owner (or a moron).
- On the flip side, if there are a couple of bad reviews when most of the others are good, either a competitor is slagging them off, or the review was posted by someone who's never happy about anything.
- If a reviewer complains that a facility wasn't available that was never advertised, or would be completely stupid, like 'there was no lift to the bell tower in the 15th-century church'. Someone who expects the moon on a stick generally has nothing useful to share.
- Similarly, when someone complains about the location when they obviously haven't looked at a map or read the description - if they can't be bothered doing this, their review skills aren't going to be up to much.
- Complaints about staff should be taken with a pinch of salt. There's a certain type of traveller (you know the kind) who can be snotty or aggressive and this tends to bring out the worst in staff. Also, some people want fawning over all the time and get annoyed if this doesn't happen.
Reviews aren't the be-all and end-all
Some places won't have reviews, because they're tiny or new or out-of-the-way. Don't let this put you off - you could find a hidden gem. Then write the first review about it!
What do you think about online reviews? Do you contribute to them? Do you make decisions based on them? Tell us in the comments below!