What You Don’t Know About TripAdvisor

How the World’s Largest Travel Monopoly Ultimately Hurts Travelers & Small Businesses

What Every Travelers Needs to Know about TripAdvisor

The Summary: A complete lack of transparency, follow the money.

Part 1: Why TripAdvisor is an Unreliable Source of Information

TripAdvisor from a Travel Writer’s Perspective

TripAdvisor from a Traveler’s Perspective

Badges are for scouts, not responsible adults.

Part 2: TripAdvisor’s Fake Reviews & Blatant Bias

“Get the Truth. Then Go” in 2006 right up at the top of the page
World’s most trusted travel advice” in 2010, first at the top of the website, then moved down to a discreet location at the bottom of the home page (below).
“Over 45 million trusted traveler review & opinions” in April 2011.
“The World’s Largest Travel Site” replaced any claims of trust by spring 2013.
No sign of any claims of “trusted reviews” on the home page today.

TripAdvisor has become the big bully of the travel playground

Hotels and Tour Companies who Pay Get Preferential Visibility on TripAdvisor

This hotel paid for a TripAdvisor “Business Listing”
This hotel did not want to pay TripAdvisor, so there is no contact info, and a giant Show Prices button drives traffic to other “participating” hotels.
The “official link” for the Pont des Arts oddly goes to a publisher’s website promoting a book about the Bridges of Paris. Who did they pay to get that advertising placement? There’s a “partner” link in the source code to CruiseCritic, another TripAdvisor site.

Conclusion: So what can responsible travelers do about it?

  • Obviously take the reliability of any anonymous reviews with a huge grain of salt (I know most of you do this already).
  • In the food pyramid of travel planning, think of TripAdvisor as mass produced junk food and keep it limited to a small percentage of your daily intake. Make sure the majority of your travel information comes from trusted, verified sources (where the information is by a travel journalist or blogger with a track record you can check).
  • Whenever possible, book hotels, tours, restaurants, cooking classes or any other travel service DIRECTLY with that business. TripAdvisor knows we’re so busy we prefer the easy one-click option on their site (even if the price isn’t cheaper), but by booking direct you are helping support small businesses (and they’re happier to have you as a client), keeping overall prices down, and cutting out the middleman in the communication and accountability chain in case something goes wrong.
  • If you feel you genuinely have a problem with any service or accommodation, and you have already informed the management of the problem without a sufficiently concerned response (don’t demand to be “compensated” for little issues, that’s just douchy), then consider using your real name when writing a public review. I think it keeps us civil and accountable (which, if we’re going to demand that of these businesses, we should be willing to do it ourselves). There are many other “outlets” for reviews besides TripAdvisor, including Facebook pages, Google, and travel sites or publications which recommended them in the first place. When I worked as a hotel reviewer at Fodor’s my editor always forwarded the letters and emails sent in by readers about their experiences, and I would take them into serious consideration when revisiting a hotel and deciding whether or not to include it in the next edition. TripAdvisor may have given every traveler a “voice”, but it’s up to each of us to decide to use it in a responsible way.

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After working in tourism since 1999 as a travel journalist and a tour guide, I’ve seen firsthand how the Industrial Tourism Complex takes advantage of travelers, and the media happily play along. But what can responsible travelers and journalists do about it?

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Heather Stimmler-Hall

American author and journalist living in Paris since 1995, Heather is the editor of the Secrets of Paris Newsletter (www.secretsofparis.com).