Any savvy person knows that travel websites based mostly on user-generated content need to be taken with a grain… okay, maybe a huge pile of salt. With these types of websites, anyone can pretty much post anything, good or bad, online for the rest of the world to read. This means that competitors can unabashedly badmouth each other’s businesses, and friends of business owners can post unsubstantiated raving reviews. In short, it’s no secret that these websites can be unreliable.
That being said, there’s a lot of potential value to websites such as TripAdvisor, assuming that there are also plenty of honest people out there who are willing to publish their unbiased opinions about hotels, restaurants, and things to do. But weeding out the legitimate reviews from the phony ones can sometimes be hard to do, so it the unreliability even worth it?
In my own experience with TripAdvisor, here are a couple of rules I’ve established for myself over the years:
- You need to actually read the reviews, don’t just rely on the number of stars/dots/mustaches*/whatever.
- Don’t trust the reviews with awful grammatical or spelling errors.
- If a review seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- If a review is uncharacteristically angry, the reviewer is probably crazy.
- If the reviews for a particular hotel/restaurant/thing to do are all over the place, it’s probably best to skip it.
- The smaller the city or town, the more accurate the reviews will be.
Let me use San Francisco as an example of a big city with less-than-accurate reviews. Below are two screenshots from my phone of the nine highest ranked restaurants in town as of 9:26 AM this morning:
My circle of friends and I go out to eat a lot, and many of us have been living in SF for nearly a decade, and no one I’ve asked has ever even heard of half of this list. I’m certainly not saying that since none of us have heard of these places they cannot be great restaurants, but I am saying is that the list is not an accurate depiction of what many San Franciscans would name as the best restaurants in town (especially for tourists).**
So as The Guardian recently put it, you essentially need to “develop a set of personal idiot filters” when looking at review websites and planning your honeymoon. When researching a trip as important as your honeymoon, it’s best to cross reference reviews from multiple sources: friends with firsthand experience, travel books, and websites. Then after your honeymoon you can “pay it forward,” so to speak, by writing an accurate review of your own.
* My favorite burrito-reviewing website scores burritos by number of mustaches, not stars.
** While I don’t agree with all nine restaurants on that list, a couple of them are fantastic:
- Kokkari has excellent Mediterranean food, but I wouldn’t say that it’s the very best restaurant in all of SF.
- State Bird Provisions IS what I would argue to be best restaurant in the city. It’s pretty much impossible to get a reservation, but it’s so worth it.
- Restaurant Gary Danko is a wonderful restaurant for celebrating special occasions.
- Bi-Rite Creamery is a must for any SF tourist. The line can be outrageous, but you can either go to the soft serve window to try the daily two flavors, or you can go across the street to the Bi-Rite market and get a pre-packed pint to-go.