Recensies van reiswebsites: oppassen

De Good Hotel Guide noemt zich ‘echt onafhankelijk’ en richt zijn pijlen op concurrent TripAdvisor. Maar ze hebben we een punt. TripAdvisor benoemde net een Londens hotel als ‘Best in Britain’ op basis van aanbevelingen van lezers. Terwijl veel professionele recensenten andere kandidaten hadden verwacht. De hoofdredacteur van GHG citeert instemmend AA Gill, columnist van de Sunday Times: ‘Het kan toch alleen voor de hopeloos naieven een verrassing zijn dat commentaren op dit soort sites of concurrentioneel venijn zijn, of onanistische gekwijl.’

The madness of crowds

TripAdvisor’s annual top awards this year named The Milestone in London, as its ‘best hotel in Britain’, as well as describing it ‘the 15th best hotel in the world’. There is not much overlap between hotels that TripAdvisor [TA] rates highly, and Good Hotel Guide hotels, which are selected on the basis of readers’ reviews backed up by independent inspection. Hardly surprising.

Fiona Duncan, a travel writer on the Daily Telegraph, who is knowledgeable and trustworthy because she has being reviewing hotels for many years, recently stayed at The Milestone and found it well managed but ‘terribly old fashioned and cloying’. So how does it manage to be the ‘best in Britain’, leaving in the dust much better hotels in London and elsewhere?

The answer is simple. The Red Carnation Group, which owns the Milestone along with five other TA highly rated London hotels, has a sophisticated social media policy. It concentrates on ensuring that its rankings are at the top by using the latest web technologies to sweeten its online reputation. That helped it secure 887 ‘excellent’ and ‘very good’ recommendations out of 914 reviews.

There is nothing improper, unethical or illegal in all this; but it is a good example why TripAdvisor is a bad way of choosing a good hotel. It can, of course, be a useful tool, but only if you are aware that you are almost certainly being manipulated for commercial gain.

AA Gill hit the nail in his Sunday Times column: ‘TripAdvisor and all those user-generated grading sites on-line are worse than pointless. It will come as a surprise to only the eternally gullible among you that most of the content is either spitefully competitor-generated or onanistic puff. You can employ companies to manage your on-line profile – most of the big hotel chains and restaurants do. TripAdvisor and their ilk work on the assumed wisdom of crowds, by some democratic magic the great wish-fulfilment truism of egalitarian socialism that wilfully believes ten idiots will add up to one wise man. The greatest idiocy of the collective internet is the fallacy that quantity is a measure of quality.’

If hotels seek to massage their TA rankings, as increasing numbers do, and more will do in the future, it is hard to blame them when TA’s website is so open to manipulation. TA claims that it uses sophisticated algorithms to weed out bogus, collusive, and malicious reviews. But the truth is that its lack of oversight into whether those who submit reviews have stayed in the hotel in question or are even genuine people is deplorable, particularly in view of its huge resources. Among those who recently submitted reviews of The Milestone were such luminaries as 827CE1, MagicMac2014, and Randab1983. Who are these characters? Goodness only knows.

TripAdvisor is making so much money with its current business model that it is unlikely to change its policies voluntarily. The Advertising Standards Association has forced it to drop its claim that it publishes: ‘reviews you can trust’. But that was just a fleabite in the path of this social media juggernaut. The only sound advice for travellers when using its website is beware.

Adam Raphael