TripAdvisor: Friend or foe?
Dividing opinions of the review site
We examine both sides of the coin from the various stakeholder perspectives to find out if the largest review website in the world is a help or a hinders in deciding on where to eat today.
Pro TripAdvisor by Jaume Vidal
A few weeks ago TripAdvisor users awarded the Martín Berasategui Restaurant with the Travelers’ Choice 2016 prize as the best restaurant worldwide for the second consecutive year.
The expressive words of Martín (who is the chef with the most Michelin stars in Spain), when he knew of the award, perfectly define the value and current influence that this website has for both restaurateurs and travellers, as well as fans of gastronomy in general: “We are thrilled! This award means going further than I ever thought. I never imagined being so lucky to get this award and even less to receive it for the second consecutive year.”
The powerful influence that TripAdvisor has today is the fruit of the credibility that is granted by its users.
It is undeniable that most professionals wish to be well positioned on TripAdvisor. To be amongst the top of their lists equals success, new customers, and reservations – something Mallorcan chef Adrián Quetglas is well aware of:
“We were first on the list for quite some time and noticed that a lot. Being well positioned is great, you get a lot more people and, even if it is not your usual clientele, they are still potential customers. The customer has paid and it is okay that he has the option to write; it’s a democratic solution.”
And it´s the same the other way around: Being badly valued can have consequences. But even in this case, it offers a highly positive component: the possibility of improvement for the eatery; the opportunity to rectify or make up for something that has not pleased someone. Chef Marga Coll from Miceli restaurant in Selva says:
“I think TripAdvisor is a friend, a good friend. If you work well, the majority thanks you. And you have to accept that you cannot please everyone, and learn to take bad criticism as an opportunity for improvement. “
Jordi Roca, from El Celler de Can Roca, said in an interview with the Periódico de Catalunya: “In the kitchen, what is important is not fame but to make the diner happy.”
This is the final goal of every restaurateur, and that is why the diner has to be able to express his opinion and his satisfaction – or the opposite. Thanks to TripAdvisor we have the possibility to comment and, consequently, to appreciate the daily work done by the restaurants. Other users benefit from this opinion and it also produces an immediate feedback that allows the improvement of the business.
Chef Caterina Pieras, from the restaurant and Petit Hotel Daica in Llubí, welcomes the concept: “It is ideal for those who travel and want to get to know new places. The truth is that it is a great help and provides immediate feedback. Those who understand it know how important it is to make good use of it.”
Collaboration is free, selfless, without cost, and without any imposition. Those who submit their opinion are the collaborators, 10% of the total users. They are people from different places, with varying criteria, tastes, and experiences, and even with different levels of collaborators, from zero to six, depending on the points and medals obtained. This is its great value, the diversity of opinions from different people.
There are few customers nowadays who come to a restaurant without first looking for an opinion, criticism, or recommendation of the place chosen or to choose. The adversaries point to the lack of truthfulness of those opinions, however, a study by PhoCus Wright for TripAdvisor reveals that users confirmed that 95% of the comments they read previously reflected their actual experience during their trip.
It is up to the user who seeks the recommendation to judge and give credibility, or not, to the written words. Most do so according to two major premises: that the number of coincident opinions is high and that the reviews are recent. But let’s not forget something important, the last word is ours.
Nothing has changed – before it was word of mouth between acquaintances, now it´s the reviews of visitors and travellers. Whether as a simple reference or as a truthful guide, TripAdvisor will continue to be our advisor in the future.
Against TripAdvisor by Jan Edwards
Many restaurateurs (and chefs) have a love-hate relationship with TripAdvisor; some even ignore it. Reading and responding to reviews is yet another time-consuming task in what’s already a demanding business.
Itziar Rodríguez, restaurant director of the two-Michelin star Zaranda, views the site just as a platform for customer feedback. “We learn from bad comments, but our policy is not to answer the TripAdvisor reviews, good or bad,” she says.
They believe in dealing directly with the customer rather than on a public platform. “If someone complains by e-mail, we always contact them, listen, and give them an explanation or apologies. If we receive an e-mail with good feedback, we thank them.”
There can be more to bad reviews than the writer reveals.
In September 2015 Macarena de Castro, chef of the Michelin-starred Jardín, posted a reply to a scathing TripAdvisor review. It revealed some less-than-favourable aspects of the complainant’s behaviour at the restaurant and, ultimately, the review was withdrawn from the site. The incident generated a flurry of press and social media interest, with mixed reactions to Macarena’s response.
Even favourable opinions can lead to problems. Despite TripAdvisor changing its Popularity Ranking algorithm early in 2016, anomalies still arise. In June 2016, Hotel Salvia’s restaurant became TripAdvisor’s number one place to eat on Mallorca.
“The phone was suddenly ringing all day, every day,” recalls Patrick Kearney, who runs the elegant 7-bedroom hotel in Sóller with his partner. “Our restaurant has only 30 covers, to include guests. We just couldn’t meet the demand for table reservations and had to say no to so many people, which caused them to get upset with us. No one likes to have to say no to clients.” The hotel now takes table reservations only by email.
Once a one-stop source of reviews collated from various publications, TripAdvisor evolved into a platform for consumer reviews. Some 200 are submitted every minute.
Reviewers aren’t paid for their opinions and photos – even though they are fuelling the site’s growth. Instead, TripAdvisor encourages further contributions and awards reviewers with different categories of onscreen badges.
Diners may feel better for venting their dissatisfaction to the wider world, but some restaurants don’t even look at their TripAdvisor reviews; if they don’t respond in any way, doesn’t that cause further annoyance? It’s far more satisfactory to try for face-to-face resolution of any problem at the time it occurs.
In 2015 an Italian newspaper carried out an experiment, creating an imaginary restaurant and submitting fake reviews about it. Within a month TripAdvisor rated this non-existent eatery the best in town!
Even if the restaurants on the site are genuine, the reviews may not be truthful – or might have been induced in some way. A new eatery may have a stream of glowing comments, but the reviewers could well have been its (possibly biased) friends or family members.
TripAdvisor’s co-founder Stephen Kaufer once described the site as a “collection of what the normal traveller was saying.” Normal? This, more than skewed rankings and other criticisms, is what should make the user wary. People have different tastes, expectations, and levels of dining-out experience. Some prefer quantity over quality. Some may consider a price reasonable, while others would call it a rip-off.
Are people posting a series of reviews after a week of eating out on holiday likely to remember details accurately? One traveller wrote some mild criticism of the food they’d eaten for lunch at La Celtika in Port de Pollença.
The chef/patron responded: the restaurant had never served the type of food described and doesn’t open for lunch…
In its 16 years, TripAdvisor has become the world’s largest source of travel reviews … but nothing beats a local source of knowledge when you’re looking for a restaurant to try.