In praise of TripAdvisor and other user-generated reviews


While the blogisphere has been filled with anti-tripadvisor screed for years (perhaps once-upon-a-time accurate), the website has developed into a series of recommendations that can be trusted and used to plan a trip. On my latest trip to Ireland and Italy in October, that was certainly the case.

Plus, other user-generated reviews of restaurants and hotels should be considered. They are more often correct than wrong. The more reviews, the better.

Once upon a time, I based much of my travel on recommendations of “experts” who write travel books. I am one of those experts — I wrote the leading guidebooks to ski and snowboard resorts for more than 20 years.

However, most of the series guidebooks are slipping. There are too many very young, underpaid and inexperienced guidebook writers attempting to report on accommodations and dining experiences they don’t understand and can’t afford. Their editors are just as uneducated and underpaid as the writers.

Even with their problems, there are some guidebooks that are wonderful. They are written by travel writer veterans who live in the areas they cover and who have been working on their guidebooks for years. Many Moon Guidebooks fit that category, but many do not. It is hit and miss.

I’ve been a regular user of Rick Steves’ guides. I loved the Red Michelin Guidebooks where the researchers actually do their work and whose choices of restaurants or hotels were never disappointing.

Guidebooks that are filled with history and architectural detail are wonderful. Their walking tours are useful and many anecdotes are enjoyable. But, when it comes to hotels and restaurants, don’t depend on them to be up to date. The writers must turn in all their copy almost a year before publication. That means a 2013 guidebook is really from 2012 and most likely was researched in 2011.

TripAdvisor is now filling the void travel guidebooks have abandoned in their quest for sustained profits. Their recommendations are not those of a solo, young, inexperienced, poor, underpaid travel writer, but sourced from millions of real travelers.

Based on my recent real travel experience, with a critical mass of recommendations and, especially, when blended with other independent website recommendations, TripAdvisor can be trusted and considered truthful. And I am not the only one — “…98 percent of respondents have found TripAdvisor hotel reviews to be accurate of the actual experience,” according to an independent survey by a trusted travel research organization commissioned by TripAdvisor.

Travelers stay positive
The survey debunks a common misconception that travelers primarily write reviews to complain about bad guest experiences. In fact, sharing positive experiences is their main motivation:

• 74 percent state that they write reviews because they want to share a good experience with other travelers
• 78 percent state that they write reviews because they feel good about sharing useful information with other travelers

Most ignore extreme comments
According to the survey, travelers are a savvy and discerning bunch, as they take reviewers’ track records into account when picking a hotel and generally ignore extreme comments:

• 71 percent of users state that they like to see basic information (i.e., number of reviews written) about contributors as they browse through reviews
• 67 percent of users state that, when available, they look at traveler-submitted photos to help them make hotel choices
• 59 percent of users state that when reading reviews, they ignore extreme comments
• Only 5 percent of users state that they focus more on negative reviews to check for hotels and avoid potential pitfalls

All of these self-financed statistics studies wouldn’t mean a thing if the recommendations weren’t useful to the public. The bottom line is that they are very useful.

It is not only that serves up comments. Every travel agent website from Expedia to Priceline to to Orbitz has a system of user reviews. Most of them make sure that those providing reviews actually stayed in the accommodations and ate in the restaurants they comment about.

Sure, some reviews are probably paid, some reviews are exceptionally bad, some reviews may be written by friends of the establishment. But, once there are a reasonable number of reviews, the overall descriptions can be trusted.

In Parma, Italy, TripAdvisor led me to La Forchetta, where I enjoyed a wonderful lunch. In Dublin, Ireland, I discovered The Pig’s Eye, overlooking Trinity College, where I had a spectacular early gourmet dinner for Euros 25. In Piacenza, I used to discover Antica Osteria del Teatro, a one-star restaurant where the fixed-price menu was Euros 20 including wine, water and coffees. (I later checked on TripAdvisor and saw that it was ranked #1.)

I have cross-referenced restaurant recommendations between and TripAdvisor. There is some overlap, but not much. However, when I have used TripAdvisor for recommendations, travelers who have used my recommendations based in part on TripAdvisor reviews, have never returned unhappy.

The TripAdvisor rankings work, even after all of the moaning and groaning from travel writers and establishments claiming bad reviews. Use them whether they come from,, Expedia, Travelocity or Orbitz.

Traveler reviews are a new reality; a very good one. They extend the universe of restaurants and accommodations that other travelers can research. They provide and add to the information travelers can use for reliable research. And, they are forcing the remaining print guidebooks to include some sort of Web interface that allows them to maintain up-to-the-minute information for travelers.

What are your experiences with user-generated reviews? Do you find them more-or-less accurate or useless or somewhere in between?

  • DCTA

    Look, TripAdvisor is here to stay and as a Travel Professional, I can not afford to ignore it. I do read reviews – and TripAdvisor now allows Travel Agents to write reviews as well – and I know that my clients will as well. I do advise people to ignore both extremes – the “5” and “1” star reviews unless they are a preponderance overall. I stress reading the “3” and “4” star reviews. But even more importantly, I encourage clients to look at the visitor photos – not the hotel’s photos. This is how you get the real picture.

  • Johnp

    As a solo standby flight traveler I have used TripAdvisor as my major source of obtaining truthful, accurate, detail and knowledge to European countries, in particular, and they are rewarding experiences for me. As well, there is a host of other information, from blogs, to cruises, to parking, hotels, etc, etc. Great source of all-around information to the traveler.

  • S E Tammela

    Euros 20? Ok, I know not everyone can type the Euro symbol, but we don’t say “euros 20”, just as we don’t say “dollars 20”. It’s 20 euro in English, no matter where you put the symbol. :)