Beware TripAdvisor!

Beware TripAdvisor!

TripAdvisor is no expert.

This title doesn’t mean not to use TripAdvisor and the many other similar sites. I mean exactly what I say, “Beware.”

Most of these sites are used by travelers who have visited some place less than a few times. The vast majority of posts are by persons who are reviewing some place after a single visit. If you decide to trust their subjectivity, consider how you might expect that same person to review your own home town at different times of the year, or coincidentally during the hurricane, or during the drought or just after the cops closed the neighborhood to look for the serial killer (the only crime you’ve had in generations).

That’s the first reason to “BEWARE.” Anecdotal reviews are just that. They are itsy-bitsy tiny impressions of a place that changes throughout the year, blossoms and dies, and is subject to all the same problems that beguile anywhere: politics, social changes like strikes or pay raises, unusual weather and so many other variables. But, you counter, what if I read a dozen reviews of the same places at different times of the year? Then you’re getting close to a more reasonable and true review. BUT

The second reason to “BEWARE” is that these are not anonymous reviews. They are reviews by people who want to review. Their motivation might be for the greater good, but that’s unlikely. They’re either so excited that they don’t know who to tell, or they don’t have anyone else to tell. Usually the people who post reviews are the least subjective of travelers. The motivation to post is driven more by ego than common good. They want everyone to know they had a good time (even if they didn’t) or they really want to stick it to some one or some place they feel did them a wrong. Without knowing the motivation for someone posting a review, BEWARE.

The third reason to “BEWARE” is that a traveling consumer is rarely the right person to review where consumers travel. That’s right. I’m saying that the user is not the expert. The expert is someone who knows all the lodges and hotels, all the places, so that a true perspective can be created. The expert is neither overwhelmed or disgusted when the consumer is. Moreover, the expert knows not only the greater lay of the land, but the history. Believe it or not, more than 90% of every traveler we’ve taken to East Africa in the last 35 years ranks the best place they visited as their first place on the trip. This reflects their enjoyment and excited at getting started and it isn’t a good review of that place. It’s a reflection of ego, not analysis.

The final and very important reason to “BEWARE” is that many, many of these reviews are simply dead-out wrong. The blanket statements I’ve read, for instance, about the rainy seasons, the cost, the politics and so much more, are often so inaccurate as to make me explode. There is no due diligence in much of what is written. I read one review on a site that said Crater Lodge is nice but has poor service because the Tanzanian company that owns it doesn’t pay its employees enough. Crater Lodge is owned by South Africans, not Tanzanians, and many travelers there get upset with the recommended tipping explained to them on arrival. That’s a separate issue. It might be wrong to recommend such high tipping, but it shouldn’t reflect back that the employees are paid poorly. As a matter of fact, they’re the most highly paid lodge employees in northern Tanzania. This was rather specific and easily explained away. But remarks about weather, society and politics, game viewing and cost, are usually so out of whack with the truth that it would be laughable were it not simply so untruthful.

I would make the broad generalization that as regards East Africa, most of the reviews on TripAdvisor are incorrect if not outright wrong and terribly misleading.

BEWARE, folks. Enjoy the read, but find an expert to help you out, too.