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Is TripAdvisor reliable?

Is TripAdvisor Reliable?

I hate questioning if TripAdvisor is trustworthy, but honestly, it’s failed me several times recently.

I wrote a post a couple of months ago explaining how I pick my hotels, and most of the time my strategy relies upon analyzing TripAdvisor’s ratings. I’ve found TripAdvisor as a pretty good resource in the past. But it has failed me too and I do question, is TripAdvisor reliable?

Developing countries place such an emphasis on TripAdvisor rank. You see stickers everywhere in the windows and locals love to brag about their rank. More than a competition, it’s the struggle to survive. Tour companies, hotels, and restaurants all use TripAdvisor but in many ways, it has inherited the faults of overly competitive internet marketing tactics and I wonder how many businesses inflate their ratings.

Additionally, a totally different issue is the subjective opinions of all its reviewers. The definition of good service or good food varies tremendously upon the tastes and refinements of each individual person. One person’s definition of a luxury five-star experience can translate to a three-star experience for another person, so this is another problem I’ve encountered using the site over the years.

But recently in Istanbul, we experienced the worst of TripAdvisor on two different occasions. First, our hotel by every account on TripAdvisor sounded perfect. For one, it’s a Traveler’s Choice winner. Its location, the price, and the sheer number of excellent reviews are all hallmarks of a great place to stay. It also ranked very high on TripAdvisor so we assumed the stars aligned and decided to book the hotel.

As it turned out, this hotel was one of the biggest disappointments in my last three years of traveling! As much as we love indulging in a good luxury hotel on the road, I love the local feel you get from a good boutique hotel –  but I’ve learned that boutique definitely doesn’t always equate to charming.


The photograph of the room online is stunning but the hotel and room itself was a solid 3 star, and the “quaintness” that some referred to in their reviews was in our opinion a euphemism for outdated. The decor was interesting, but the other details you need to meet to truly call yourself luxury were missing. I think like many words, “luxury,” is thrown around but few actually meet this standard.

When we took a closer look at its TripAdvisor reviews again, we saw a number of solo, “one-review ever” reviewers who voted this place five stars. The hotel itself was not bad, but it certainly does not deserve one of the top spots on TripAdvisor and is not rave-worthy in my opinion. Is it possible this hotel has inflated its ratings?

While in Istanbul, we fell victim to another misleading rank on the site when choosing a place for dinner one night. We chose a restaurant again based upon its rank and raving reviews, but the food was completely underwhelming. There was absolutely nothing special about it at all!!

But for some reason this restaurant ranked quite high in the city. Our meal here pretty much tipped us off to the suspicion that our hotel could be outsourcing fake reviews as well, as we seriously suspected this about the restaurant.

When my husband attempted to write a review about this restaurant on TripAdvisor, he mentioned casually in his review that there seems to be a number of “solo reviews” thus questioning the integrity of their ranking.

Of course TripAdvisor flagged his review and said they cannot post it, but that he can file a report of suspected abuse of the site. But nothing really came of the report and TripAdvisor for some reason won’t let him review this restaurant again.

We found this a bit frustrating since this site is supposed to make the service industry accountable, yet it seems like it was only promoting a broken system.

Istanbul isn’t the only place where TripAdvisor has failed me, but perhaps it’s more overt in some cities more than others where competition is much more ruthless.

I love to use books and blogs, but I also rely on TripAdvisor as well. It seems that my trust issues originate with local places or local smaller restaurants that are struggling to stay in business.

The sad thing though is that as some of these ruthless businesses fight or manipulate their way to the top, the better more deserving businesses with truly the best food or service are pushed out of sight. It’s definitely not fair.

But I guess there’s a simple solution to not getting blind-sighted….always read the negative reviews first and leave feedback for the businesses that truly deserve it!

How much do you trust TripAdvisor?

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37 Comments

  1. Barbara A Shore
    October 12, 2017 at 3:58 pm — Reply

    I just tried to post a Trip Advisor review of a bar rated as one of the “top restaurants” in my home city. I had never seen this establishment listed as a “top restaurant,” given that it is a spy theme bar from the Sean Connery James Bond era. I had been to this place within the past year for an after work event. Until then, I had not realized they served food! What we were offered was the standard, fried bar food, definitely not “top restaurant” food. Trip Advisor would not post my review (I have had hundreds published for places all over the world based on legitimate visits.) They claimed my insights were “second hand,” which was definitely not the case. I have come to the conclusion that Trip Advisor favors paid business accounts over others, hence the “top restaurants” in my city include ice cream stands, grocery stores, coffee shops using food vendor services, bakeries and sports/theme bars not known for their food. The real “top” restaurants (food critic rated and James Beard awarded notable venues) don’t even hit their radar. So I closed my account and will not waste my time on Trip Advisor. Yelp is no better. Better to use professional reviews from a multiplicity of sources.

  2. Gary
    September 6, 2017 at 8:39 pm — Reply

    I read TripAdvisor reviews with a large, if not truckload, of salt. The reviews published via hotel surveys are filtered. I know this from first hand experience, and there are bot apps dedicated to the task (see ReviewFilter.com).

    There was a time I trusted TripAdvisor reviews, but I’ve stayed at too many sloppily run properties (I’m thinking Hilton, specifically) to put much stock in the reviews that make-the-cut for publication.

  3. paul lewis
    February 23, 2017 at 5:00 pm — Reply

    Tripadvisor, by it’s very nature, is totally subjective according to the experience, knowledge and tastes of those who place reviews. There is actually no way of the site guaranteeing that all reviews are genuine and actually placed by people who have stayed/dined etc in the establishment they are reviewing. In pre-internet days travellers relied on guides compiled by professionals, who usually had vast experience in the field they were discussing. I have used T.A. in the past to get an overall view of a place, the more reviews the better of course, and have to say that it’s proved fairly reliable. However I do accept it is very subjective and therefore well worth noting where the reviews emanate from as this can be an important factor. In no way should it be used as a definitive guide, most especially in the categories of Best this, best that etc. in the World, that part of T.A. is certainly very misleading and totally irrelevant.

    • May 25, 2017 at 5:41 pm — Reply

      This exact concern of subjectivity was what led us to develop: TravelMetrics.co . We launched this past weekend and wanted to provide travellers with facts not opinions in planning their next trip. Agree to your point of there being no one definitive guide. Travellers need to do their respective due diligence. Our platform helps streamline that due diligence by being a one-stop shop.

      Bhupinder Dulku, MBA
      CEO & Co-Founder, TravelMetrics

  4. peter quinn
    December 27, 2016 at 6:31 pm — Reply

    I have read your review regarding Tripadvisor and IMHO if you read reviews every time you booked a holiday or bought something and you believed everything you read, then you would never book anywhere or buy anything. Trip advisor will give you guidance but it is not a bible !! We were going to go to a certain hotel in the Dominican republic and the reviews were made up, if you gave a good review onsite then they would give you a gift of some sort and the hotel got found out !! A great deal of satisfied and dissatisfied customers don’t even bother writing reviews, so what percentage of customers per hotel do trip advisor base their ratings on ?? Make your holiday your own !!

  5. Bill
    August 16, 2016 at 7:07 pm — Reply

    I’ve posted on TA A LOT, and had always thought that others who posted were fair. Recently I took a trip, and stayed at three properties that were “reader’s choice” or something like that. Only one was quite good.

  6. Camden Town
    August 13, 2016 at 12:05 pm — Reply

    We DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELLERS TO USE THE TRIP ADVISOR PLATFORM, as it seems that they are manipulating reviews.. probably in benefit of those that pay!

    We are owners of Camden Town – La Malagueta .. a stable relatively successful business for over 16 years in Malaga. Last year we decided to join Trip Advi$or… probably the worst mistake we have done in 16yrs. We happily got our 180 4 & 5 star reviews quite quickly and got to #1 PUB / BAR in Malaga after just 4 months. (we have screen captures to prove this) Then, a few months ago we had almost 80 taken away from us (for no reason or explanation and no reply from Trip Advisor via email and they do not take calls for these issues)

    When contacted they insinuated that the reviews were “TOO GOOD” and therefore must be friends or family.. thus.. removed as they were bias. When we asked they why they send us 3 Trip Advisor stickers saying in capitals “RECOMMENDED” by Trip Advisor only 4 days after registering with Trip Advisor and with no reviews on our profile if they are not in favor of bias opinions… They never answered the email and proceeded to send me 3 more window stickers saying the same but in SPANISH! Our reviews were NEVER reinstated and no explanations was EVER given. NOW.. try and remove a bad review if you can!! NO WAY IN HELL! But the positive reviews fall off into the abyss every 2-3 months.

    Annoyed but sure we could get them back quickly we started again almost from the beginning… and a week ago we had OVER 105 Reviews. of which 100 were 4 star plus, we were #2 PUB / BAR in Malaga … AND… YET AGAIN Trip Advisor have taken over 75 positive reviews from us WITH NO EXPLANATION, call or even email telling us why. How funny this is that the 3 “competitor reviews” we have stayed!!!

    When we called them we were told that we must resolve this by email only and nobody would help us via PHONE. Yet we have told them that when we write awkward e-mails that put them in a corner and can not answer they simply… DO NOT REPLY.

    WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRlP ADVISOR FOR TRAVELLERS. PLEASE CHOOSE YOUR OWN DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, RESTAURANTS THE OLD FASHIONED WAY. Do not trust Trip Advisor and release yourself from the “HEARD” mentality. It has hurt our business more than helped.

    We have added the only screen capture we made of our position and score when we reached 100 positive reviews as a reminder of the achievement… as we never though we would LOOSE reviews or get knocked down!

    Please feel free to contact us if you would like more information or verification of any points.

    • August 15, 2016 at 9:00 pm — Reply

      Thanks for the comment, it’s interesting to see how businesses are affected. Personally for travelers, it’s frustrating for an entirely different reason. But, I’m sorry to hear that TripAdvisor has hurt your business. I’m not sure where you are located, but personally for food, I don’t trust TripAdvisor reviews and I also go with Yelp. The Elite reviews are really the best you can get online.

      As a traveler, we actually had a lot of trouble posting negative reviews. In fact, they wouldn’t allow us to post it.
      Stephanie recently posted…How to Get to The Glenfinnan Viaduct, aka The Harry Potter BridgeMy Profile

      • PM
        August 20, 2016 at 9:13 pm — Reply

        Oh it’s a real thorn.

        I run a tiny family business, real hand to mouth but its a life we love. We have a small boutique shop with an even smaller tearoom. We recently had a customer leave a bad review saying we needed to add more seats and that when it rained customers were left in the rain. We’re in an historic building and are not allowed to expand. Many customers see this as an asset. For this customer it justified one star!

  7. Arthur Zinn
    August 11, 2016 at 5:48 pm — Reply

    I just recently came back from Disneyworld. I really find almost all food in Disneyworld subpar but the Be Our Guest restuarant in the Magic Kingdom really blew my mind. We dropped by on an earlier day and there was a big line to get in. Gee we thought this place must be good. We put in a reservation and wound up waiting on line like everybody else (lunch) . We had to either enter our order into a computer screen as if we were ordering lunch at a gas station or somebody took pitty and entered your order fror you. You were left to scavange yourself for a table and go get your own drinks and silverware ala MacDonalds. I got the Croque Monsieur at $13.99. It was inedible and the french fries were of poor quality and overcooked. Other diners at the table who had the turkey sandwich also complained. When I looked up the restaurant on Tripadvisor I was shocked to see 3,750 Excellent and very good reviews. These people did not eat in the same restaurant I did. I don’t think I will write any more reviews for Tripadvisor since they obviously prefer the glowing reviews of paid reviwers and employees.

  8. Mona
    March 3, 2016 at 10:40 pm — Reply

    I used to be a travel writer and it was generally known in the industry at that time (the mid-1980s-90s) that many of the travel guidebook series could not be trusted in terms of their hotel reviews. Essentially, the writers (who were very poorly paid) had to accept freebies in order to fund their trips. The same thing was true with many of the travel magazines–although not Conde Nast Traveler at that time. Newspaper travel articles were also a mixed bag. Writers were not supposed to accept freebies. But in reality, they often did–unless they were lucky enough to be well-paid staff writers for the very top newspapers. It’s a sad statement on how poorly paid the writers were–and still are. But of course, it’s also terrible for the readers, who have no idea what’s going on. I had been hoping that TripAdvisor had figured out a way around all that sort of thing. And it’s disheartening to read the comments and experiences of some of the people who’ve posted here. If we can’t trust TripAdvisor, who can we trust? I would seriously like some suggestions from people who have reliable information. There seem to be plenty of opinions out there, but little information based on hard research.

    • March 7, 2016 at 10:10 am — Reply

      Thanks for sharing Mona. I think travelers and regular people too are now a bit more cautious of the information they can trust since there’s so much of it too. I hear this a lot in the travel blogging world too when sponsorships more increasingly drive blog content. It’s a delicate balance.

      As far as who we can trust, I’ve been a Yelper for a long time and it seems like the most trustworthy site I’ve found; but unfortunately it’s not in every country. Companies now can offer a reply to a review, but generally it’s still a pretty accountable platform and I’ve had no issues posting negative reviews. I think at the end of the day, it’s just best to do a lot of personal research and not rely on any one opinion.
      Stephanie recently posted…22 Badass Jobs That Involve TravelMy Profile

  9. Norman Smith
    February 27, 2016 at 11:41 pm — Reply

    There are too many local boosters acting as location experts. They actively discourage any negative reviews, honest or not, which results in a sort of local tourism promotion effect. People should feel free to post their real impressions of a place.

  10. Dan C
    February 4, 2016 at 10:38 pm — Reply

    Tripadvisor is a scam: I posted a one star review about a resort, they put it up for couple of days then removed it. Funny thing is my review is still in Google’s cache… One star reviews are constantly deleted: there are a few in the last two or three days then weeks and months of gaps. They get paid to deceive people and maintain high ratings for selected destinations.

    • March 2, 2016 at 1:06 pm — Reply

      Thanks for sharing! I’ve noticed that as well.

  11. January 28, 2016 at 4:46 am — Reply

    No, Tripadvisor is not reliable. Tripadvisor aims at serving third-parties interests instead of helping travellers. I wrote a one-star review of a restaurant that is high ranked in Wroclaw, Poland but at which I had a disastrous experience. Altough my review was genuine, it was removed from the website because it contained an allegation of fraud (sic). I found it strange since I’ve already written around 70 reviews (most of which restaurants) and never had such problem. Here’s a link to my Tripadvisor profile: http://www.tripadvisor.com/members/MikeDoviel. So I asked the Support about what went wrong. They replied that it contained a report of review fraud (sic) with no further explanation. I sent a second e-mail to ask for more details, they never bothered to reply. I then realized there was nothing wrong with my review. Tripadvisor just decided to censor it, probably in some effort to damage control the reputation of the restaurant I was reviewing. What’s worse, I denunced to Tripadvisor a review that was obviously fake: a first time reviewer who wrote a five-star review, listing items that were not served and stated “next time you’re around just pop in”. I was surprised to find out that my request was rejected, meaning that Tripadvisor finds this review to be genuine. Since, I’ve stopped writing reviews on Tripadvisor. When I travel, I’d rather ask locals or wander around the city and see for myself than trust Tripadvisor reviews.

    • January 28, 2016 at 2:14 pm — Reply

      Thanks for sharing! I think restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor at the very least cannot be trusted at all. That’s pretty much exactly what happened to us too. They refused to post my husband’s bad review of a place that was highly rated on TA. We went there because of the good ratings yet the food was well below par. TripAdvisor can’t really be trusted.
      Stephanie recently posted…Pins to Kill Leggings: Product Review & Yukon PhotoshootMy Profile

  12. Norman
    December 29, 2015 at 12:28 pm — Reply

    I no longer trust tripadvisor reviews unless I find them confirmed elsewhere. There are too many “destination experts”,who are actually promoters trying to shoot down any review that isn’t positive. Why tripadvisor tolerates rude comments and bullying I don’t know.

  13. Viaduct Travel
    November 23, 2015 at 2:47 pm — Reply

    We have long known that “one review wonder” TA reviews are almost invariably fake. But only recently have we found out how aggressively TA filters their reviews, denying the posting of negative reviews (for “not meeting guidelines”), allowing owners to “dispute” reviews, and refusing to delete obviously fake reviews even when flagged. We’ve found that cross-checking TA against a “verified reviews” site is now a necessity for hotels.

  14. August 12, 2015 at 1:33 am — Reply

    I agree with you on this. Its not an indicator to what you expect. Reviews are pretty much manipulated and used in a way to mislead people. I use it to read reviews and I make up my own mind by looking around, reading social medias info, travel forums etc to get the best information. You cannot rely on pictures listed on travel sites at all.I used to work for a hotel in Paris and the pictures we had on the site was fantastic and none of the rooms looked like that. so its totally misleading.
    Marc recently posted…Our Wintery Trip to MontréalMy Profile

    • August 14, 2015 at 9:12 pm — Reply

      Yea, that’s really interesting to hear. I’m amazed at how photographs can appear so misleading, even on TripAdvisor but I rarely go by that. I go by the reviews, but those are often times the most misleading too.
      Stephanie recently posted…How NOT to Start a Travel BlogMy Profile

  15. Hanne
    March 12, 2015 at 10:07 pm — Reply

    What a great article! Just the articles I love! I think you are very right about that, that there is a lot if fake reviews out there, and I question if you can trust it as well! I do not use Tripadvisor that much, when I travel I just go, and find a hotel at arrival. But thank you so much for sharing, I had my suspicion that some actually do this for get better reviews.

    • March 13, 2015 at 11:42 am — Reply

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it :).

  16. March 12, 2015 at 9:29 pm — Reply

    Tripadvisor is my go to for picking hotels…..i think some if the comments will be blocked, edited or whatever but there is a balance on trip advisor
    http://www.populairelife.co.uk

    • March 13, 2015 at 11:43 am — Reply

      Yea I think it’s skewed towards certain types of places more than others. But I’ve always used it to pick hotels and it’s seldom let me down until recently.

  17. Erisu
    March 9, 2015 at 5:05 am — Reply

    Tripadvisor can be good as a starting point for picking a hotel AS LONG AS you read the comments carefully, read both the good and bad ones, and use some evaluation judgment, such as seeing whether the bad experiences are unusual or common in the reviews, whether the writer looks like a 20-something who thinks a $125 hotel room is too expensive, how many reviews they’ve written (I’d trust a reviewer with 50 reviews who is well-traveled more than one with 3 or 4) and perhaps also the place where the reviewer lives (NYC or SF or Seattle or Chicago big-city reviewers may be a bit more sophisticated than those who live in Kansas –sorry Kansans–because they have more immediate experience). What I never trust much any more are the restaurant reviews. We have had so many disappointments (in Italy especially when we lived there for 3 months) with restaurants. We’ve decided that food taste is much more diverse and depends on the experience, knowledge, and sophistication of the traveler more than hotels. For hotels there are only a few dimensions of judgment: cleanliness, quiet, service, location. For food and restaurants there are many more dimensions of judgments.

    • March 9, 2015 at 1:23 pm — Reply

      I agree. I’ve learned over the years too that sophistication varies quite a bit on this site, especially when it comes to unfortunately some 20-somethings who think boutique hotels are luxury because it’s a step up from a hostel. But I’ve generally trusted Traveler’s Choice Winners, but it let me down this time. I think overall, I still like to use its ratings system for hotels with a grain of salt, but their restaurant reviews are pretty useless to me now for the reasons you stated above.

    • Robert Kaussner
      March 12, 2016 at 10:51 am — Reply

      I also just learned that some researchers at Cornell University have developed a website called Review Skeptic which analyzes hotel reviews with some sophisticated algorithms, and can determine (with 90% accuracy) which reviews are most likely genuine and which ones are not.

  18. March 8, 2015 at 12:51 pm — Reply

    Well, you’re writing a review that suggested that their ranking is not trustworthy, I suppose it is understandable that they become skittish and banned you from reviewing again. I’m not saying they are right to ban you though..
    I wouldn’t trust TripAdvisor or any other ranking websites to be honest. There is always a risk of being misled if you are going for those boutique hotels, probably not by TripAdvisor themselves, but there are many third party operators out there who would offer a number of “unique” TripAdvisor (or Google+ or any other rankings) reviews to businesses who are willing to pay. It’s a shark’s world out there.

    • March 8, 2015 at 3:00 pm — Reply

      In some way it’s reasonable, but I mean to clarify, we attempted to write a different review the second time around, simply for the food but not alluding to their suspected false reviews. Sad they won’t even post that.

      I do trust them, but to an extent. I’ve had some success in the past but I’ve learned that these smaller establishments can’t really be trusted unfortunately.

  19. March 7, 2015 at 11:04 am — Reply

    You know I was thinking the same thing today…particularly about a hotel I stayed in NYC during Christmas holidays. It was described as vintage which can be translated as neglected…Not to mention that they didn’t even dust the room before our arrival! In the past I always asked friends (a common practice coming down from my parents), but now I also check Tripadvisor and Booking. Not for restaurants though. There I really rely on blogs and friends. Quite recently I was contacted by Trippy which is a travel Q&A site. It took me 2 months to look into that invitation but it was helpful and I got a lot of suggestions about my upcoming trip (though people not always answer your question directly. e.g. I asked for places to stay and what to see and got a lot of suggestions on where to eat too!!)

    • March 7, 2015 at 3:55 pm — Reply

      Crazy! I definitely think the “vintage” term is up for abuse, lol. Finding dust in a room is just inexcusable! Actually, Trippy contacted me too as well awhile back, but I haven’t really looked into it much. I definitely will!!

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