If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me to review them on Trip Advisor... well, I probably would have eaten dinner tonight for starters.
I have never been a Trip Advisor gal. My reason is simple: I hate tourists. I don't want to hear how they rank things. In a world where some bozo can rate a hostel one star for "not having free soap," you can't take the people who take the time to write reviews on Trip Advisor seriously.
Yet, everywhere I have been, from New York to Turkey to Vietnam to Bosnia, Travel Advisor rules. This never bothered me much. I ignore Trip Advisor. If others want to use it, all the better. Then I won't bump into them.
However, as I travel further off the path where good restaurants and attractions can easily be found through magazine articles and blogs, Trip Advisor has become the only source of travel information for most tourists.
Once again, this wouldn't bother me so much (their issue), if I hadn't discovered the poisonous culture connected to it.
In areas where Trip Advisor rules, rankings and reviews have less to do with customers autonomously deciding to write a review, and more with businesses guilting everyone who walks out the door to, "write a review on Trip Advisor! 5 stars!"
In the same way people will chase you down in the street to buy their trinkets, businesses are incredibly persistent in asking you to write a review on Trip Advisor. Why? The more reviews (no matter the type), the higher the business is ranked. Restaurants and hostels proudly display their rank on their walls and in their windows. However, in my experience, it is very rare that a top Trip Advisor spot actually end up being all it is cracked up to be.
If businesses focus on getting a mass amount of reviews, their ranking will improve. Of course they also want "5 stars," (and they aren't shy about asking for it), but that part doesn't matter as much as getting the most amount of reviews. If you have made it to the top spot on Trip Advisor in many countries, it is not because you have created such a transformative experience that every person who leaves feels compelled to write a review. It is because you have figured out how to convince people to write reviews.
With so many businesses playing this game, massing a large quantity of reviews is the only way for a businesses to stay on top. If businesses waited for people to write reviews of their own accord, their spot would quickly fall, taken over by businesses that pressure every patron to write a review.
Point blank: if a business is sitting on the top of the Trip Advisor ranking, it is because they have made it their mission to be there, not because people loved it. There are too many places playing the "write a review! write a review!" game for those who are not to be ranked highly.
I know what you're thinking. It is one thing to convince someone to write a review, and another to convince someone to write a glowing review.
Well, this is not necessarily the case. First off, it is common practice for businesses to buy locals beers in exchange for a positive review on Trip Advisor. My motorbike driver told me this. He works independently and doesn't have a Trip Advisor page, aka he doesn't have a horse in this race.
Secondly, there is the controversy that you can pay to remove/alter reviews. I don't have much to say about this, as it is a lot of speculation, but you can read a little bit about it here.
Lastly, I know from personal experience. I had a terrible motorbike Trip from Hue to Hoi An. Before I went, I went on the Trip Advisor page and read all of the reviews for my driver: only 5 stars, all reviews glowing.
When the ride was over, I couldn't have disagreed more. I don't want to go into detail because this is not the place, but my experience was 3 stars AT BEST. When the driver dropped me off, of course the last thing he said to me was, "don't forget to rate me 5 stars!"
Later that week I received a facebook message from him asking to rate him 5 stars. I did genuinely feel compelled to write a review after all his pestering, but I didn't feel comfortable posting 5 stars.
I stewed on it for a few days. Then, I went on another motorbike ride and realized how bad mine had been in comparison. That is when I decided I needed to write a negative review, so I did. I blocked him on facebook and wrote a 3 star review (more than he deserved), commenting on his performance and posted it.
After 20 mins I was google searching "how to delete a trip advisor review." Something didn't seem right. I was afraid. How did he have all 5 stars? Was I overreacting to the situation? Maybe I shouldn't post the review... Was he paying Trip Advisor off? Was he approaching those who wrote bad reviews? He has my full name...
I was too afraid and didn't want to be associated so I deleted my review. Just like that, of my own accord, I removed a negative review. Too many glowing reviews just isn't natural... but it also makes it very hard to have the courage to write a negative one.
Long story short, Trip Advisor is a business in its own, and if a place is too hyped up on their Trip Advisor ranking, they can't be trusted. They care too much. Unfortunately, with this model, the good places get lost in the shuffle.
This is a system where business that put their energy into creating a great experience, rather than appearing to do so, suffer.
So what can you do to find places? Well, it takes a little more work, but like most things in life, you get what you put in. Word of mouth is always key. Ask you hostel owner what their favorite restaurant is. Ask you hostel mates if they have loved anywhere they have been. Searching "must eat *city name*" into google, and "food *city name*" in pinterest are my favorite tricks. Comb through the results, and you usually get lucky.
I am just here tell you to be skeptical of Trip Advisor. Don't take it as law.
Number of times in all of my travels I have actually felt compelled to write a review: 2. Times I actually did it: 1. The people writing reviews? They are either forced by the businesses or crazies with too much free time.