Reader Beware: 3 Reasons to Give Those TripAdvisor Reviews The “Side Eye”

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Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of going on a “ride along” on a food tour around the city. The company, owned by a family friend, is only a few years old and is looking to add talented people to their staff, so they invited me to experience what they do and to see if I would be interested in lending my talents to the company. Free food – I was all for it. (Actually it turned out to be free beer; I was on their Pub Crawl Tour.) Not only that, I was also excited to experience my second food tour, especially one in my very own city. My first was a few months ago in Rome, and I thought that it would be great to have something to compare that experience to.

The company is highly regarded on Trip Advisor. They are ranked #19 out of 95 activities to do in Orlando. Fifty-four reviewers gave their experience a 5-star rating of excellence. To top it all off, in 2013 they were awarded with Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence. But as I stood at our last stop of the evening, watching as the tour guide video taped a bunch of drunk adults yelling into the camera “This was the best tour EVER!,” I was left with a Really? kind of  feeling. Sadly, I knew that if I had been a regular paying customer, I would’ve had the urge (and would’ve felt completely in my right) to request my money back.

Nothing had gone totally awry on the tour. The restaurants and bars that we visited seemed pretty prepared for our arrival. Although the wait at one of the stops was a little longer than expected, the majority were ready to serve us within seconds of walking in. The customers received everything they had been promised: in about 4 hours, we visited four restaurants/bars and sampled different selections of food and beer around the city. The evening flowed smoothly. By the second stop of the night, the customers looked to be having a really great time. But by the third stop, I was pretty confident that in the morning, once their drunken stupor had subsided, they would see things quite differently than they had the night before. Or maybe, like the 54 reviewers, they too would remember their evening as a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Reflecting back on my experience and comparing it with those of the Trip Advisor reviews, I was left with two differing opinions.

Mine: The tour left a lot to be desired. Although I applaud them for taking the courageous step to begin a business, especially one like this, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of attention to the background and historical information of the city, the restaurants, and the beer selections. Because of our fabulous tour guide in Rome, I can tell you at least two handfuls of tidbits about Roman food, ones that even Google wouldn’t be able to find! Disappointingly, after my night out with the local tour I can only tell you that I like beer with a hint of cider added to it. Not much, right?

TripAdvisor Reviewers: In one word – AWESOME! There was only one reviewer that gave the company one star, and that was only because their tour was cancelled at the last minute.

So, where on earth was the discrepancy coming from? After a little bit of musing, I came up with three reasons why you (and I) should be just a little cautious about the reviews on Trip Advisor, or any review site at that.

1. Everything but the experience

Having a great tour guide, hotel staffer, flight attendant, etc. is great, but it does not equal a great experience. At the end of the day, who really cares if the [fill in the blank] was funny, charismatic, or uncommonly kind, if he or she was unable to provide you with the experience you were expecting and hoping to have? The facilitator of the experience is only the frosting. It is not the cake. Be aware of reviews that mention everything that is great except for the experience itself. For example, “The maître d was extremely nice, and the restaurant was exquisitely decorated” – but no word on the food itself, which is what really matters.

2. A difference in expectations

This one is the silent killer. Unless a reviewer actually comes out and writes “I was expecting x, y, and z,” you never know what level of expectedness the person is writing from. Did the reviewer give the company a 5-star rating because he/she was expecting water from the tap, but was pleasantly surprised when a bottle of Perrier arrived at the table? You just never know for certain.

3. First timers

Oh, the first timers. We are all one at some point in time. When it is our first time doing something, because we have nothing or very little to compare it to, our judgments are often skewed to the positive side of things. Expectations are usually low or not where they should be, so everything is GREAT, AWESOME, THE BEST, when really it’s sometimes just plain ol’ average. I actually find this pretty nice. In the world that we live in, I find it smile inducing when adults are naive, with child-like excitement. This is great, but for the (more experienced) person who is using reviews to plan his/her next exciting outing, this can be the beginning of a not so great experience. Because of this, I’m a tad bit leery when I see reviews that pretty much scream “this was my first time trying something like this, but it was awesome” or any variation of it.

So, ATWGs have you been led astray by an innocent (we’ll assume) review?

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