Dear Trip Advisor
It’s like this. When you were a little bigger than a start-up I thought you were the cutest thing in cyber world. We played together, I pimped out places and people I met on the road and like to think that my online reviews of their property helped to grow their business. But then you started wanting more didn’t you? Then you just got a bit too big for your boots. You went from start up to upstart. Put your bossy boy pay me pants on. Then people who you played with started all kinds of nasty tricks like false reviews and demanding freebies from people for a positive review.
For someone who always just took a chance and turned up at accommodations that looked ok from the outside, for someone who talked to and listened to locals and auto walla and taxi drivers and sometimes even other travelers, for someone with the attitude that you can always just leave if you don’t like a place or a meal and chalk that up to experience, the idea that you could check a place out online from the comfort of your sleeping bag was revolutionary!
More it meant that small business walla, they guy who had that cool shack on the beach but no sign, the family starting a home-stay people who were not part of the usual tourist mafia could finally get a slice of the pie. That kind of democratic rearrangement of travel co ordinates bringing prosperity to the people was what really caught my imagination.
But as I traveled I came across an increasing amount of small business walla who you held in a vice like testicular grip, I began to recognise their hunched shouldered stance as they sat over their laptops in coconut hut bars and bamboo restaurants all over Asia. Now while they were enjoying great ratings on your site, they were miserable. Why? Well because your staff harassed the hell out of them day and night to advertise on your site. Even bad reviews were no problem, according to your call center staff….just pay a little money and the bad reviews will slide so far down the page as to almost disappear, or pay a lot more and they will disappear all together!
Despite a lot of early resistance while small hoteliers came to grips with social media marketing and advertising, you managed to get most people to pay up. If they didn’t then you scooped them up when you hooked up with Expedia. You guys became a mega mall of all your travel needs. A virtual guarantee of safety in a world gone mad. People would know ahead of time what exactly the texture of their lasagne would be in a certain restaurant, what the view was like from a certain room. Whether people had been nasty or nice. It became the new pornography, to know all but to possess nothing. People got hooked into that pornographic promise of safety, you grew. Eventually anyone who wanted to make a buck in the travel industry had to pay you….it kinda began to feel a bit like a mafia deal to me.
Then the owners who had previously enjoyed great ratings were under pressure to keep these ratings, feedback became their enemy and not their friend. They began to see the Trip Advisor listing as their raison d’etre , they began to fear the people who they previously welcomed into their establishments with joy. You and your feedback took all the fun out their living!
Paranoia began to rule. One guy I know in (Cambodia) would google all guest enquiries before he accepted a booking. If someone was a hard marker on Trip Advisor then no way was he going to get a room at this guys place! Another guy I know in Dellhi sometimes goes less than the extra mile he would normally do for guests JUST IN CASE someone (NOT his guest) gets upset with him and posts a bad review! Another family in Agra rang me most distressed because some competitor had posted an untrue review on Trip Advisor, his world almost came tumbling down! If I had a dollar for every whinge I have hear about YOU dear Trip Advisor then I would be writing this from the Leela in Delhi!
It became so that conversations with friends who owned hotels and restaurants were only about Trip Advisor. They would obsess about it more than thirty year somethings obsess about their dysfuncational relationships, on and on and bloody on! To the point where I simply had to ban your name in ordinary every day conversation.
Then one day I got an email from a place where I stay regularly saying “Your review of this property is now due”. I almost crapped myself! I mean it felt like I had an overdue bill and I immediately went into panic mode. Then I realised that no one is ever going to give me credit and read the email again. REVIEW? NOW DUE?
That’s what tipped me over the edge. It started a bit of an avalanche of email harassment for TA reviews. I mean to say what the hell?Homework holiday from HELL or what? Seriously though, I LIVE on the road so it almost got to the point where writing a review was part of the standard room departure ritual. I was at a point the where I would review a hotel on the last night and get that smug feeling of a job completed ahead of schedule!
But that was until the day my REVIEW got DUE. After that you and I were on very shaky ground Trip Advisor. None of your cyber badges or congratulatory emails could mollify me.
I am one of those travel writers who doesn’t take freebies or look for them along the way, I pay my way and I rate things as I see them. I prefer NOT to write a bad review (unless the place is SPECTACULARLY BAD ) and pretty much only write reviews for places that could do with a bit or kudos or yes, the ooomph that my “rating” will give them. (DON’T ASK me how that works, but if you are a regular whinger on TA you get some kind of rating which sometimes randomly reflects on the rating of the property you have reviewed).
But from now on Trip Advisor if you want me to write a review then you are going to have to pay me. I think its only fair because in the last six months of circumnavigating India WITHOUT using you one time, I actually managed to find great places with good people. And further, sorry folks but really if you want every aspect of your travel nailed down and guaranteed then that’s your problem not mine. If you want my expert opinion then pay me or at least be my friend!
I am a big girl now and when I travel I wear my big girl panties and don’t whinge if the hotel sucks, I just suck it up and move on. I don’t cry online if the salad was soggy, I can’t be arsed! I don’t take failure to provide a decent accommodation or meal in the tourist industry personally, why should I? If your business sucks, if your food is foul or your service shoddy then eventually your business will wither and die. This is karma, simple science really. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction right?
I think people are so used to those plastic packages in the supermarket that they want their life experiences to come that way too. Now travel can be like that. If you pay people to be constantly in the background “managing” your experience.
The thing about travel is that you do new thing, you TAKE RISKS, you explore the boundaries of human experience. Think of yourself as an adventurer, a seeker of soulmates, a journeywoman with an open heart and mind. Step out there with arms wide open and your native smarty pants on and meet the world face to face before it all gets shrink wrapped and sterile.
GIVE FEEDBACK THE FINGER AND TAKE A WILD EXTRAORDINARY RISK – TRUST!
“Ever since happiness heard your name, she has been running through the streets trying to find you.”