View from the Hammock: Critiquing the TripAdvisor Critics

I have a hard time dealing with petty whiners. The planet is full of them nowadays, and you can’t escape them. They are at my local pub, on CNN, Fox News, our radio talk shows, Facebook, and, of course, on TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor, that’s the consumer review site that has become one of the world’s most-traveled travel resources, attracting 41.6 million users a month, and featuring 40 million reviews of hotels and restaurants worldwide.

The nastiness and frenzy of some of the complaints on TripAdvisor are simply downright dumbfounding, frightening, and perhaps even dangerous (“If you see something, say something”). Collectively they give new meaning to the adage, “The customer is always right.”

I’ve been in the hospitality business for more than 40 years, and I love the customers – they are my bread and butter (and my rum and Cokes), but sometimes when they moan, I groan.

Let’s face it – anyone can have a bad hair day, or, in my case, a “bad play day.” Drink orders can be mixed up, not just in the ingredients but in delivery (oops! Wrong table), guitars do go out of tune, and, if you don’t like the weather, blame Mother Nature, but don’t write nasty reviews on TripAdvisor because the water vapor in the precipitation is too high – manure happens.

TripAdvisor has caused a bit of frustration in the travel industry. Many hoteliers are enraged about the material posted about them and are fighting back – both through legal routes, and in person. Last September it was reported that a cancer patient had been thrown out of a hotel in a seaside resort of Blackpool, England, after allegedly posting a negative review on TripAdvisor during his stay.

It was reported that the hotel asked the man to leave for bad behavior. Human nature being what it is, people are quicker to criticize than compliment. A restaurant could have six good days – the A/C works, the waitress doesn’t have a hangover, the fisherman brought in a fresh catch. Yet when you show up for the first time on day seven, all hell breaks loose. The chef has the flu, the beer is warm, and someone broke into your car while you were having dinner.

Is TripAdvisor fair? Are their negative (and positive) reviews reliable? Unlike eBay, for example, where you cannot post a review unless you purchased the item, on TripAdvisor anyone can complain about a hotel or bed and breakfast without having to prove they’ve stayed there.

And then there are the cavalier food experts, the “Anthony Bourdain wanna-bees,” who wish they were gourmet connoisseurs rather than the fast food gluttons they are. They really get restaurateurs enraged.

Some of my friends in the hospitality business are obsessed with their TripAdvisor rankings, believing they will make or break their business. If they don’t get a Five–Star rating, they lose sleep, unreasonably lecture their staff, and break out in stress-hives.

It’s becoming like the Facebook addiction. Simon Foxley of Hyde Gloucestershire, England, hanged himself after a girl he was romantically fond of un-friended him on Facebook. Edward Hasbrouck, a travel writer and industry consultant in San Francisco, says, “Many businesses feel as if they’ve been forced to surrender control to such sites, which can call the shots. TripAdvisor has enormous power, and they can do whatever they want. They don’t have to be democratic, and they don’t have to be fair.”

Well, I may not have the power of TripAdvisor which has been around for some 17 years, but I believe I do have them beat in hands-on experience.

Sure, I am nothing more than a shoeless minstrel trying to keep my rum-filled audience happy on the dance floor; however, for 40 years I have been surrounded by hotel managers, food and beverage directors, and customers who want (and deserve) value for their vacation money.

Through the four decades, I have come to one simple bottom-line test when considering a restaurant or hotel: Is the bathroom clean? It’s a well-seasoned traveler’s way to judge an establishment – attention to detail rather than a certificate of approval from far-away strangers who may base their judgments on a one-time (or never-time) experience.

When not traveling to some far away island, George Nowak (The Barefoot Man) performs at the REEF Resort in East End and the Wharf Restaurant. Read about more of his adventures in his book, “Which Way to the Islands.”