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Navigating online reviews - why you shouldn't always trust what you read

In the digital age, online reviews have become a crucial part of planning any trip. They help us choose hotels, restaurants and activities, promising insights from fellow travellers. However, the reliability of these reviews is increasingly under scrutiny and for good reason. Here's why travellers should approach online reviews with a healthy dose of skepticism.


why you shouldn't trust online reviews

The Problem of Review Manipulation

Review manipulation is more common than many realise. Businesses often offer incentives, such as discounts or freebies, in exchange for positive reviews. This practice, known as review inflation, distorts the true quality of the service or product. While a free dessert or a complimentary service might seem like a harmless perk, it can significantly skew the ratings, leading future customers to have unrealistic expectations.


Coerced and Fake Reviews

Some businesses go a step further by coercing customers into leaving positive reviews or removing negative ones. This can include direct pressure from staff or even threats. Additionally, fake reviews are a pervasive issue. Some companies hire people or use automated systems to post glowing reviews about their services or to disparage competitors. These reviews can be difficult to spot, often blending seamlessly with genuine ones.


Defamation Laws and Legal Repercussions

In certain countries, defamation laws can make it risky to leave negative reviews. In places like South Korea and Thailand, negative reviews, even if true, can lead to fines or jail time. These laws protect businesses and discourage honest feedback, resulting in a skewed picture of the actual customer experience.


Spotting the Red Flags

Despite these challenges, travellers can take steps to better assess the reliability of online reviews by following some of these tips:

  • Look for Patterns Instead of focusing on individual reviews, look for overall trends. If a hotel consistently receives high marks for cleanliness but mixed reviews for service, that pattern can offer a more balanced perspective.

  • Check Multiple Platforms Reviews from various sources such as TripAdvisor, Google, and Yelp can provide a broader picture. Be wary of platforms where fake reviews are more prevalent.

  • Evaluate the Reviewers Check the profiles of reviewers. Genuine reviewers often have a history of varied reviews, whereas fake profiles may lack detail or show a pattern of overly enthusiastic praise for a single business.

  • Consider the Tone and Content Be skeptical of reviews that are overly enthusiastic or excessively critical without specific details. Genuine reviews typically provide a mix of pros and cons.

  • Use Verified Reviews Some booking platforms, like Booking.com, only allow reviews from verified customers. These reviews are generally more reliable since the platform can confirm that the reviewer actually used the service.


The Value of Word-of-Mouth and Private Recommendations

In addition to online reviews, consider seeking recommendations from friends, family or private travel communities. These sources are often more trustworthy, as they have no incentive to mislead. Private travel forums and social media groups can also provide honest feedback, free from the manipulation seen on public review sites.


While online reviews can be a helpful tool for travellers, they should not be taken at face value. By understanding the potential for manipulation and taking steps to critically evaluate the information, travellers can make more informed decisions and enjoy more authentic travel experiences. Always approach reviews with a critical eye, and remember that the best insights often come from a combination of online research and trusted personal recommendations.

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