The Three Star Traveler tribe understands the importance of maximizing both time and money on trips. How do you find the best places to stay, eat, and see while you're traveling? Do you get recommendations from friends? Use review sites? Read Three Star Traveler religiously? Obviously, you have excellent taste.
TripAdvisor is my number one place to check for reviews. I never use Yelp or other review sites, but TripAdvisor is my jam. I review places on TripAdvisor as well and give the good bad and ugly for nearly every place we go, both locally and away. Over the years, I've developed a love-hate relationship with TripAdvisor. We've found some amazing places using it, like Roka Ravintola, and Sky Ounsavaara in Finland. On the flip side, we've also found the reviews of attractions over-exaggerated and not accurate for travelers like us.
After extensive travel, it's time to share the good, bad, and ugly about using TripAdvisor for your next adventure.
TripAdvisor has a review for nearly every place out there. You'll be hard pressed not to find a hotel, restaurant, attraction, or tourism-related service listed. They've never had a fake review scandal like Yelp. They also show all the reviews, not just the 5 star ones. Along those lines, the reviewers on TripAdvisor will give you the entire story. There's no incentive to be fake or to lie about your experience.
Businesses who are subject to review on TripAdvisor also have the ability to comment on reviews, both good and bad. Sometimes, a comment from the manager can help resolved a situation that a guest was too timid to bring up in the moment, which alleviates your fears of booking/making that reservation/visiting the place/doing the stuff. Sometimes, it solidifies your opinion that you're not a fit.
I don't have much "bad" to say about TripAdvisor. The biggest bad thing is simply the sheer number of reviews and locations. It's overwhelming and exhausting. While TripAdvisor is great for a location like Ponta Delgada in the Azores, it practically defeats its purpose when visiting Rome or Paris. Any high-tourist destination is brimming with restaurants, bars, and attractions. Naturally, there are ten times the number of reviews on TripAdvisor as places to eat and visit. The problem lies in sifting through everything and determining what places suit you. Is there a great restaurant, but requires special attire which you didn't pack? Maybe you want to visit a museum, but need to know the best time to arrive. What can you do with kids? Finding that information can be challenging and exhausting.
As with any situation which calls for reviews, people tend to be really nice. Sometimes, people are nice to the point of glossing over major issues. This tends to happen a lot on AirBnB when you've stayed with someone and even met them face to face. It's called the 5-Star Syndrome. (Not really, I just made that up, but I'm rolling with it.) People review somewhere with 5 stars when in reality, the experience warranted fewer. This sets an unreasonable expectation for people.
The flip side of people's kindness is also their brutality. As with any online forum, some folks find courage behind a monitor and nitpick their experience. Some get downright ugly in their reviews. TripAdvisor does have strict rules on swear words and name-calling, but most people who feel strongly craft scathing, yet well-written reviews. Sometimes, it's extremely challenging to determine what's accurate, what's a missed expectation from the reviewer, and what's completely out the blue.
Knowing the good, bad, and ugly of TripAdvisor probably won't change your decision making process or where you seek information. At the end of the day, I adore TripAdvisor and not only use the reviews, but also leave them for other travelers. It's a great source of information.
The most important thing to know when you're researching any destination is what you like and don't like. Reviews and recommendations are awesome, but if you hate museums, don't go to the Louvre! If you hate large crowds, stay away from Vatican City. No matter how good or bad the reviews are, do what you want and steer clear of what won't make you happy.