DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT CONSULTING IT
A FEW YEARS AGO, MY WIFE AND I decided to visit Las Vegas and I wondered what there was to do for us non-gamblers—other than gawk at the over-the-top hotels and observe our fellow tourists lose their money. Turning to an online resource I had come to trust, tripadvisor.com, I connected with a Las Vegas local on one of the site’s “Las Vegas Forums.” I discovered that there were, indeed, non-gambling attractions we would enjoy in the city or a short drive out of town, namely the Liberace Museum and Red Rock Canyon. Other Forum respondents recommended other sites.
Once again, tripadvisor had come through.
If you’re unfamiliar with this interactive website for travelers, take note: tripadvisor.com is an ever-growing, influential—if sometimes controversial—site that publishes reviews and recommendations of hotels, restaurants and attractions throughout the United States and around the world. Founded in 2000, it now attracts tens of millions of unique visitors every month.
Reviews are posted by tripadvisor contributors who visit places and critique them for the benefit of fellow-travelers in search of satisfying, fairly priced lodging, meals, and entertainment. By its own account, the site contains more than 100 million reviews of 2.7 million hotels, restaurants and attractions in 30 countries. Every minute of the day, the site claims, 70 new contributions flow into tripadvisor.
How can someone navigate through all the opinions? I tend to discount the top reviews and the terrible reviews and see what’s left. I also check the reviews of “top contributors,” especially those from my general area. If I’m checking out, say, a small, unheralded hotel in Boston and it gets a great review from someone from Paris, I’m not likely to put much stock in that review because Parisian accommodations are notoriously sparse.
In addition, I’ve found the Tripadvisor “Forums,” with questions and answers about particular destinations and attractions, to be accessible, specific and extremely useful. They provide a gold mine of information about everything, from where should you go for a good meal to how long should you stay in a particular city to see what’s worth seeing.
In a “New York City Forum,” for instance, a first-time visitor from Syndey, Australia posed this question: “How much is a taxi ride to midtown Manhattan from JFK Airport, and how much should I tip the driver?” By the end of the day, four people had posted answers to the question. Other Forum visitors ask about things to do with two teenagers; safety of the New York City subways; hotels with a pool; and many other questions you might ask a friend who had been to, or lives in, the city.
I began relying on tripadvisor in 2004, while planning a trip to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I eventually became a “top contributor,” which means I’ve submitted more than 60 reviews. That entitles me to some small travel stuff, like a baseball cap and tote bags. But besides providing a service to fellow travelers, being a regular contributor could sometimes smooth out troublesome bumps in your travel experience—especially if it gets the attention of hoteliers or restaurant owners.
Once, for example, while staying at a luxury hotel in Miami, I was having a frustrating time using the hotel’s business office computer. The device kept charging me for a 15-minute usage, but kept cutting me off after just a few minutes. I went to the concierge and told him it would be a shame to note in my tripadvisor review that such a fine hotel had such bad business office service. He provided me with another computer and removed the charges of the initial computer from my bill.
Ultimately, one of the key benefits of tripadvisor critiques is that they’re often current—much more so than a guide book. For instance, when I was planning a trip to Vienna, my travel agent recommended a big-name hotel that received its due share of stars from many guide books. But checking the hotel on tripadvisor, I learned that major construction was under way and would continue during our planned stay. Guests complained bitterly about their disappointment and advised would-be visitors to steer clear of the place until the renovation was complete. I searched the web site and found another hotel, smaller, with excellent reviews, and asked my travel agent to book that one. Our stay there was enjoyable—and problem-free.
George Haber is a public relations consultant and former magazine writer and editor who, along with wife Elinor, has traveled throughout the United States and made 10 trips to Europe, the latest one being a two-week trip to three Greek Islands. George and Elinor always plan their own itineraries, avoid tours and cruises, and usually use mass transit in the countries they visit. Contact: email@example.com.
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