Inside the Mad, Mad World of TripAdvisor

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Tim Vanderbilt, writing at Outside:

Leaving the cave tour at the cenote-and-zip-line complex Aktun Chen, where the guide’s joke-filled patter was as smooth and gently worn by time as the stalactites, we saw a huge sign, decorated in TripAdvisor green, with the brand’s signature owl, imploring visitors to post reviews. Spotting the owl became a game for my daughter: at the palateria in town, on the gate at Don Diego. By the time we were at the Cancún airport, passing by a small room that a TripAdvisor sign claimed was the best “fish spa” in Mexico (the fish nibble at your feet, offering a unique sort of pedicure), I began to feel a rash desire to partake in some activity that was not on TripAdvisor, an experience that had not already been mediated by the leveling winds of mass opinion—a rathole restaurant or fleabag hotel where I didn’t already know the front-desk clerk’s name. I wanted to have no expectations, either exceeded or unmet.

But all this was my young backpacker self speaking; as a harried dad, I needed some assurance that things would work out. I’d been wise to give in to the crowd.

This is a fascinating piece. Just eight years ago I studied abroad in Italy and traveled through Europe for a semester, all without this now-indispensable resource of instantly accessible information and recommendations. Part of it is that I didn’t plan ahead enough to take advantage of it. Another part of it is I didn’t yet default to “just Google it.” Now when you Google any type of travel question, you’re bound to get a TripAdvisor result somewhere on the first page—usually at the top. Its rise to the top of every search query is astounding. But the first search result is only the beginning.

What begins as a simple search-engine query becomes an epic fact-finding mission that leaves no moldy shower curtain unturned, a labyrinthine choose-your-own-adventure—do you read the one-bubble rant?—in which the perfect hotel always seems just one more click away. For all the power of the service, it raises deep questions about travel itself, including, most pressingly, who do we want—who do we trust—to tell us where to go? “The future,” Don DeLillo once wrote, “belongs to crowds.” Are we there yet?

The problem that TripAdvisor is working to solve is not yet solved. Questions remain regarding who you should trust for your travel decisions. Super-human complainers are a dime-a-dozen, which is why we reserve a grain of salt for each review we read. At the end of the trip, the best story may very well be the experience that no one recommended but the one you just stumbled into.

(Via The Loop)

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