Why You Should Think Twice Before Trusting Travel Review Sites According To Rick Steves

After gaining interest in travel at a young age, Rick Steves has gone on to create a travel business empire. Whether its booking a spot on one of his many European tours, buying a guidebook, or simply catching his show "Rick Steves' Europe" on television, Steves hopes to share his passion and knowledge with anyone who might have at least a little bit of wanderlust. Through all of his endeavors, Steves does not just share his experiences regarding specific destinations, but also tips and tricks which he follows for any sort of travel.

The increasing prevalence of online reviews has drastically affected human consumption. Think about how many times you look at product reviews or film and television reviews. Reviews for the service industry are nearly inescapable as well. This includes hotels, tour companies, and many more aspects of travel planning. While these can sometimes be helpful, Steves believes that, because anyone with an internet connection can leave a review, sometimes their reliability is questionable. There are also some ways that businesses inflate their ratings and artificially become more visible on review sites.

Rick Steves believes that review sites can bury hidden gems

Rick Steves does take a glance at reviews for hotels and restaurants on websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, but he takes what reviewers have to say with a grain of salt. "My hunch is that a significant percentage of user reviews are posted by friends or enemies of the business being reviewed," Steves writes on his website. He goes on to explain that even some minor blackmail can play a role in online reviews. "Several hoteliers have told me that occasionally guests threaten them with a bad review unless the hotel gives them a big discount."

Review sites can also be "echo chambers" due to the few top-rated businesses remaining at the top. "Flashy businesses camp out atop the ratings. Travelers use it, like it, and rave about it, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of positive reviews," Steves stated. This means that other restaurants or hotels fall by the wayside, even if they are of high quality themselves.

Some businesses work with TripAdvisor, which can boost their ratings

In 2021, TripAdvisor created a report stating that 8.6% of the site's reviews had to be removed for fraud or bias. This sounds low, but other factors, such as deletion of negative reviews, further skew the data. Negative reviews about businesses that advertise for TripAdvisor occasionally disappear.

Flaws in data collecting or ingenuine reviews aside, think of this scenario: If a hotel has dozens of rooms, but an appliance is broken in one of those hotel rooms, this could lead the guest to leave a negative review. However, this is simply one of many guest experiences at the same hotel. Therefore, a negative review may not reflect the hotel as a whole. Similar situations apply to restaurants as well. 

If online reviews either do not tell the whole picture or cannot be trusted, what are the alternatives? Rick Steves suggests a guidebook, or even more than one. Guidebooks are from reputable companies that often spend time compiling location-specific information from more than Yelp or TripAdvisor. Steves himself visits multiple hotels in person before publishing his findings.