You have no idea how powerful you are. You, the average traveller. The person who just takes a holiday every now and then. Who isn't a CEO or a celebrity or someone who wields any sort of major influence via social or traditional media.
You have the power. You can make a business successful, or you can break it. You can change the perception of entire destinations. You can encourage people to go somewhere, or persuade them to stay away. You can make people rich, or send them broke.
You can do all of this with just a few taps on the keyboard of your laptop or phone. You can do it in the time it takes to order a cup of coffee. In fact, you can do it while you're ordering a cup of coffee.
So here's a word of advice: stop leaving stupid reviews.
As someone who travels a lot, I read a lot of review websites. I read TripAdvisor, I read Google, I read Airbnb, I read Skytrax, I read Zomato, Expedia, Booking.com, Hostelworld, and plenty more.
These sites are handy research tools, a great way of finding out what's out there, and what other people have thought and what their experiences have been with airlines, hotels, restaurants, bars, destinations, sights, attractions, and everything else that goes into the travel experience. It has all been reviewed. It's all out there online.
Anyone who does this sort of research for their holidays will probably have had a similar experience to me, and have come to a similar conclusion: you have to take travellers' reviews with a grain of salt.
You learn, for example, that TripAdvisor is populated mostly by Americans, and their idea of what's good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable, sometimes differs from ours. You figure out that the personal nature of Airbnb means people tend to be overly positive in their reviews, and you need to read between the lines a little. You learn that amateur restaurant reviewers sometimes have no idea what they're talking about.
All of that is fine. It's part of the system. It's human nature.
That stuff doesn't bother me. What does bother me, however, are the ridiculous and completely unfair bad reviews that people feel entitled to leave. And I see so many of these.
I'm not even talking about the famously ridiculous ones on TripAdvisor, entries like people complaining because the zoo animals looked sad and why can't they smile? Or that the street signs in Spain were all in Spanish, and how does anyone know how to get around?
I'm talking about the one-star review for a restaurant on Google because the diner went past and it wasn't open. I'm talking about the panning of a hotel on TripAdvisor because no one responded to their email for a couple of weeks. I'm talking about one star for a destination because it rained all week. I'm talking about a rant on Zomato because the bar was too expensive.
This sort of thing is kind of funny – people are idiots, ha ha – but it's also a serious problem. Review sites aren't just your place to vent frustrations, however miniscule, in a public forum. These are people's businesses we're talking about – people's entire livelihoods that are on the line.
Yes, it's possible for the diligent among us to go through and read all of the bad reviews and decide for ourselves if they're fair or not. But most people won't do that. They'll just look at the overall star rating. And every opinion, regardless of how poorly thought out or vindictive, carries the same weight.
That's a huge issue. Say, for example, your restaurant is a few points lower on Google than someone else's restaurant – possibly because someone didn't bother checking the opening hours and so walked past while you were closed and gave you a one-star review.
Potential diners will just give you a miss and go to the other place. And you're out of business.
It really is that simple. Travellers depend on online reviews so much now. They don't want to take a risk on having a bad experience, a bad meal, a dirty hotel, a dodgy flight, when they've paid all this money and sacrificed all this time. They would rather just know that a place is reliably good.
You have the power to persuade them of that. Good or bad.
So maybe start taking that a bit more seriously. Maybe consider, say, if a place is more expensive than you thought, the fault might not be the restaurant's, but maybe yours in not doing some research and knowing you were going out to an expensive place to eat. Or think that if no one from the hotel has responded to your email it might have gone into a junk folder, or they're stretched for staff, and an experience like that really isn't worthy of giving the entire hotel a one-star review before you've even been there.
Online reviews are a great tool for research, and they also serve to keep businesses honest, to make airlines and hotels and restaurants and entire destinations lift their game in order to please every single customer, all those who have the power to rate and review and publish their opinions.
Because those opinions can put them out of business. So it's worth considering yours.
Have you read any ridiculous reviews online? Do they bother you? Or have you written one yourself? How do you do your research for your travels?