The Problem With Trip Advisor
Trip Advisor is now the world’s largest travel site. Over the past decade, it has come to dominate the travel industry with millions of active users and thousands of new reviews posted every day. Think of it as the world’s guest book, but this guestbook is online and completely open to the public. Here people can rate their travel experiences with bubbles 1-5 (not to be confused with the star ratings of hotels) and write their unfiltered opinions. Any destination you can think of around the globe from hotels, restaurants, attractions, to a lodge in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, they can all be found on Trip Advisor.
Amazonia Expeditions has greatly benefited from its high rating on Trip Advisor. 96% of our reviews are 5 “bubbles.” We are the highest rated lodge in all of the Amazon, and currently the highest rated specialty lodge in all of South America. We estimate that about half of our guests reserve with us in part because of that lofty status on Trip Advisor. Yet, it is not a situation that we are entirely satisfied with.
We wonder about the value of ratings where there is no consistent standard used by those doing the rating, and where the rating usually results from the most superficial acquaintance with the business being rated. Guests are not privy to behind the scenes management of an Amazon Lodge and so many important aspects of running a quality, safe operation is not part of the reviews. For instance, we are proud that we provide the majority of our employees with full family health insurance, disability insurance, sick time, vacation pay and retirement pensions. We also work hard to make sure all employees are trained in aspects like fire suppression, that guides are certified in wilderness first aid and kitchen staff in sanitary food handling and preparation. We know that no other lodge comes close to ours in these aspects, and many don’t make any effort at all. Yet these important, but behind the scenes, aspects are missing from Trip Advisor reviews.
The purpose of ecotourism lodges is to promote conservation and address basic needs of the surrounding indigenous community (as defined by Wikipedia and countless other sources). Nowhere does Trip Advisor address these important aspects of ecotourism lodges. Years ago, National Geographic had a rating system for ecotourism lodges based on conservation, environmental education and addressing local community needs. Amazonia Expeditions ranked as the highest in the Amazon for the three years that National Geographic did ratings before that was discontinued. On the other hand, Trip Advisor’s specialty lodge rating system is no different from their hotel rating system, which is a completely inadequate measure of ecotourism lodges. Indeed, Trip Advisor has even rejected several 5-bubble reviews written about us that have addressed our contribution to conservation or the native community, because the reviews did not discuss things like room quality, etc.
It has been a challenge trying to advise Trip Advisor on the salient aspects of ecotourism lodges. In fact, it has even been impossible to educate Trip Advisor staff about basic geography. Trip Advisor has put Amazonia Expeditions Tahuayo Lodge and 10 other lodges in the geographic area of Paraiso, claiming that is their policy to zone us to the closest “city”. However, Paraiso is nothing more than a small collection of houses, no roads, no electricity, no running water, hardly a town, by no means a city. Anyone with basic knowledge of the region knows that the only true city in the region is Iquitos. In Iquitos, there are hotels, restaurants, tourist facilities. Nonetheless, Trip Advisor will not budge, insisting they must follow the information of Google Maps. On Google maps try to find Paraiso, Peru, and see what you can find. Does that look like a city to you? Even when all 11 lodge owners contacted Trip Advisor about the mistake, showing that on Google Earth, that Paraiso consisted of just a few houses, not a city, Trip Advisor would not budge.
Luckily, for the conscientious traveler, there are other alternatives to Trip Advisor. Organizations like the Rainforest Alliance, Travel Life, and others, provide a better in-depth look into businesses, taking into consideration ecotourism principles / ethical principles that Eco-travelers care about, for example, policies restricting the handling/molestation of wild animals (see our last blog). Particular mention here for the Rainforest Alliance, which is a not for profit organization working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods. Rainforest Alliance offers a rigorous and in-depth certification program. This certification program thoroughly investigates and annually audits businesses in several key areas including environmental impact, business ethics, social impact, and fair treatment of staff. Currently, Amazonia Expeditions’ Tahuayo lodge is one of only 2 lodges in the Amazon Rainforest to pass certification by the Rainforest Alliance.
As a business, we (unfortunately) do succeed or fail on the basis of Trip Advisor reviews. However, Trip Advisor is a travel website with lodging ratings primarily designed for hotels and resorts. As an ecotourism company, we often feel as though we are a square peg being forced into a round hole, by a company that has no conception of ecotourism values and ethics. Although Trip Advisor may sometimes be a useful tool in helping select your travel destinations, this does not mean it should be the only metric used when deciding where to vacation. For our conscientious travelers, we implore you to use additional considerations in reaching your travel choices.
We would love to hear from you! What do you think should be more important to rate on Trip Advisor? Commitment to the local community or quality of the cabins?