The hawk-eyed must have already realised that some movie reviews appear online before a film has even been released.
Typically they say: “Can’t wait!” – five stars or “How can they cast Ben Affleck in that role?” – one star.
Welcome to fake online reviews.
As regards consumer products, Amazon has been forced to tighten its policy, removing fraudulent reviews. Why, there is even one website dedicated simply to spotting them.
Surely that couldn’t happen in travel, could it?
In July 2013 we all cringed when fabricated fish joint, Oscar’s, jumped to the top of Tripadvisor’s restaurant list in Brixham with a number of reviews that cried out to be recognised as such (“this restaurant moves venues according to the time and tide”; “divers will plunge into the Channel to find the fish of your dreams”).
In June 2015 the experiment was duplicated by Italian magazine Italia e Tavola with the ficititious Ristorante Scaletta in Lombardy’s Moniga del Garda. (link in Italian).
We shouldn’t wait for 2017 or 2018 to bring up another example – online ratings are decidedly unreliable. Unscrupulous restaurateurs and hotel owners encourage clients to post positive reviews and even resort to besmirching the competition – some even buy reviews in special “writing farms” in India.
I dare say, relying on the internet is no substitute for reading a decent guidebook by a professional writer. Yes, I declare an interest; I do write guidebooks myself which is how I know first-hand the misinformation that can result by simply Googling.
I shudder when I remember that hostel in a seaside town that’s received glowing online assessments (though upon careful checking, in the distant past). On the phone they told me that, yes, they’re still open for business.
I was rather suspicious as I knew that this neighbourhood near the old port was a bit run down, so I paid a visit. Yes, the hostel was still open for business, but the local authority was placing homeless people in its dorms. Would I send a teenage girl there? Would you?
Then there was this campsite with a functioning website and many striking pictures of shaded surroundings. Even older versions of other guidebooks described it in glowing terms.
Still, I felt something was wrong, when looking at the map. Wasn’t that a region that suffered from forest fires recently? I drove there: it turned out that the campsite had burned down and nobody had bothered to update its website.
What about that great B&B, widely recommended online? I inspected it and was delighted, too: clean, spacious, central, inexpensive – but the owner had landed a second job and check-in/checkout was between 8-11am and 6-8pm.
How could I recommend something so decidedly inconvenient?
OK, some guidebooks also ask their writers to do their research online and do not pay them for trips. But they disappear after a few editions.You can find plenty of them in the travel section of a bookshop. Have you checked the book’s publication date?
It may be unfashionable in these post-truth times we live in, but my advice is still to trust the professionals: they have local knowledge and they’ve done the research for you.
What would you rather do: spend hours in front of the computer at home wading through dozens of restaurants in Cannes, or have a pleasant stroll in the Croisette armed with a copy of the Rough Guide to France?