We could see the green sign before we even reached our rental in Port Douglas, Australia.

“Certificate of Excellence, Trip Advisor 2014, 2015.”

“A bit tacky,” I heard a man behind us commenting as we entered the lobby later that week. I disagreed. This is the new world of traveling. While I’d seen fake print-outs of the certificate here and there in Thailand and Cambodia, it was easy to verify which businesses had actually earned them. Those little green signs say so much — offering tourists quality, consistency, and fairness.

We consulted TripAdvisor a year ago before we booked the Port Douglas rental, choosing this particular place because of the good reviews. It had mostly 4 or 5 stars, with a scattering of aggrieved 2s and 3s. It boasted clean sheets and towels, reliable (and quiet) air-conditioning, and most importantly — great Wi-Fi.

Contrast that with our trip to Peru in 2012, before review sites really hit their stride. We had an email stating the price of the room, but at check-out were surprised when the number given had nearly doubled. Sure enough, in 8-point font at the bottom of the email was an embedded condition stating that “Prices are subject to market value and may change without warning.” You can’t get away with doing things like this to your guests anymore, thanks to review sites.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The choice to tell the truth is in the hands of the consumer — whether the experience was good or bad. This, in turn, makes customer service and quality a priority to businesses, which is a beautiful thing.[/pullquote]

And while it seems obvious that reviews have positively changed traveling for tourists, more surprising, and possibly more important, is what review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp have done for the businesses reviewed.

CheapOair integrates Trip Advisor reviews into its hotel search engine for its customers!

CheapOair integrates Trip Advisor reviews into its hotel search engine for its customers!

“We were ready to fold,” said the owner of a cool, somewhat seedy burger joint in North Sydney. “But we make great food and people began to hear about us.” I looked around at the bustling scene there. There were tons of locals, with Australian accents heard as groups of teenagers chatted away. However, there was also a table of Chinese businessmen, a couple of tables of American accents, and several traveler backpacks that were thrown into the back of booths. Reviews from both locals and tourists alike had revived this place, which was quiet and unassuming, on a back road set away from the main street. Advertisements; neon signs; or even a naked, dancing acrobat with a sign touting “Free Burgers!” could not have done for this business what review sites have given: the platform for their customers to speak honestly.

There were tons of locals, with Australian accents heard as groups of teenagers chatted away. However, there was also a table of Chinese businessmen, a couple of tables of American accents, and several traveler backpacks that were thrown into the back of booths. Reviews from both locals and tourists alike had revived this place, which was quiet and unassuming, on a back road set away from the main street. Advertisements; neon signs; or even a naked, dancing acrobat with a sign touting “Free Burgers!” could not have done for this business what review sites have given: the platform for their customers to speak honestly.

 

So who’re leaving these reviews?

While I’m grateful to those who leave thorough reviews on restaurants and hotels and sites, I have to admit that as a frequent traveler, I waited in the wings, reading but not posting until I had a particularly negative experience. I sat down, my blood boiling as I typed out my complaints about wilted lettuce and a particularly absent and rude waitress. In a strange way, I felt that it was my way of “getting even” with the business because of my server’s behavior. 

Two days later, after I cooled down, I deleted that review. Not because it was negative, but because, after some time passed, I realized it was not honest. Not everything about that meal was poor. The portions were generous, the price was quite competitive, and despite some hang-ups with one particular employee, I enjoyed myself. BUT, I didn’t add those positives in my comments.

Since then, I’ve tried to be thoughtful about my reviews. It’s not fair to just say “Terrible!” without offering an explanation. Giving businesses the chance to improve is not just courteous to them (whose employee, or even lettuce, may have had an off day), it is also part of what gives reviews clout.

Ultimately, though, the decision to tell the truth is in the hands of the consumer — whether the experience was good or bad. This, in turn, makes customer service and quality a priority to businesses, which is a beautiful thing. Tourists are less likely to be ripped off, travel is safer, and your chances of paying twice the price you expected could still happen, but at least now you have a platform to warn others.

Five stars all around.

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