Norfolk hotels and restaurants rate TripAdvisor
- Credit: copyright: Archant 2014
For many, it is the first point of call when booking a holiday or meal out – but with little regulation, and 350 million visitors a month, review website TripAdvisor often leaves businesses divided. Tourism correspondent Lauren Cope looks at how it affects Norfolk's hotels and restaurants.
In the days before travel moved online, picking where to holiday or have dinner was left, largely, to the pages of glossy brochures or word of mouth.
It is a far cry from today, with holidaymakers, at just the click of a button, able to scroll through millions of reviews for everything from a five-star beach hotel to the local village pub.
Online reviews are thought to influence billions of pounds of trade, while a survey of 217 EDP readers online revealed that more than 85pc hop online before picking up the phone.
And as a TripAdvisor top spot often brings a steady stream of trade, businesses lower down can be left with little chance of competing with their first-page ranked competitors.
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Vanessa Scott, of Strattons Hotel in Swaffham, said one guest threatened to post negative pictures if they did not refund his money.
'We were able to work out that he had already posted the pictures online under a different name,' she said, 'and they weren't a problem for us. We also checked and saw that he had not complained about anything while he was with us.
'He gave us a list of people that he'd tell that we were awful and so on. He asked his friends and family to post too – but the comments were easy to identify as they just repeated his complaints.'
They alerted TripAdvisor, sent documents proving it was blackmail and the site removed him and the associated comments.
But Mrs Scott warned even genuine comments may appear misleading.
'The danger with the lack of regulation is that you don't know what's gone on to get to that point,' she said. 'We've had people complain that our check-in was 'shambolic', but they've come hours earlier when the previous people were still in their rooms.
'I would really advise people to talk to businesses about complaints while they are there – I know as a hotelier I wouldn't want people unhappy but carrying on anyway.
'I do think there is a place for TripAdvisor, particularly if complaints haven't been dealt with, but there is a need for suspicion.'
What it's like to be No1 on TripAdvisor
For Norwich city centre's Grosvenor Fish Bar – placed first in Norwich and third in Norfolk on TripAdvisor for restaurants – the site has brought a noticeable boost in customers.
Co-owner Christian Motta said: 'It has made a difference to business – people who are visiting Norfolk or the city tell us they are trying the top five or 10 restaurants. People locally also say they are curious and want to see what it's all about.'
But he said the bar's long-running city connections – before Mr Motta and Duane Dibartolomeo took it over three years ago, his father had run it for more than 40 years – central location, 'good food and good atmosphere' are equally as important.
'It is a good website, and it's been helpful for giving us feedback and getting your name out there, but there are other factors to consider,' he said. 'People can't judge somewhere purely on a rating – it's down to tastes and individual experience. There are lots of great restaurants.'
Further afield, online reviews can be a helpful signpost to businesses which are not within wandering distance.
Karen Connor, owner of The Mulberry in Thetford, said on the whole the site had bolstered their trade.
'It is a scary prospect that anyone with an email address can log on and write something,' she said, 'but for us it has been a really good thing. Today people use the internet and online searches way more than you would use a guide book.
'You get people who aren't just looking specifically at Thetford, but are looking more widely and decide to come because of it.
'We had thousands of bad reviews'
While positive ratings and bookings largely go hand-in-hand, a less than glowing TripAdvisor page can act as a hurdle.
When Wendy Timewell took over Hotel Wroxham just over six months ago, she had to overcome a negative picture which had already been painted online.
'We had thousands of bad reviews which was difficult,' she said. 'But they started to get better and there is now a marked difference on the page.
'We have people say they'd wanted to stay here for ages and that seeing the new positive reviews made them decide now was the right time, so in a way it has worked in our favour.
'There are still some bad reviews but most are fair and I understand most of them – we are going through a time of transformation.'
She said it was 'critical' for businesses to take notice of the website.
TripAdvisor was launched in 2000 as a place for travel professionals to post reviews – but when consumer reviews began to massively outweigh those from the industry, the focus of the site was reconsidered.
Today, it has more than 320 million reviews covering more than six million accommodations, restaurants and attractions.
What are your experiences of TripAdvisor? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your comments below.