Back when I used to work as a travel editor, I used to get asked about Tripadvisor all the time.
Do you use it? What do you think of it? Is it fair?
These questions are cropping up again, after the Broadway Hotel in Blackpool charged a couple £100 for posting a bad review on the website. The exact words were 'rotten, stinking hovel'.
The hotel got away with it because it's tucked away in the booking contract which let's face it, no one really looks at properly.
Trading Standards from Cumbria County Council are investigating, but the real question is why on Earth did the hotel feel compelled to do such a thing in the first place?
While I cannot condone their actions - which surely is a gagging order dressed up as a contractual stipulation - there is a point to be addressed by the website about the honesty of reviews and how they have the power to make or break a hotel.
I'm not the first one to write about this and I certainly won't be the last, but perhaps the power of balance does need to be redressed. I've heard horror stories of hotels who are blackmailed by guests into getting a discount or otherwise they will receive a bad review, and those who get bad reviews find that it does impact their business.
No great shakes if you're the Hilton maybe, but for a small business owner it can be devastating.
Then there is the questionable nature of listening to these other reviews.
When we're looking for a hotel, we have to remember that we're listening to the opinions and expectations of hundreds of people a) we've never met and b) have vastly varying levels of expectations. Even in our own family and friends circles this is evident - I would not want to be the hapless concierge that ends up housing my mother, for instance.
On the other hand, I do understand the need to post a bad review, because having stayed in a couple (thankfully the good overwhelm the bad) my first urge is to warn people so that they don't make the same mistake.
So what's the solution?
The first, I think, is using Tripadvisor for what it is - a collection of opinions about a property that aren't professional reviews. So lowering your expectations of the site for one, and sifting out the useful information from the petty grievances.
I always check Tripadvisor before booking a holiday because I find it acts as an immediate up-to-date looking glass at the property. Your guidebook published two years ago will not be able to do this, and there is no other rival site in my opinion that offers such a fast flow of information.
The one time I chose to disregard it was at my expense, when I unknowingly booked a hotel that was opposite a building site (how bad it could it be?) and then had to move when I heard the din. This is not information the apartment we booked with chose to share with us.
The second is that Tripadvisor needs to acknowledge the impact the site has on hotels and other businesses and offer proprietors more recourse than writing a response to a bad review. (It always comes across as whingey).
At the moment the power of balance is with the consumer, and while that may sound like a good thing and may prevent hotels getting away with shoddy service, it's also hurting businesses who just may have happened to provide the wrong kind of towels.