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Kangeroo court, or carefully considered? How much salt should we pinch when reading a ‘trusted’ review for a local dining hot or not spot? Industry leviathan site TripAdvisor carries over 200 million user-reviews, and according to comScore, TripAdvisor is the most visited travel and restaurant review website in the world. With almost 67 million unique monthly visitors and with an average of 280 new reviews every minute, they spring from passionate people eager to defame or delight in everything from a local lunch for two to a romantic getaway in a remote hotel for three – but can we trust them?

Personally, when a denouncement is entitled “Poo in my kettle”, “I found a cat’s paw in my pillow-case” or “The owner kept trying to sell me the hotel”, I begin to wonder whether I’m not reading the notes to a Fawlty Towers sketch? But then, can a parody exist without a nugget of truth from which to pastiche?

All of our reviews here at Amble are both an independent and unbiased account of our experience, but with mounting criticism of the TA review giant, and the assertion that more than 10 million reviews are fake, we beg the question – is TripAdvisor doing enough to authenticate reviews or remove fraudulent posts?

As a professional food writer in the digital age, I love that reviewing the industry has become so democratised. David has become Goliath, but in federating the process, we’ve also retired the gatekeepers that filter the fallacious. The power of the service TA offers is undeniable, yet for me, it raises significant questions about credibility, including, most pressingly, who do we trust to tell us where to go on holiday or where to eat locally?

TripAdvisor started out as an essential and alternative source of information, but I fear it’s become a hulking colossus, soap-boxing a disproportionately large and powerful voice from masses of anonymous reviewers, resulting in the spread of unfiltered misinformation. And that’s assuming the reviews are honestly written by the genuine.

Gary Usher of Sticky Walnut (see our review here), and the man behind Burnt Truffle, Hispi and more recently Wreckfish, took TA to task by submitting a ridiculous review of his Hoole based site, Sticky Walnut.

“I wanted to show how bullshit it is,” says Gary Usher, the Chester chef whose fake write-up was praised by food critics including Jay Rayner, for exposing TripAdvisor’s questionable review screening process.

Usher tweeted a screenshot of his review, posing as a diner and describing a recent visit to his Chester based restaurant (Sticky Walnut). He claims that, “the manager came over & ate my dawg I was so annoyed I got up on the table and painted the ceiling with my fingers which are made out of paint brushes.” TA awarded him 200 points and a badge for his mockery. This review was subsequently taken down by TA. They declined to comment on why it managed to slip through their robust validation process.

Opinion and fact are not one in the same, and some might argue that perception is reality, but that’s a rather trite maxim to which few of us subscribe. To illustrate this, I logged into TA and typed in the search term “Racist” This came up 12,173 times and when reading through these reviews, it was clear that accusations were rarely backed up with an explanation of why they had made such a damaging statement. “Pervert” features in 833 reviews and includes statements like “the whole experience was marred by the number of perverts on parade” This reference was to a site that caters to the gay community, yet the damage that this reviewer could do to this business because of their closed minded outlook on diversity is frightening.

“There is a real risk of getting raped here,” wrote a reviewer of a hotel in Munich. I brushed off my German and called the hotel in question, who confirmed that the reviewer was a disgruntled ex-employee. The General Manager of the Hotel gave me three different crime reference numbers relating to that employees continued campaign against the hotel, following their dismissal for theft and being under the influence of drugs at work. The review remains on TA, despite the evidence provided to TA by the hotel to have them removed. I called TA and challenged them on why this damaging review hadn’t been taken down, and they merely hid behind an unwillingness to discuss the matter with me, as I wasn’t the hotel owner.

So how can we know that we can trust accusations that leave an indelible stain on an establishment? TA claim that reviews are the words of “trusted members of the travel community”, yet no checks are undertaken to verify the identity of the people who post them, and no proof of stay or dining experience is needed.

TripAdvisor is worth a staggering £2.5 Billion; perhaps they should invest some of that wealth in employing local experts to give unbiased reviews of hotels and restaurants, to give some balance to the reviews we so often read that benefit from a lack of an ignorance filter.

If you would like Amble to check out a venue, unlike the TripAdvisor scheme of recognition, Amble won’t offer you shiny badges, award you points or bestow you with the prestige of being an executive level 6 Ambler. Amble will, however, promise an unbiased review of the venues that matter to you. Get in touch; we would love to hear from you.