Here’s an idea for an online start-up: TrapAdvisor, warning online travel operators about possible fake reviews. It might have helped the folk at TripAdvisor realise there was something fishy about Oscar’s.
This is the fabricated South Devon seafood restaurant, last not seen in New Quay Lane in Brixham, that managed to swim into the top half of the town’s TripAdvisor dining listings before it was revealed to be a hoax.
Oscar’s deserves an online Oscar for inventions such as the conceit that divers would plunge into the Channel to find the fish of your dreams. Meanwhile TripAdvisor invites derision for failing to smell a rat among the fruits de mer with the assertion that the venue was a “Phantom Class” fishing vessel. The company’s press statement – “Occasionally a review or business that does not meet TripAdvisor's guidelines may slip through the cracks” – rather makes a mockery of previous claims that the firm has sophisticated systems designed to detect false reviews.
But does the immensely successful online review site deserve a name change to ClapTrapAdvisor? No. The success of Oscar’s creator in revealing the vulnerability of TripAdvisor to vexatious reviews will put a spring in the step of every enterprise that has every suspected that a rival – or simply a customer with a grudge – has unfairly besmirched their reputation. But it also reminds all of us who use the site that, as with Oscar’s lobster thermidor, ratings are best taken with a pinch of salt.
A large majority of customer reviews are no doubt genuine, and the sheer weight of numbers makes TripAdvisor a usually reliable source. You can continue to plan your next trip with the considerable help of like-minded travellers who provide free and fair comment. Don’t, though, make it your only source.
When seeking out a good place to lunch in Geneva last Sunday, I could have trawled through hundreds of reviews for dozens of restaurants. But that would have taken longer than devouring the delicious salad at Chez Ma Cousine on the Place du Bourg-de-Four, as recommended by Lonely Planet’s Switzerland guide. No doubt a helpful local (especially the police, I find) would have suggested an equally satisfying budget venue had I sought advice on the street. And wandering through the lanes of Geneva’s Old Town (or, indeed, Brixham) in search of sustenance is far more rewarding then trawling through listings on TripAdvisor.
The world, in these days of low-cost travel, may be your oyster, but you are just as likely to find a pearl of a place by chance. And on the subject of oysters: beware the bivalves at Oscar’s.