Arthur Frommer: Opposing online views befuddling

08/07/2011 12:00 AM

08/07/2011 6:06 AM

I was recently curious about a large and long-established resort hotel known as the Melia Varadero on Varadero Beach in Cuba, and so I went to to see how the Canadian public (the majority of its clientele) were reacting to it. What a problem I encountered! Dozens of people liked it, and dozens of people hated it.

One former guest wrote (and you can check the accuracy of my quotes by going to the famed user-generated site):

"This was a great experience, nice food ... beautiful beach and clean hotel. I will definitely recommend this hotel to others."

But another guest wrote: "I have never seen such a filthy dining room. They clearly NEVER cleaned the floors, and the staff could not give a rip. Probably because they get paid $30 a month. The food was horrible, too."

Another guest praised every aspect of the hotel: "It was just unforgettable. At the end of our vacation we didn't want to leave this awesome place."

But another guest found it atrocious: "I'm a sales manager in TUI — giant European travel conglomerate — ... please don't choose this hotel. Hotel is dirty with ugly small beach with stones on both sides. Rooms were dirty, mold was everywhere."

Still another guest disagreed: "It is a very clean hotel, smells like it has just been cleaned. The food was amazing."

But another guest persisted in criticizing: "The hotel is old and in need of repair and daily maintenance. The gardens were in need of help. . . . I have been in three-star hotels in the Dominican Republic and South America that made this place look like a hovel. The food was disgusting."

And yet: "We really enjoyed all that time. We got a room with an ocean view and it was fantastic. We definitely like the hotel's area. The beach and the pool are wonderful." From another: "We had some really good meals." And another: "There is a large choice of good food in the restaurant."

How do you reach a conclusion with reviews like those? In all, on the day I went to TripAdvisor, there were 461 reviews claiming the Melia Varadero was "Excellent" or "Very Good," and 126 reviews claiming the Melia Varadero was "Poor" or "Terrible." But how many of those people who responded "Excellent" or "Very Good" were knowledgeable and well-traveled, and how many were innocents (or friends of the management)? How many of those who responded "Poor" and "Terrible" were disgruntled blame-finders, and how many were judicious and talented travelers? Should more credence be given to an executive in the travel world (the man from TUI), or to a young person experiencing his or her very first visit to the tropics?

You know my opinion. I will continue to rely on the judgments of well-traveled, experienced, highly-thought-of journalists and not on the hasty viewpoints of 20-somethings making their first trip from home. I will continue to believe that TripAdvisor carries the seeds of its own destruction. That it is capable of being manipulated by hotel managers urging their guests to submit favorable reviews (apparently, it is a widespread practice).

And with the best of intentions, I will continue to be absolutely befuddled by the diametrically opposed views found in most of that website's analyses.

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