Reviews are great. They help us make decisions on things as small as which toothpaste will leave us the most minty fresh or as large as where to go and stay for one of the biggest events in our lives. We put our trust in people we don’t even know because hey, they’ve tried it [toothpaste, restaurant, resort, etc.], right, so they know best? Right? We benefit from their supposedly-seasoned knowledge and should put our faith in their review.
Or should we?
A new study conducted by the University of Baltimore’s economist Professor Roberto Cavazos claims that counterfeit content will influence an astonishing $21 billion in travel bookings worldwide this year. Cavazos defined fake online reviews as any review that isn’t a consumer’s honest and impartial opinion and does not reflect a genuine experience of a product, service, or business. Fashion, beauty, entertainment, housewares and electronics top the list for most-faked reviews. Travel ranks sixth.
$21 billion in travel bookings based on fake, or significantly biased, reviews!
As a luxury travel advisor who takes immense pride in what I and my team do, this number is appalling! As is where the counterfeit content appears. This particular study referenced above focused on the most influential sites (that claim to contain honest and unbiased reviews), like Yelp, Trust Pilot, TripAdvisor, etc. Roughly 4% of reviews are fake, according to the study, with Yelp having an incredible 8% (so out of every hundred reviews you read on Yelp, eight are not real).
But it’s not just the “user-generated” sites. It’s also bloggers and influencers. Individuals thought of as legitimate, trustworthy sources who are making millions every year from biased content and bogus write ups. $100 or so out the window for a lackluster high-review-based meal is one thing. $10,000 spent for a resort vacation based on bogus reviews is very serious money.
The fake reviews are even prevalent, though, within our own industry. Travel agents new to the biz (or even established ones) trying to get more clients may hype a restaurant, resort, or destination they haven’t experienced. Or they’ll get their friends and families to post reviews about a vacation or their services, without having experienced either.
Or there may be a hotel that looks amazing online, but when you arrive, you discover those spectacular photos were what it looked like a few years ago, and it is now in far from tip-top condition.
And finally, there are reviews that are real and not meant to be misleading, but are. For example, someone who just went on their honeymoon may tout “the best resort ever,” and it might have been for a honeymoon, but not as great for a family trip with teenagers and toddlers.
So what does all this mean for you?
When planning a luxury trip, you need to work with an experienced team—one who has either been to the resorts and restaurants they’re recommending (or who have trusted affiliates they absolutely depend on) and can truly vouch for your experience, one who can not only help with meal reservations but also create a complete itinerary truly suited to your needs and wants, and one who can help make sure you are spending your money wisely.
In just this summer alone, The Shameless Tourist’s team of four has visited more than 45 different properties covering nine states, eight countries, and three continents, including places like Walt Disney World, St. Martin, Boston, Africa, Slovenia, Croatia, Paris and more.
This summer alone.
Our recommendations may not be the most popular choice according to the reviews. It may not even be something on your radar (either resort or destination wise). But you can trust us that it will be the best recommendation for your particular set of circumstances based on places we have actually experienced (and those are vast, as you can see from our example above).
Thumbs down on a big thumbs-up-reviewed resort in Costa Rica
A particular resort in Costa Rica has great reviews everywhere online. However, their customer service is terrible. Trying to plan activities with their concierge was frustrating and time consuming. We primarily booked the resort for surfing. When we arrived, they had forgotten to set up our surfing lessons. We also booked an expensive fishing charter; however, they ended up setting it up as a snorkeling trip. In addition to all the wasted time, we were also significantly overcharged, for which we never received a response after several attempts.
Zack and Kelly could have honeymooned at this New England Inn
We visited a Virtuoso-affiliated country inn in New England that had beautiful photos on its website. When we arrived, we were greeted with a roof that needed to be redone, peeling paint, and an overall 80s feel (in that it hadn’t been refreshed or revamped since Saved by the Bell’s hey days). However, we found a hotel right next door that was much nicer but that wasn’t really on the radar. It didn’t have a pool like the original one, but it was an eminently better property.
Exceptional family value in Destin
Next is a family resort in Destin that again has great reviews online. I agree with those, and I would even recommend it further. It is an exceptionally good value for what it is, as you get Virtuoso amenities including a lazy river, splash pad, zero entry pool, and more, for usually less than $500 per night. Additionally, it is steps away from one of the prettiest beaches in Florida. And while I’m not completely obsessed with Destin as a Florida destination (there are much prettier towns, in my opinion), it is a very nice family resort (with beach service!) at a great value.
Bloggers don’t necessarily know St. Barth
This next example is a really good one in terms of relevance to this article. This St. Barth’s resort has tons of bloggers and influencers repping and promoting it, but the reviews and info about it aren’t entirely truthful. While it does have cute rooms, it has issues that should be considered before booking. The onsite restaurant was awful and the service was terrible. The beach restaurant was also not good. Additionally, the hotel itself is not beachfront. In our opinion, there are other, better choices in St. Barths.
And we can say that because we have been there and experienced all aspects of that property, as well as countless others, all over the world.
At The Shameless Tourist, we believe your hard-earned money is important. We believe that if you are spending thousands on a vacation, then it should be well worth it. As for our credentials, The Shameless Tourist is an Independent Affiliate of Avenue Two Travel, one of the most well respected travel agencies in the luxury travel sphere, and we are a top producer and preferred partner with most of the world’s best hotels and resorts, tour operators, and cruise lines. We have personal contacts around the travel world, many of whom we call friends. In addition to our contacts, we also collectively spend hundreds of days each year attending webinars, reading news, listening to podcasts, and personally touring or experiencing dozens and dozens of the properties we most often recommend. Our clients are VIPs at our preferred partner hotels and receive all of the “in the know” knowledge of practically any destination they choose.
You can rest assured, there are no bogus recommendations from our team, as our own reviews will attest (see what we did there 😉 ).