Tripadvisor.com has changed the way most of us book travel – in many ways for the better, but not all. Like any popularity contest, tripadvisor ratings are a broad reflection of the wide universe of travelers, whose collective opinions, priorities and taste levels are certainly different than mine – and I’m guessing yours. There’s also an enormous financial incentive for businesses to focus on improving their tripadvisor ratings, and many businesses have employed cunning techniques that accomplish it (I know, I have consulted for some of them).
Last weekend in Edinburgh, Marcio and I checked out Kismot, #2 among the 781 tripadvisor rated restaurants in town. It’s a perfect example of the trouble with tripadvisor. First let me say, there’s nothing wrong with Kismot itself. The food was tasty and affordable, and the service was friendly and efficient. All traits one would hope for in a restaurant – in fact the same ones that have made McDonalds and Subway the most popular restaurants in the world. And there’s the rub.
Kismot has deftly paired them with a compelling story (Mom and dad are cooking in the kitchen!), a PR gimmick (The hottest curry in Scotland!), and a social media contest (Finish the curry, and we’ll post your photo on our hall of fame!) to propel themselves to the #2 spot on TripAdvisor. (#1, if you're curious, is Karen's Unicorn, a Chinese restaurant)
When I travel, I’m not looking for “popular” meals. I’m looking for interesting, local cuisine and restaurants with a sense of history or place. I’m looking for experiences I can’t have at home, not contests. I’m looking for the restaurants like Ship on The Shore, and Angels with Bagpipes, highly recommended by our taxi driver, and the front desk agent at the Sheraton Grand* in Edinburgh, but ranked #33 and #29 respectively on tripadvisor.
Social Media has the potential to better tailor recommendations to our individual tastes and priorities, but it’s not there yet. In the mean time, local knowledge still rules, and being social still trumps social media when it comes to engaging with the world. Lift your eyes from the screen, and engage the locals around you in conversation. That’s the magic of travel.
*I generally find American big-chain hotels dull and insulating – especially the Sheraton/Hilton/Marriotts of the world, but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the service, location, gym, spa and newly renovated rooms at the Sheraton Grand. More on Edinburgh hotels later this week.