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Just How Real is Real?

Author: Bill Barnett. Category: News Column - Phuket Gazette. Posted: 29th Jun 2013

It's Wednesday and far too early in the day for an epiphany. I've just been online trying to book a trip to Nirvana and even my trusty sidekick Jimmy Zen can't help. No leap of faith here, no walking on water, just an aisle seat on the big bus.

In the whole wired world of travel, more and more hoteliers are becoming conflicted over online reviews. Jerry McGuire summed it up best with the line, "We live in a cynical world, a cynical, cynical world, and we work in a business of tough competitors."

Without a doubt it's a jungle out there. But I, like so many people when contemplating my weekend trip to Nirvana, jump up out of bed, fire up the laptop and click into TripAdvisor. What trendy accommodation lays waiting for me in this relatively unknown cosmic destination? Would there be free Wi-Fi or would I need to call down by telepathic communication for a midnight club sandwich?

Needless to say, in many ways like the techno giants of Apple, Microsoft, and now Samsung, the ubiquitous world of online reviews has changed the way we live (and travel). In the old days your first stop would be to pull out a map, but now we want instant karma, and to snag out the long tail of personalized recommendations. Yes, Uncle Sam may be listening in but who the hell cares; let him find out his own place in the sun.

And yet, just as I often reluctantly search out a Starbuck's on journeys abroad, I am drawn into the lair of TripAdvisor, often before I've even booked an airline ticket. Next stop oblivion? Yes, count me in; is there a designer hotel available for all of eternity?

TripAdvisor has many detractors, though, who point out their suspicions about fake reviews and hotel driven comments. Just a few months ago a high profile case hit the media in which ACCOR's Australian Communication Director Peter Hook was suspended for allegedly writing over 100 pro-company reviews under an alias.

A recently published study by Cornell University's Hospitality School on how social media impacts hotel performance (click here for report) showed a parallel between rises in favorable online reviews and market share. There it is in black and white; this stuff really does matter.

For detractors of Trip Advisor, there are emerging options such as Triptease.com and Gogobot.com which look to offer different, non-legacy, experiences. Another interesting site, KwikChex, is seizing an opportunity to lead the space in online reputation and internet defamation. Here, proof of quality is meant to assure customers that what they read online is credible and real.

Sure there are other players in the space, personally I book at Agoda for hotels and have never bothered to fill out the online review despite the promise of 500 rewards points. What's keeping me on the sideline? It's hard to say, but perhaps the brand universe for the moment remains the giant Mr Big. Sure this can all change, as MySpace can tell you.

For travellers, the Internet is a golden age for information and we have never had it so good, be it finding out the best seats to book on an airline, ranting about burnt waffles in Barcelona or trying to book a trip to Nirvana.

We indeed live in an imperfect world but certainly shifting through what's true, false or just plain gray is no easy task.

If anyone has a better suggestion, let me know; but for now, online reviews, well, they keep me coming back for more.

Now how about a great little Mexican restaurant south of Nirvana?

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