The “grade inflation” of tourist destination ratings

Grade Inflation We’ve talked in the past about using Trip Advisor, Zagat and other similar things and when I travel I’m only growing more found of rating apps and websites. I think there is a lot to be said about the theory that large groups of stupid people may be able to give you better information than small groups of smart people. This is why things like Intrade can provide so many interesting insights (although I think they may be dead wrong on this coming presidential election). It really works nicely with hotels and restaurants because in these cases you want (or at least I want) consistency more than I want to know what sort of fruit the most expensive red wine on the menu has “hints of” from some douchey snobby asshole that writes for some magazine, newspaper or restaurant guide for a living. If 100 people say the place is perfect it’s more likely that I will have a better than average experience there than if some snob happened to have a good experience there once (and if he’s a known critic maybe the restaurant was giving him special treatment). So the bottom line is that I think rating sites are a fantastic way to select hotels and restaurants quickly, easily and efficiently. I like to spend my time on vacation much more than planning vacations! However, I do have one big gripe and that is the inflated ratings!

Dumb western morons and Singaporean retards, to name a few, are too easily impressed by mediocre (or even bad) hotels and restaurants. They are also too stupid to objectively grade things on even something as simple as a one to five scale in several basic categories. So this results in “grade inflation” of the ratings. The reality is you cannot possibly dream of being guaranteed a good experience with less than 4/5 rating on Trip Advisor. In some locales it has to be 4.5/5 or higher and even then you won’t be guaranteed. Some fat pasty trailer trash family will go to some roach infested 2 1/2 star all inclusive resort in Cancun and give it a 5/5 on Trip Advisor. Total shit holes routinely end up with 3 1/2 out of 5 or higher ratings that they don’t deserve at all. Therefore you really have to be picky. I would say in general you need to add at least one point to whatever you think you want but in some places it’s even worse. So if you feel like you would be satisfied with a 3/5 venue you better look at 4/5 plus. If you are a four and five star hotel kind of guy then you better not dream of looking at anything under 4 1/2 out of 5 and its’ probably better to stick with 5/5 or at least places that have received a Trip Adivsor award.

In the worst out of worst places, like Singapore for example, the rating systems break down entirely because the people are too retarded to rate accurately or objectively. Let me give you an example, some time ago I ate at a Chinese restaurant that was rated 4 1/2 out of 5 on Trip Advisor with over one hundred reviews all raving about how good the food was, how it was reasonably priced, how the service was great, etc. It was listed as a $10 – $15 restaurant. The reality was the service was mediocre, the food was horrible (some things were almost inedible) and the price per person for a decent meal and a drink was $80-$100. This restaurant isn’t a statistical outlier either, Singapore is full of similar examples. The point here is that you’ve got to calibrate to your locale and in some places you can’t trust the voting pool to give you an intelligible rating at all, they’re just not competent to do it. In that case you’d be better off looking at at source that will have reviews predominantly written by travelers rather than locales, Trip Advisor is often not good in that.

Zagat is a company I’m very found of and I hope that Google acquiring them won’t fuck up what they do and how they do it. Zagat really invented the way to survey the average moron and get a very finely tuned and accurate rating of the quality of a restaurant or hotel. They survey regular average consumers on four different dimensions on a 0 to 3 scale (0 being worst and 3 being best). The dimensions are: service, food quality, decor and price. The thing is that in a large metro area a 0 to 3 scale is not enough range to finely grade all the thousands of dining and hotel options, however, the average idiot on the street is hard pressed to decide if something is worthy of a 2/3 or 3/3 let alone a 27/30 vs a 28/30. Such was the genius of Zagat, they somehow created some computer algorithm that took these 0-3 scale responses and converted them to a 1-30 scale and a damn accurate one at that (except for price, that was $, $$, $$$ or $$$$ if I remember correctly). You could be pretty damn sure that you would never, ever have a bad meal if you went for a >=22 food quality rating on Zagat. Would it be wonderful? Sometimes yes, sometimes no but pretty much never “bad” or “terrible”. Let’s hope that Google doesn’t fuck up this wonderful system in their attempts to take it world wide and apply it to all their Google local listings. Whatever the case, I would say this an example of a typical and representative smart Google acquisition as opposed to Facebook’s average acquisition which is, retarded, overpriced and has no revenue or business model, like Instagram. But I’m getting off on a tangent here.

The other thing that pisses me about these various rating site and apps is what happens when you do find a truly 5/5 place. Everything about the place is perfect, they really deserve the rating, the go the extra mile, they wait on you hand and foot and provide a good value with a unique experience to boot. Plus, it’s not just you that feels this way it’s hundreds of others. I recently stayed at a place that 222 ratings with a breakdown as follows: 194 5/5, 17 4/5, 7 3/5, 3 2/5, 1 1/5. That means 95% of visitors, out of over 200 surveyed felt this was a 4/5 experience or better (“very good” to “excellent”). That’s pretty staggering. What I want to know is who are the motherfucking assholes that rated this place 3/5 or less and especially the ones that rated 2/5 or less. Was something not quite perfect? Did they stub a toe on the walk? Did they find a single spec of dust on their nightstand? I mean what kind of a horrible worthless human being goes online and trashes some small business owners that just waited on them hand and foot to provide the experience of a life time and rates them “terrible, 1/5” or “poor, 2/5”? Look at all the places with the most stellar ratings, I bet even if there is a way to find the most highly rated place on all of Trip Advisor, there will be way more assholes than you would think that rated it “terrible”. Who are these people and where do they come from?

My conclusion here is as follows: as cultured and well traveled people let’s make a pact, let’s get out there and rate places that treat us really well or really badly. Nobody has time to be running around rating everything but if somebody goes the extra mile for you, go the extra mile for them and tell the world about how awesome they are – rate them 4/5 or 5/5 and say why. Likewise, if somebody fucks you over let’s help put them out of business by rating them poor or terrible – maybe somebody more deserving will take over the place and make it right. And lastly, if you find a place where the problem is the local population handing out retarded ratings that make no sense, get on there and help out a fellow traveler – post a review that explains articulately and in detail why not to believe the masses. A well reasoned and articulate review can sway my opinion against hundreds of other votes if they are all just babbling the same nonsense and I sure do appreciate someone saving me from having a miserable time or getting ripped off. There is nothing I find more convenient than being able to whip out my smart phone and line up a hotel or restaurant in minutes that fits my budget and is all but guaranteed to provide me exactly what I’m looking for. If you have a favorite travel guide site, app or book please list it in the comments. Happy travels!

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