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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  • rberman1

    You seem mystified/offended that a small minority (+/-5%) rated restaurants/hotels as average/below average when those same establishments received outstanding ratings by the overwhelming majority. Rather than trash the raters and trivialize their issues with the places they rated average/below average, why not assume that the raters had a below average experience? It is certainly within the realm of possibility that a restaurant that serves great meals with outstanding service 95% of the time can perform below expectations 5% of the time. However, your impatience with the minority that assigns below average ratings to otherwise highly rated experiences does not extend to yourself. You are mystified/offended by the overwhelming majority who “overrated” certain hotels/restaurants in Singapore and elsewhere as outstanding when you experienced them as average/below average. Perhaps you had an atypically bad experience. (Btw-it is especially ironic that you mention Singapore. At least in the case of Asian hotels and airlines (i.e. Singapore Air, ANA etc. Mandarin and Taj chains of hotels), most experienced travelers understand that Asian service providers-are head and shoulders above their Western counterparts at every price point, especially at top end).

    One final point: What is your obsession with the word “retarded”? You used it at least 3 times in your screed. Don’t you understand that it is deeply offensive to many people and like the “N word” is simply not part of most people’s vocabulary? People who use the word “retarded” repeatdely are considered “assholes” (another of your favorite words) by most people

    • If you’re offended by the word “retard”, and you can’t tell the difference between how we intend it: as “someone with a normal development who makes no use of their brain” from “developmentally disabled” then this website is a little too advanced for you.

      Furthermore, just because a hotel is in Asia it doesn’t mean that it’s good, idiot. I have stayed in 4+ star hotels in Singapore with daily fuckups of simple things by the staff.

      • gray

        Charlie, Manuel you boys are pathetic. You should pray everyday that you breathe that we never cross paths. I guarantee you do not speak this way in public. If I heard this douche ranting/crying I would turn your whole head region into red pudding. Watch yourselves.

  • Another caveat I remembered: a lot of hotels encourage people to comment on TripAdvisor so that they can win stuff like an iPod or something. Now, they don’t say that it has to be a positive one, but a lot of dumbasses feel that they have to suck up to the hotel to get it. This kind of tactic inflates the hotel’s rating and the hotel’s management knows it. Luckily, in most cases, there are guests who catch on to the scam and will not hesitate to let you know about it.

  • Gary

    Great article, I can only really comment on TA although I’m from NY don’t use Zagat often, my apologies if this comment is lengthy. Just want to say as a global traveler I’ve used TA for 10yrs now, it in some respects it went from my best friend when booking hotels to now my worst enemy (all the high rated low cost hotels are usually sold out months in advance) I attribute this to alot of “mom bookings” since now the mother who books the family trips is using TA as opposed to a travel agent more often at least it appears this way in the states IMO (basing this on alot more “mom” reviews). As a seasoned solo traveler I NEVER take 1 or a couple of reviews as face value for any destination, I agree the general public is often stupid, but if you use TA reviews to simply steer you in the correct direction so to speak its awesome. Peoples opinions allow you to dial in a specific part of a city you may want to stay, & of course you’ll always get nit picking whiny babies photographing a stain on the door handle when paying $100 a night for a room. This allows for an overall picture of what your getting, some helpful tips sometimes, & of course there are “planted” reviews just look for low review counts or only a few cities traveled usually they can quickly be weeded out. Manual, I would like to also point out haven’t you noticed hotels globally with TA decals on their windows & signs in there lobby, what I’m grateful for are ANY websites that allow us to review our stay, finally forcing hotels GLOBALLY to step up their game so to speak to keep us as a customer or keep their business alive.

    Finally I want to point out I always start my reviews with Im critical in all my reviews as TA has always helped me so Im paying it forward. I then continue with both the positive & if any certainly the negative aspects of my stay. I have an expectation level based on price, location etc so I’m not walking into a $100 a night dive expecting comparable treatment to say the 4 seasons you get what you pay for obviously. I’m definetely not employed by TA although I should be by now I have a ton of reviews, simply speaking for my positive experience on a site that in 10yrs and many, many countries really hasn’t let me down so to speak in terms of what to expect when I arrive. Good luck in your travels fellow dudes.

  • Michael

    Don’t forget to mention the “planted” reviews. There are always morons, but savvy destinations also plant reviews, just like for online shopping sights. I’ve run across cut and past jobs for almost everywhere I’ve been in Europe and the big countries in S.A.

  • That’s why I read the low reviews if possible. Even if a place doesn’t have more than a few reviews you can usually tell if the person who wrote it has a legitimate gripe of if their just an imbecile who thought some hostel in Budapest was going to be the Ritz-Carlton.

  • I bet you guys at Single Dude’s must leave comments about all your good and bad experiences on TA, don’t you guys? I’d love to be lucky enough to read them one day.

  • turnerbarrTurner

    Interesting. A lot of travel bloggers as well provide reviews from sponsored trips, but like you mention, once your trip is free, no matter how bad or average the place/trip was, you would be hard pressed to see a review on calibre that reflects such. I went on a tour recently, it was shit, wrote bad feedback (not even a bad article) and am now more likely than not black balled from that agency I didn’t kiss ass.

    • I bet. There is still something to be said for walking away with your integrity though – good job!

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