Would you welcome a system to rate the guests that stay in your property?
There is a sense that property owners are held hostage by reviews, that any requests from their guests have to be accommodated else they should suffer a poor review. And in the Internet age, 5 stars is the basic score and anything less than that is disaster. But now guests, passengers, and consumers are being reviewed by the providers of the services. The playing field has been leveled.
But if everyone has the power to review everything, will the experience of travel just aim to as acceptable as possible, to as many people as possible? Until we are left with a homogenized experience, that everyone thinks is good but not great? Hosts being unwilling to experiment with services and features in case they are untested and turn out to be unpopular, or guests reticent to voice dissatisfaction in case they are branded as ‘troublesome’? Are we not better off being left with a chance, a sense of excitement that what we are about to experience could be the greatest to some, but equally the worst for others?
Are Reviews Just Forcing Us to Pretend to be nice?
There are currently two problems with the current process of online reviews. The abundance and ubiquity of reviews mean that we forcing ourselves to manufacture opinions on experiences that do not necessarily warrant them. Because of this, we are conditioned to be more polemic when describing them.The expectation of social sharing also means that we lean toward the extreme when describing our experiences that are distributed on social media. Reviews are becoming a less accurate way to gauge the quality of a vacation rental.
We have the option to record our opinions on everything we do, buy or witness.Every experience is reflected upon and analyzed. Every moment is canonized and rushed through into an undercooked version of nostalgia. If each of our movements are recorded and stored for ludicrous posterity and reference how will we separate the experiences that are truly worthy of review and reflection? Nothing takes up space anymore. We no longer have to assess the worthiness of what we should keep. Where our dads would trudge boxes of old almanacs up to the loft, we compress and zip files and store them in a dusty corner of a hard drive. We don’t have to weigh up the cost of Amazonian rainforest to print reviews of taxi customers or hotel guests. We can do it, so we do.
Technological advancement has progressed faster than we had chance to assess whether it truly benefits us. Reviews are one such area. Is this just part of a collective narcissism that the minutiae of our daily lives somehow requires review and distribution? Is it even beneficial to know the opinions of every guest that has been before you?
Ubiquitous reviews mean that 5 stars is the standard and you are expected to have a reputation from the outset. We already have the problem of a J-shaped graph when it comes to online reviews, where people are more geared to rating in the extreme, i.e one or 5 stars. There is a sense that if there was no cause to complain about with your stay then it is worthy of a 5-star review. And if we encounter a property or level of service that is truly worthy of a 5 star rating, we are left unable to express this. We have used up all of our superlatives too quickly. If just being acceptable is cause for a top rating, what is the point of having the system?
Reviewing a property as 5-stars means that as a consumer, you chose well. You picked a property that was the best you could have hoped for. There is an odd satisfaction in having your choices justified, like the satisfaction of ordering a better dinner than your friends at a restaurant. Conversely, rating something as 1-star removes the burden of having to provide justification for your choice. If the property was 1-star, no-one could have enjoyed their stay there. If you didn’t enjoy yourself in a European cultural hub it suggests something about your capacity for fun or relaxation. To shift some of this responsibility onto a restaurant or your accommodation deflects this.
These experiences are then hot-housed under the lights of social sharing, quickly becoming a synthetic and artificial version of nostalgia and reverence. Remember that holiday we had? Yes, it was a week ago, I have barely had enough time to forget it. Should reviews and reflection be reserved for experiences that demand a response? Nothing is guessed at, we depend on experiences that come with a sort of guarantee of enjoyment, and travel is an area where this cannot ever be truly guaranteed. If our own experience does not match the apparent level of enjoyment in the reviews we read, are we likely to feel somehow short-changed?
This is the end of part 1, join us next Friday to read about how online reviews are set to change!