Recently I stayed in two rural hotels (not Tenerife). The rooms were comfortable but relatively basic. Both had stunning views and good local food. One had a pool and wifi, the other didn’t. I liked them both, but the one I preferred (the one with pool and wifi) didn’t get as good reviews on a travel website.
I couldn’t understand why at first, but reading reviews more closely revealed the answer. The more basic hotel could only be reached via a fifteen minute walk along a trail. Nearly all the guests who stayed there were hikers. Hikers stay in rural hotels a lot and know what they’re getting. The other hotel could be reached by road, making it more accessible. From comments it was clear some guests expected the sort of facilities found in the average coastal resort hotel and were disappointed when these didn’t materialise. It wasn’t a hotel where you would spend two weeks lying around a pool. Basically, some people gave it a poor review because they hadn’t researched properly and had chosen somewhere that wasn’t suitable for them.
When it comes to recommendations about travel destinations, hotels, restaurants etc. there’s a world of information at our fingertips. However, getting the best from the internet can be like negotiating a minefield.
UGC means ‘user generated content’; websites where reviews and tips are left by real travellers. They’re immensely popular and are great for travel planning. I use them a lot, but with caution.
UGC sites include information covering far more restaurants and hotels than you’ll find in a guidebook. The downside is you don’t know the preferences of the reviewers, so reading between the lines is essential.
I recently saw a review of a restaurant in Puerto de la Cruz which suggested the place wasn’t popular because there was hardly anyone in it at 6pm. If you found any Canarios in a restaurant at 6pm it would only because lunch had dragged on; 6pm is late afternoon here.
The problem with UGC sites isn’t what reviewers know about a destination, it’s what they don’t know. They’re ideal for all sorts of information but there’s often quite a bit of misinformation. We recently spent some time walking in Cape Verde. Our trip was bookended by stays on Sal, a popular beach and sun destination. We only spent a few hours on arrival; time for a look around, a beach-side beer, and then dinner. At the end of our trip we stayed overnight. It was long enough to spot the first few pages of a travel review site forum had a substantial amount of incorrect advice about some quite basic things.
It’s not uncommon and some can be real howlers. I remember someone being told by a site ‘expert’ they were confusing Tenerife with Egypt when they asked about the island’s pyramids (they’re in Guimar incidentally).
One of my pet hates on UGC sites is when a reviewer marks down a hotel/restaurant because of their own mistakes/misunderstanding/ineptitude.
We recently stayed at a medium sized rural hotel on Gran Canaria located in a WOW of a position in the mountains. But it was marked down by some people because there was nothing to do, there was little nightlife and getting anywhere on the winding, mountain roads was difficult. I fume when I read things like this and shout at the screen ‘IT’S A RURAL HOTEL DUNDERHEID, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?’
One that really had the steam bellowing from my ears was from a couple on Tenerife who turned up at a restaurant before it was due to open and demanded to be let in… even though they could see the staff were trying to eat their own dinner before opening to the public. This selfish pair gave the restaurant a poor rating because the owner asked them to wait till the staff finished eating and the restaurant officially opened.
UGC websites are incredibly useful as long as you are able to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Travel Company Websites and Travel Blogs
Travel company websites are in the business of selling holidays, so they’re bound to tell you how good a resort is.
However, because they’re selling holidays doesn’t mean they’re not good sources of information. The more savvy companies now have travel blogs written by ‘insiders’. But again exercise caution. If a travel company’s site doesn’t mention who the ‘insiders’ are, the chances are those ‘insiders’ are writing from an office in Britain.
Another tell tale sign is photos. Nearly all of the photos used in articles on our websites, or any we write for, are taken by us. They’re taken by us because we’ve been to the the places and done the things we write about. If the photos in any travel website come with a caption saying something along the lines of ‘courtesy of…’, there’s a good chance the author hasn’t visited the place they’re writing about. Digital photography has made sourcing your own photos incredibly easy. Alarm bells go off as soon as I spot a travel blog/article which doesn’t source its own photos.
The exception to this is newspaper travel articles. Newspapers can be guilty of using stock photographs rather than relevant images supplied by the writer/photographer. They invest in commissioning quality writing but don’t apply the same ethos to images, which is why articles about the south of Tenerife can be accompanied by a view of Playa de las Teresitas beyond Santa Cruz or Mount Teide from Tenerife’s north coast. It can be annoying but it doesn’t mean the article isn’t accurate.
Despite the fact that I keep reading online that guidebooks are dead, they’re still our preferred choice for well researched, considered and objective advice (up to a point as all writing is subjective). Having written our own guidebooks and contributed to others, we know the extent of research, and groundwork that goes into creating a guidebook. We used them before we got into travel writing and we still do. Occasionally some restaurants and bars may have closed their doors by the time guidebooks are printed but, hey, things change. Online information suffers from the same problem. A restaurant can close overnight… within hours of a travel blog being written.
However, over our years of travelling together it has been guidebooks which have led us to nearly all the best places. Nowadays we use them in conjunction with online travel information – it’s the best of both worlds.
In the end, the basic rule with any travel research is to look for the little details which suggest advice and reviews are authentic, authoritative and considered… and have been written by someone who’s actually visited the place they’re writing about.
Whatever source used, some research is essential to ensure a surprise-free holiday, or you might end up in a rural hotel in the middle of nowhere rather than a beach resort hotel… or vice versa.
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+