More and more these days, we are getting used to shopping online for pretty much everything. More and more, we have then become used to follow-up emails from the supplier asking us how we like our purchase, and urging us to write a review. I suppose there may be some value in such reviews if there are enough of them to paint an overall picture, as 90% of positive comments will indicate that the product is probably 'OK', even if 10% have left negative remarks.
I personally have a slightly uneasy feeling about anonymous reviews though. I am concerned that it is all too easy for a reviewer to leave unpleasant, malicious or unfair remarks in a similar way that online bullying can infect the pages of some social media websites.
When it comes to accommodation, in 'the good old days', providers who were registered with the scheme would get an annual Quality Assurance inspection from a representative of the national tourism board. This resulted in a private written report for the provider, telling them what they were doing well, what needed attention, and a public overall star-rating was then awarded. A 5-star rating was reserved for the very highest quality accommodation, and was rarely awarded. 4-star was 'excellent', while 3-star was 'good'. The most basic accommodation gained 2-stars, and 1-star didn't really exist.
All that has now gone, in favour of public online reviews written by the guests themselves. We market our cottages through Airbnb and Booking.com. Both of these platforms nag the guests to leave reviews following their visit, but there are differences in their approach.
Both operate a star-grading system, and both expect providers to maintain a star score of 4.8 out of 5 or better, otherwise penalties may be applied, with very low-scoring properties being unlisted from the platform - though Booking.com is slightly less draconian than Airbnb in this respect.
Airbnb ask guests to separately rate; accuracy, check-in, cleanliness, communication, location and value, and then give an overall quality rating - so a guest who rates using the old tourism board stars where 3-star was 'good', can easily leave a rating that results in a harmful average of under 4.
Airbnb also invites the accommodation provider (whom they refer to as the host) to write a review of the guest, and neither host's review or guest's review are published until both have written their reviews. This system is supposed to encourage guests to respect the properties in which they are staying, and to leave them tidy on departure, as hosts are likely refuse a booking request from guests who have poor reviews - though in practice, a guest with poor reviews can simply re-register with Airbnb under a new name and 'wipe their slate clean'.
For the host, reading positive review comments from happy guests is rewarding, and there is little doubt such comments encourage other potential guests to book highly-rated properties. On the other hand, negative comments in a review can be quite hurtful, especially if they relate to issues that could have been easily dealt-with if the issue had been brought to the attention of the host during the stay. Another irritation in reviews is negative comments about issues that we have no control over, like the weather, or the distance to the nearest pub. Thankfully, we have very rarely found ourselves reading negative comments about our own properties.
So - when I do leave a review for something (which I have to admit - I seldom do) I think carefully about what I say and how I say it. I would like to think that everyone does the same...