This is the second in a series of stories about the passions in my life and how they have been influenced by technology. My passions are my family, travel, sport, music and the movies. My stories reflect my life since the day I met my first computer (an IBM 360 mainframe) on Monday April 19 1971.
My initial story (in this series) told of my first encounter with “wearable tech” – the Fitbit Flex wristband (no happy ending here, I’m afraid!!). My second story has a very different focus. It recounts my recent search for a “bedroom with a canal view” in downtown Amsterdam.
I’ve always loved to travel and when I say travel I mean the actual travel bit and not the staying somewhere bit. Which is why, upon discovering sea cruises last year, it’s become my latest favourite thing. Sea cruises are all about going somewhere, not staying somewhere.
We cruised around the Med for 12 days last September and stopped at several locations along the way. My personal fave was Mykanos, which was a bit of a surprise, given all I read about it led me to believe that I wouldn’t find it very special. In fact, another Greek Island – Santorini – was the destination I was most looking forward to and it ended up being the biggest let down of all – far too crowded and “over-touristified”.
As with all travel Lin and I undertake nowadays, we spend serious amounts of time preparing. I’ve always enjoyed this aspect of travel, as it appeals to the inner-planner in me. I love pouring over maps, deconstructing airline schedules, checking out hotel locations, even hiring cars. I know, this sounds like boresville USA to most of you, but it literally floats my boat.
So this leads me to the crux of this Blog – where to stay in Amsterdam? According to Tripadvisor, there are 344 hotels, 301 B&Bs and 171 “other” accommodation options in Amsterdam and we have to decide where to spend our two nights. 816 options to be reduced down to The One!! The one place where we will enjoy a couple of nights uninterrupted and peaceful sleep, a good healthy breakfast, free wi-fi and friendly/efficient (but not too stuffy) service. You see, we have our wish-list, but how do we plug that into a search engine or travel advice website?
Personal Note: Travel Agents want you to make reservations with them so that they can make reservations for you – I have reservations about that!!
Tripadvisor, and other websites of it’s ilk, are very useful, but they can also be very misleading. For example, I booked “the No. 1 rated hotel on the East Coast of Lake Como” last year and ended up having a major argument with the owner, because he felt I were being harsh in my assessment of his rooms – or should I say dungeons and broom cupboards.
So, it got me thinking this time around. What if we set out to stay in the worst possible accommodation in Amsterdam!!
The (collective) reviewers of Tripadvisor attest that the worst 5-Star hotel in Amsterdam is the NH Barbizon Palace – rated No. 75 (out of 91) Luxury Hotels – as at June 28 2014. This is based upon 1396 reviews. Surely it can’t be that bad, after all 333 reviewers rate it as Excellent and another 549 reviewers rate is as Very Good, while 69 folk rate the hotel as Terrible. That’s 69 (out of 1396 reviewers) who felt compelled to report their experience.
According to a recent article in the (UK based) Daily Mail there are over 100 million reviews at any one time on Tripadvisor. 100 million!! While 230 million people visit Tripadvisor every month. If only my Blog had just 1% of that traffic every month….
So why do I take notice of these reviews? Personally? Because it’s better than not taking any information on board at all. Do I trust every piece of information as if it were an unmitigated fact? Of course not. So, how do I sift through the information provided and make my own judgement?
Firstly, I use my own selection criteria to sift out the negative comments (there’s always at least one negative comment – and if there isn’t, I have an issue with that). If someone says that the stairs are steep and there’s no lift I may request a ground floor room. If someone says the staff are grumpy I may choose to put this down to someone having a bad day – unless it’s recurring theme. Secondly, I look at the percentages. I expect there’ll always be a few negative reviews, but how many is too many? Probably, under 5% is ok – maybe!!
My point here is that we all have different thresholds when it comes to what’s good enough and what’s intolerable. Personally, I’m seen as fussy by most people who know me well, so I probably have a filter that is more stringent than most. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to write about it on Tripadvisor!! In fact the owner of the place on Lake Como (who I argued with) asked me NOT to write about my experience on Tripadvisor – in case it affected his customer base. His wishes had nothing to do with my decision not to write it up. I just didn’t feel strongly enough about my experience at the end of the day. After all, I should have been more careful in my selection – we’d changed our plans at the last minute and ended up being less stringent in our selection policy than for the rest of the trip. My fault, not his.
I also ask my followers on Twitter to recommend places to go and things to do when we get there, this time around I got a response from Accor Hotels (not a Follower of mine, I might add) and they offered up the option of staying at the The Convent Hotel (MGallery Collection). I cross-checked this with Tripadvisor and got some very mixed reviews. I responded to Accor with the Tripadvisor feedback and they are currently being very nice to me with respect to possible future bookings at any of their hotels. Incidentally, during my research for this article, I also learnt that a manager of an Accor Group hotel in Sydney is currently suspended from his job for falsifying Tripadvisor (rave) reviews for other Accor Group establishments while also trashing the efforts of competitors!!
So, what conclusions do I draw from my Tripadvisor experiences to date?
Even though less that 0.1% of people who stay at the establishments contribute their thoughts while over 230 million of us a month hang on their every word! I will continue to use Tripadvisor as one of my travel tools, but I will also continue to verify the information. Travel Agents need not apply!!
Dateline: Monday June 30 2014; Melbourne, Australia