The Curious Case of TripAdvisor and the Canary Islands

At one time I was suspicious of the usefulness of UGC (user generated content) websites like TripAdvisor because they were unregulated and completely subjective.

But then what are travel blogs if not unregulated and subjective travel advice? So I thawed towards it.

Who I trust on TA depends on the content they produce, again not dissimilar to travel blogs or any travel article for that matter.

Take restaurant reviews for example. What people write determines whether I treat what they say seriously or not. The devil, as they say, is in the detail and you can spot someone who has a sincere love affair with food a mile off.

By ignoring the reviews that don’t actually say anything about restaurants, I can get decent information from TripAdvisor that can help me make judgements about where I might want to eat, reinforce my take on places or remind me about small details if I’m about to write about a restaurant and it’s been a while since I ate there.

However, whilst checking out reviews for the Canary Islands recently, my research threw up a major flaw with TripAdvisor’s restaurant reviews. That flaw wasn’t about the accuracy or integrity of reviews; it was about the usefulness of the website in accurately coming up with the best or even most authentic restaurant recommendations.

Brit Bar, Canary Islands

In Britain, people tend to have quite a clear cut view of the Canary Islands. Tenerife is a naff tourist resort; Gran Canaria is a slightly less naff tourist resort, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura have naff potential, but very few people actually live there so they’re more authentic than Tenerife and Gran Canaria. La Gomera and La Palma are unspoilt and suited to the more discerning visitors to the Canary Islands and nobody really knows El Hierro.

Basically, if you’re looking for culture and tradition and local cuisine don’t go to Tenerife or Gran Canaria.

TripAdvisor’s restaurant reviews back up this image.

And they are totally misleading.

With Tripàdvisor’s user generated lists of top 10 restaurants for Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote you’d be forgiven for  thinking that the islands didn’t actually have a gastronomy of their own.

Oysters, Tenerife

In the case of Tenerife only one of the top 10 restaurants on TA is Spanish. There’s no distinction for Canarian cuisine so it makes it difficult to know whether restaurants are Spanish or Canarian. There is a difference. It’s surprising the Spanish restaurant comes in at number one (at the time of writing) as it isn’t even in a resort area (I can only put that down to some shrewd social media marketing). After that the populist image is reinforced. Second spot goes to a place called Scotch Corner which is actually a Brit bar. It doesn’t say much about Tenerife’s gastronomic scene.

This is the sort of reason why Tenerife gets labelled as being Britain in the sun. The trend after that shows no allegiance to anywhere in particular with British, Italian, Romanian, Japanese and Asian all featuring. Of the top 20 restaurants, only three have a Spanish flavour.

Cheese, Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria fares no better with one tapas restaurant in TA’s top ten. In fact if you didn’t know any better, you’d think Gran Canaria was Italian rather than Spanish as there are five Italian restaurants listed. Like Tenerife, of the top 20 restaurants, only three are Spanish.

Lanzarote comes out a bit better with three Spanish restaurants in their top 10. But TA’s Lanzarote credibility drops when you learn one of the 10 best restaurants on Lanzarote is an ice cream parlour.
Over the top 20 places, Lanzarote only fares slightly better than its more populated neighbours with four Spanish restaurants.

Sardines, Lanzarote

That’s the TripAdvisor view.

If you were to ask locals with a relatively discerning palate to list the top 10 restaurants on Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote their lists would be poles apart from TA’s.

The reality is that the majority of restaurants on Tenerife and Gran Canaria serve Canarian cuisine and that most of the best restaurants are mainly frequented by local people and not visitors.

But you would have no idea of that from TripAdvisor.

The bulk of people who write reviews for TripAdvisor stick to the purpose built resorts. Therefore their recommendations are not only skewed, they are extremely limited and paint a completely inaccurate picture of cuisine on the Canary Islands.

The niggling thought is that if TA’s top reviews are so out of step with the local scene in the Canary Islands where else are they flawed to such a serious extent?




7 Comments

  1. Aha – and there lies a potential problem with all restaurant recommendations for anyone looking for the best or most authentic restaurants in a location where English isn’t the first language. If you can’t speak the lingo, you’re restricted to English language recommendations rather than local ones.
    BTW, just tried the top recommendations using TA ES – came out exactly the same 🙂

  2. Some very valid points here Jack. As Alex mentioned, looking at other versions of TA normally renders different results so I guess it says a lot for the nationality of users on the site and what they look prefer.

    I don’t trust many of the reviews on TA, simply because you find that many bar/restaurant owners have relative, friends and anyone else they can convince to leave a review for the sake of friendship, not impartial at all and is mostly misleading but as you say, they are easily spotted.

    Review systems are difficult to clean up as there is always a way to abuse it as even Google discovered and had to create a unique algorithm to filter out business reviews deemed questionable and it ended up blocking authentic ones too.

    Great post.:)

    • Thanks Peter,

      There’s still no substitution for human judgement which is why I suppose that Google will continue to struggle to sort out quality content.

      J

  3. Interesting as I was thinking about this the other day…some of Valencia’s restaurants are given relatively good write ups are in some cases not popular with the locals or the best..the majority of opinions are from people who visit for a weekend and probably only visit one or two places to eat in the whole weekend. An then people’s subjective opinions cloud the issue. The result is one very good restaurant can have the same rating as a crap one…so not always the best way to pick a place to eat.Still used with care it can help a bit but in the end as you say human judgement is the key

  4. Thats the flaws of TripAdvisor in general, the reviews are just as good as the quality of feedback provided and the quality of places visited, which indeed generally tends to be fairly touristy places.

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