How Trip Advisor almost killed my trip and gave me a nightmare

Includes the review of Agra’s popular Friend’s Paying Guest House and a contemplation on where the online travel world is heading

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the immense good the big sharks of the online travel industry did to travel planning. Lonely Planet has made sure our remotest destinations are not so lonely anymore, Frommer’s until recently was fiercely independent, and Trip Advisor is still (sadly so) the premiere go-to stop for any travel planning task. That was me, like most other travel lovers, a couple of years ago. That was before I became a travel snob. But I was brought down to the ground quite rudely. They do say that once you are the bottom, you can only go up. So here’s to going up!

And this is how Trip Advisor almost killed my trip

Let’s cut the long story short. For whatever reasons, I found myself scouring through the mentioned websites for an inexpensive (do not read cheap), clean and cheerful hostel to stay in for two nights while I was in Agra. As usual, I read through blogs, articles, and sources which are considered to have the right kind of niche. That is when the pretty well talked about “Friend’s Paying Guest House” propped up.

It seemed perfect. Low cost rooms, lots of backpackers from around the word leaving golden comments, cool photos for communal breakfasts, bicycle rentals, free wifi, you know, the works. I call up the folks, they take only full payment in advance, and I pay Rs. 3400 ($62) for two double-bed rooms, two nights. A snippet from their own website:

What’s with Trip Advisor and others:

I read the reviews. Great ones! Everyone seemed so happy with the place. I always read the bad reviews too. And the owners answering them always meant sincerity for me. There seemed to be an explanation for all the bad reviews. For instance, check this one out (the review is here):

Friends Paying Guest House responding to a negative review on Trip Advisor

Friends Paying Guest House responding to a negative review on Trip Advisor

You might recall I paid Rs. 850 per night for the double room. More than what the management quotes above and way more than what they quote on their website. So we paid for their best double room. No questions asked. 

The rate chart on the guest house's website

The rate chart on the guest house’s website

Fast forward to when I arrived at the place: It was approaching around 10 in the night, Agra completely shrouded in the winter fog and the cold was pretty intense. The train was delayed by 8 hours, we had missed dinner and the taxi driver talked way more than necessary. There was that pretty annoying drone to his voice which sometimes bordered on sleaze.

The guesthouse had a big board out on the road proclaiming its name, an attendant came out even before our car stopped. Full marks! I was looking forward to a bath and a sleep. But this is where the nightmare began:

On the Service:

Looks like the bloke came out to examine who was stopping at their gates. Not to offer a cordial welcome. The entrance was dark, no lights flipped on, the guy could have at least told me something before asking us all to follow him to the second floor. Turns out that was just for signing in the details. We need not have lugged the darn luggage. The manager comes out, feigns an accent (come on, we are Indians too, you really don’t need to sound that bad!) and does small talk. Okay so the manager knows to speak! “Is your kitchen closed for the day?” I ask. Yes was the response. The website says something around 11 PM in the winters. Gives us our room keys, the mute (I doubt) bloke shows us to our ground floor rooms.  Begin nightmare!

Pictures speak a thousand words:

If the welcome was not enough, we were taken to something I can only draw a comparison to a jail cell. The bathroom lights, plug points, fans did not work. There were no power connections. I asked the guy about it and he had no clue whatsoever. Probing and prodding and finally we have a hunch that there are two power lines to the property and one was switched off. I’ll let the photos do the talking now:

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But the world disagrees:

Here’s the part where I felt the most cheated. As a hardened traveler, I am used to occasional disappointments. What I did not expect was to find hostelword “sleep well” stickers, Rough Guides endorsements plastered on their doors and tripadvisor “Bravo” badges on their website. What I do not trust anymore are these below:

The banner on the website of Friends Guest House Agra

The banner on the website of Friends Guest House Agra

Friends Guest House review on Hostelworld.com

Friends Guest House review on Hostelworld.com

Friends Paying Guest House review on Hostelbookers.com

Friends Paying Guest House review on Hostelbookers.com

The big fish: Friends Paying Guest House on Trip Advisor

The big fish: Friends Paying Guest House on Trip Advisor

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So how come the title of the post has “almost” and what about inspiration?

The next morning, I told the guy I am checking out of this place. I asked for a refund for the next day which was already paid for. Of course, that was not possible under the circumstances. As they are “heavily booked” throughout the year and it would mean “unacceptable losses”.

The trip was still saved because the previous stop was New Delhi where I backpacked like it was meant to backpack. No internet, no pre-bookings, just me, the backpack, and one golden tool – talking to the locals.

There comes the inspiration. A stronger belief on a really neat locals initiative I am working on. Locals, real people, real experiences, authentic advice. Do check!

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8 thoughts on “How Trip Advisor almost killed my trip and gave me a nightmare

  1. People suck. Don’t trust anyone! Hahahaha. Nah seriously, the review websites can be SOO hit and miss. We stayed in a few places and dealt with a few people while travelling in India that would not only pressure you into making reviews but then if you were kind enough to say yes, they would actually stand over your shoulder while you wrote it…makes you wonder whether perhaps some of those reviews are totally accurate! Great blog 🙂

    • Thanks! Glad you approve 🙂 Gawd, I never knew they actually stood behind you till they wrote a good review! I have seen some negative review photos be taken off from certain properties on trip advisor.

  2. I’ve heard that many websites and travel related companies actually pay people to write good reviews for their profiles on websites like Trip Advisor and bad reviews for their competitors. But I agree with you, you can’t really trust anyone but other reputable bloggers and locals.

  3. Frustrating to get had by a place after doing all the legwork of research–esp. When they charge higher than advertised! This is why, if my schedule & energy level allows it, I try to arrive early in order to investigate lodging options. Too bad you had a killer day and horrific place to stay–it happens to the best of us. Oh well, what would travel be without the stories that go along with it! Cheers

  4. Same pinch!! I have exactly the same tale to relate. I had booked a homestay in Chikmagalur based on the superlatives used by other people on Trip Advisor last year and till date I have horrors of that night. At one point, the ceiling of our room started spouting water like an overhead shower, can you imagine! And yet, according to everybody else, that place was like paradise. The only saving grace was the food. And only for the food, I have resisted from writing about that amazing place on my blog 🙂

    • God the horrors! There have been ample reports and even a few confirmed proofs that businesses pay for reviews, stick their noses till you write a good one till you leave or worse, create fake IDs to post positive reviews. Shame!

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