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 Daily news from the Canaries and the islands' biggest English language newspaper on-line
Daily news from the Canaries and the islands
   Daily news from the Canaries and the islands' biggest English language newspaper on-line

La Palma harmed by reviews
The perils of online opinion
Over the last decade, travel agencies have fought a losing battle to hold their ground against the practice of do-it-yourself online booking, as we've become our own travel agents.

Hotel complex manager, Álvaro de la Bárcena
Hotel complex manager, Álvaro de la Bárcena

14.12.2015 - We look for information about possible destinations to see what the weather's like and what's on offer in terms of accommodation, entertainment, excursions, activities, and transport options.  We probably get flights online too.  We may go further and investigate local cuisine, history, culture and customs, or hiking trail networks.  It's all there online.  As time passes, the amount of information available increases exponentially.

Worryingly, much of this info is seriously compromised.  It's been written to order, paid for by individuals or businesses wanting to enhance their online profile, and is neither the genuine news, nor opinion, it purports to be.

There's a whole industry of agencies, online of course, whose function is to connect such clients with freelance writers.  I registered with one and was impressed by its professionalism.  I had to present bona-fide, published, writing credentials and was then rated and listed on their webpage as 'available for assignments'.

In they came.  The first company wanted a piece on the wonderful benefits of chocolate and needed a specific percentage of something mysteriously called KWF.  While I was wondering what KWF was, another offer arrived, requesting a piece about the marvellous attractions of a Spanish holiday resort, this time with specific KWD, not KWF, requirements.  KWF and KWD?

Feeling stupid, I investigated, to find that Key Word Frequency, or Density, are vital for SEO, which I didn't understand either, but it turned out to be Search Engine Optimisation.  I live on a small island in the Atlantic.  I like a quiet life.  What did I know?

This means there's an army of writers out there, all over the globe, trotting out articles round the clock, with the sole intention of attracting the numerous search engines you might use to help you find information online.  This writing will then pop up on your screen via Google or wherever, because it's loaded with key words and hooked the search engine.

You then read it imagining that its objective, unbiased information, whereas in fact it's been put there to hoodwink you by an individual or entity who'll benefit from your belief in it.  It's undercover advertising.

I gave it a miss.  Apart from moral issues, it sounded deadly boring, but I was thankful for the insight and don't trust what I read now.  Online reviews are another online horror.  They're hard to resist, but only malcontents bother to say nasty things.

There are few glowing accolades.  What people seem to love most is posting a nightmare of niggles, conflicting information, nitpicking criticism and strange remarks.  “Our breakfast cups were far too big for us to enjoy our stay”, etc.  We stayed in a picturesque Galician fishing village that was actually described online as: “An ugly, characterless place devoid of any charm” by an irritable Brit.  It was lovely.  It was also very quiet.  A few negative words can do a world of damage.

It seems unfair that anyone can trash anything they like online; what happened to libel?  Why spend precious holiday time looking for problems and then writing about them?  If you're having a good time, you're too busy.  The negative detail can be mind-bogglingly trivial, which leads us neatly to Trivago, a name most people are familiar with.

It's used by millions to compare hotel prices, find information about not only accommodation but holiday destinations in general, transport, eating out, activities, you name it; you can find it on Trivago.

It also rates wherever it's talking about, according to feedback from users and has just done considerable harm to the tourist trade on the island of La Palma with a recently published 'study' based on seven million evaluations of accommodation on the Spanish coast, the Balearics and the Canaries by its online users.  This report will unfortunately be used by potential future clients and the sad thing is that it probably reflects the general happiness of its visitors, rather than what they're niggling about.

The four Balearic Islands (Cabrera wasn't included) received better rating than any of the seven Canary Islands, earning an average of eighty points.  Of the Canary Islands, Tenerife came close with seventy nine plus points, El Hierro close behind with seventy-nine, La Gomera with seventy-eight plus and poor old La Palma only seventy-six.

While these differences may seem marginal, they've caused angst on La Palma, which as anyone who's been there will tell you, is a beautiful, diverse, well-looked after paradise deserving of its nickname ‘La Isla Bonita’.

Álvaro de la Bárcena, the La Palma vice president of the Canarian hoteliers association Ashotel, insists that although search engine opinions must be taken into account, the level of accommodation offered on the island is of good quality.  “There are some very unfair evaluations, based on small details that don't necessarily reflect the quality of what island accommodation offers visitors,” he said with masterly understatement.

Mr. Bárcena manages a large hotel complex and recognises that, “Criticism from clients can be constructive.  Comments about treatment received, the location and condition of the building etc. must be respected, listened to and given importance, but always in context”.

He maintains that on occasions, “They (Trivago, etc.) give you half the number of possible points just because of something that happened at reception one day, or during a meal, or even because of an incident outside the hotel which obviously doesn't reflect the overall quality of the accommodation, so much as the client's dissatisfaction with something that happened.  A lot of money has been invested in hotel complexes in Los Cancajos (Breña Baja) and Puerto Naos (Los Llanos de Aridane).  What's on offer to visitors is of good quality, and bear in mind, at accessible prices!” he stated, tongue firmly in cheek, referring to Trivago's summary of prices, with La Palma the cheapest Spanish island.

Gallery: The perils of online opinion
Hotel complex manager, Álvaro de la Bárcena 
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