Since we’ve been to Costa Rica, we’ve stayed in two different vacation rentals, one in Alajuela, one in Atenas, and a small hotel in Tortugero. I have opinions about all of these places, but I can’t seem to bring myself to rate any of them. I have an ongoing moral dilemma that plays out in my mind about writing reviews about vacation rentals. I know it would be potentially helpful to people to hear our opinion of a vacation rental, but I also know that it could hurt the people who own the rentals. I always post good reviews when the vacation rental was consistent with our expectations, but I just hate to write a bad review.
Take Fred, for example, in Atenas. The vacation rental was filled with all the stuff he and his wife didn’t want (or so it seemed). There were frying pans that had no handles and appliances that were intact except the cord was missing, so they couldn’t be plugged in. The mattresses in the beds were horrible. The place wasn’t very clean. It was noisy and the couch smelled. There were other problems too, but if I talked about these things on TripAdvisor or HomeAway, no one would ever want to go stay with Fred at his house. Perhaps there would be vacationers who would be spared a bad trip. I could argue this point of view. But on the other hand, perhaps I’m just a pussy and the place wasn’t that bad. Then, those hypothetical vacationers may not have the opportunity to stay with Fred in his crappy little apartment.
It would hurt Fred’s feelings if I wrote a bad review of his place. And the woman who owned the house in Alajuela would probably be upset and hurt if I mentioned in my review that the real location of her house was in TAMBOR, not in Alajuela at all and that it was not in any way a “short trip” from the house to…well, anywhere. But what about the people who never get to stay in these houses? Am I hurting those people or am I helping them? Maybe the street wasn’t that dangerous walking to and from the bus stop. Maybe the bug problems weren’t as bad as I thought. Maybe other, heartier people would be able to tolerate the conditions better or even enjoy them. I don’t know.
So I don’t write bad reviews about the properties that we stay in when we travel. There was a guy in Mexico who even stole $2,000 from us in Cancun by misrepresenting a property. I couldn’t bring myself to write a bad review of his place because I don’t know why he felt it was okay to misrepresent his property and take the $2,000 from us. Perhaps he really needed the money… or thinks he needs the money.
I’m only motivated to review crappy properties when I’m angry and once the anger simmers down, so does my motivation to hurt those people. I just don’t feel sure that my angry commentary will do any good. I appreciate the commentary other people leave through TripAdvisor or VacationRentals.com or whatever, but somehow, I just feel like my rantings would do more harm than good. Perhaps they would do some good, but not more good than harm. That’s the problem that I have with reviews. I like it when people read what I’ve written and all kinds of people would read my nasty, angry reviews of uncomfortable properties, but I don’t really know who I’m talking about or who I’m talking to.
What I would tell one person about a property is different than what I would tell another, completely different person, for example. If I was talking to the father in a large family of 7 that was going on his one and only trip abroad with his brood, I would perhaps recommend a less comfortable abode that was affordable, but I’d recommend that they bring along roach traps or their own soft camping mattresses. If I was talking with a single man with plenty of extra money, I’d say something very different. It’s not that the facts about the property that I’d recommend would change, but how I’d recommend that a person copes with the property is what would be different. For example, when I was reading reviews about vacation rentals in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, I ran across one in which a person complained that the sheets in the rental didn’t stay on the bed. This was true of every bed we slept in and it wasn’t a big deal to us once we got used to it. I would mention the problem of bed sheets to people going to Costa Rica, but not within the context of a crappy review of a vacation rental, but rather as something to be ready for if they encounter it. I think the biggest problem that I have with reviews is that when they’re bad, they’re merely complaints and they don’t usually offer up ways that a person could adapt to the problems. After all, this isn’t the purpose of a vacation rental review.
Not everyone who reads vacation rental reviews are critical thinkers and if I write something really compelling and negative about a place, it’s like I’m taking advantage of the reader while simultaneously hurting the landlord, at least financially. The question of whether or not to write reviews, I guess is one that’s somewhat rhetorical (yes, I should write reviews), but that’s part of the reason why I question it. What is the real impact of a negative review of a property? Does a negative review really do anyone any good? Or perhaps more aptly, do I do anyone any good by writing negative reviews?