Who should you take advice from when planning travel? Your mom? TripAdvisor? Costa Rica Guide? Fodor’s Guidebooks? The guy who cleans your pool?
It can be confusing so we’ve provided some advice and insight that might help.
Better Business Bureau
Since its founding over a hundred years ago the Better Business Bureau has provided businesses with a set of standards and consumers a mechanism to hold businesses accountable.
Make sure that any business you deal with is registered with the BBB and has good reviews and no unresolved complaints.
Friends & Family
When it comes right down to who you can really trust, the answer is probably only friends and family. First hand recommendations are a great source, especially since you know the recommender and can adjust their comments based on them being more adventurous or luxury minded than you.
That’s why our business has no marketing department and no advertising budget. We rely on word of mouth and excellent performance to grow.
Guide Books and Forums
Guidebooks are an excellent source of honest information about Costa Rican travel resources, destinations, hotels, restaurants and tours. They can’t help but be slightly biased by the author’s and editors opinions but that’s partially what you’re paying for is an expert opinion.
We’re not saying this just because the Lonely Planet guide book has recommend our website for seven years running…
“Costa-Rica-Guide.com – Nicely organized…with detailed maps and travel information on each region.” –Lonely Planet Costa Rica, most recently in the 9th edition page 26.
We’re not saying it only because the longest running guidebook recommends the Waterproof Travel Map we research and publish…
“…the most detailed and comprehensive map of Costa Rica that we have found. And it’s waterproof!” –New Key to Costa Rica, 19th edition page 42.
We’re saying it because guidebooks rely on providing helpful and unbiased information to stay in business.
Online communities maintained by guide books can also be a good resource. They can reasonably argue that only by providing an environment conducive to sharing accurate, helpful and unbiased information can they achieve their goal of being the authority that you should choose when it comes time to purchase a guide. They make a sincere effort to “keep it clean”.
When you receive an answer to a query on one of these sites keep in mind that some of the responses may be from profit motivated hotel, transportation or tour operators.
Professional Travel Services
Get professional help. There are businesses out there whose existence depends on providing helpful, accurate professional travel advice. They publish guidebooks and operate travel agencies. Use someone recommended by friends or family if you can, then make sure they’re certified with the Costa Rican travel associations (ICT and Cantur) and check them out with the Better Business Bureau or other organizations that specialize in protecting consumers from bad business practices.
Tourism Chamber or Official Government Tourist Offices
Most countries maintain a promotional office and website to inform and entice visitors. Most are quite good and can prove invaluable free resources when planning travel. All of them have a mission of promoting travel. They will highlight the good and may not emphasize a crime problem or floods in the rainy season but they will probably at least mention them.
Most are also somewhat motivated by profit or at least supplementing their meager government budget. It can be difficult to determine the difference between unbiased information and marketing that is provided to members as part of the benefits derived from the fees they pay.
TripAdvisor has some great information and reviews but proceed with caution and don’t rely on it as your sole source
Years ago we stopped actively participating in TripAdvisor. It was not sour grapes – we have excellent reviews and comments, but were concerned with their profit motive and inability to prevent manipulation by professional “travel experts” with misleading and fraudulent reviews.
Many people are unaware that TripAdvisor is a for profit sales and marketing tool. Of course it works better as a sales tool if people aren’t aware they are being marketed to. Other travel services are prohibited from appearing on TripAdvisor because they compete with the advertising. Anything may disappear from TripAdvisor without explanation. There is no appeal or review process.
Not only is TripAdvisor biased by their profit motive they sometimes wander into questionable marketing territory as evidenced by their use of pop-under advertising and other dirty tricks more commonly utilized on gambling and adult web sites.
Even if you assume that TripAdvisor would shun profit in the name of fair play, you’ve already seen in the Today Show video report that some of the contributors will not. Just as there is a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to moving websites to the top of the Google search results there are professionals who make a good living moving hotels up in the ratings (or their competition down) on TripAdvisor and the manipulation is readily apparent in a small independent market like Costa Rica.
It might surprise you to know that last time I looked over half of the top twenty reviews on TripAdvisor for the internationally renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve are actually reviews of completely different places that have been mislabeled or misplaced.
We’re not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination that the only things you’ll find on TripAdvisor are paid placements or reviews blurred by the influence of free cocktails. Some of what you see is real, just be aware that some is not.
In one six month burst of activity I personally answered over half of the Costa Rica inquiries on a dozen guidebook and travel forums. Just for fun I became the expert on each of them in about an hour a day. I’ve since learned that I could have made thousands of dollars doing the same thing and simply skewing my answers in a promotional manner.
I rarely answer inquiries on travel sites now. However, if you e-mail me a question I’ll still do my best to respond – free of charge and with no bias other than my personal opinion.