In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
TripAdvisor review system remains under a cloud
The screening processes of TripAdvisor remain firmly under the spotlight as the travel review website faces renewed allegations of manipulation of reviews and ratings by hoteliers.
Among the recent criticisms made of TripAdvisor were those published in an article in the UK’s Telegraph, which claimed that two readers had been offered nearly US$300 by an English hotel to delete a negative review they had posted of the property.
A London restaurant that was not even open ranked as the 17th best in the city, the newspaper also reported.
After just nine reviews made over two weeks, the restaurant, which appeared briefly in the British capital last summer, was ranked by TripAdvisor as the 11th best in the capital (out of nearly 10,000) – before falling to 76th place after it had closed.
Then, just one month after the submission of three fake reviews (two of which were identical) in mid-February by reputation management company, Kwikchex, the restaurant had risen to the 17th best in London.
“Such case studies blow apart TripAdvisor’s claims about sophisticated filtering systems, and illustrate how unreliable its reviews are,” Kwikchex founder Chris Emmins said.
In another case, following the publication of a negative review they had posted of a property in Gloucestershire (UK), two guests were offered a refund of GB£180 (US$287) by hotel management under the proviso they remove their scathing review, which criticised the hotel’s “bland” food, “dusty” rooms, “noisy” fellow guests and “brusque” staff. The regular TripAdvisor users subsequently declined the offer.
A third incident brought to light the glowing appraisal of a luxury Caribbean resort, which was later discovered to have been submitted by an investor of the hotel. Fellow shareholders had written “at least half” of the other reviews of the property, the investor claimed in a later posting.
Since 2010, Kwikchex has been campaigning for TripAdvisor to accept only reviews from authenticated patrons rather than anonymous users, the Telegraph reported.
However, TripAdvisor backs the “integrity” of its content, which it says is “fundamental” to its success.
Hertz puts McLaren MP4-12C up for hire
Car rental company offers travellers the chance to rent the £212,000 supercar – for £906.30 a day.
British travellers have been offered the chance to hire the £212,000 McLaren MP4-12C by Hertz, the car rental company.
The price tag is likely to hinder all but the most affluent travellers, however. One day’s rental starts at £1,134.30, although this drops to a slightly more modest £906.30 for rentals lasting more than 28 days.
The car – designed by the same company responsible for Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 vehicle – features a 3.8-litre V8 twin-turbo engine, which produces 592bhp. It has a top speed of more than 200mph, and can accelerate from 0 to 60mph in 2.8 seconds and from 0 to 124mph in 8.9 seconds. In July 2011, it registered the second-fastest lap around the Top Gear track.
However, anyone considering a trip to the German autobahns, to put the car through its paces, will be sorely disappointed. According to the terms and conditions, drivers are not permitted to take the car abroad.
Clubbed to death: Berlin steps in to save nightlife from gentrification
Politicians in Berlin have launched a campaign to rescue the city’s legendary nightclub scene from the spectre of property investors in the hope of salvaging the capital’s reputation as one of Europe’s party hotspots.
A ‘Music Board’ fund of around €1m (£835,000) has been set up to help protect the city’s shrinking club scene, which has been a mainstay of the economy since the fall of the Berlin Wall but has found itself increasingly squeezed out by real estate investors.
Berlin’s clubs have even coined the word ‘clubsterben’ – literally, ‘club death’ – to describe the phenomenon. The €1m fund will be used to help stricken clubs find new locations and hold fundraising concerts.
Around 15 clubs are currently under threat of closure according to Spiegel, while three prominent clubs have closed within the last few months. The nightspots, which are often housed in grungy urban buildings, breweries, or former factories situated on prime land, are increasingly being converted into apartment blocks and loft homes.
In addition to conversion projects, clubs often inspire the wrath of ‘nimby’ residents who lodge complaints about the noise, leading to authorities closing them down.
City politicians have been forced to address the issue having recognised the economic consequences of a fall in the number of young Europeans who fly to Berlin – sometimes for a single night – to enjoy clubbing in cheap, quirky venues.
Christian Goiny from the conservative Christian Democratic Union party, who is heading the fight, told Spiegel: “Clubs move around the city now and then, but what’s new is that practically entire city districts are being cleared out.”
In the spruced-up district of Prenzlauer Berg that has become the epitome of gentrification, the famous Knaack club closed its doors last year after almost six decades when residents complained about noise.
The legendary Icon closed a few weeks ago with its owners eyeing up a lucrative property deal for the former brewery. In January the Klub der Republik partied for the last time before builders moved in to turn it into new apartments.
Guerrilla gardeners visit Irish ghost estates
Sneaking onto derelict housing estates to plant trees and commit other crimes of beauty may sound a little odd, but mounting frustration with the eyesores left over from Ireland’s construction boom has finally reached a tipping point.
Ireland’s “ghost estates” — empty shopping malls, abandoned hotels, unfinished housing projects, skeletal office buildings and half-completed golf courses — are a vivid reminder of the profligacy of an Irish property rush which imploded more than four years ago, bringing down the rest of the economy.
Guerrilla gardening, a phenomenon born in the United States which involves planting trees, flowers and other forms of beautification on public or private land without permission, is part of the next wave of community-led initiatives seeking to tidy up Ireland’s blighted landscape.
Armed with spades, gloves and tree saplings, volunteers planted over 1,000 willow, alder, birch and ash trees in a bid to reclaim land at a site which has been a blot on the village vista of Keshcarrigan in western Ireland for years.
The group named “NAMA to Nature” — in reference to the state-run agency that was created to purge Irish banks of risky land development loans and is now the country’s largest property group — has plans for more raids and is calling on other community groups to take matters into their own hands.
“People are having to sit with it (ghost estates) on their back doors, it’s a really nasty symbol of what’s been left behind,” said Serena Brabazon, one of the organizers.
“It hasn’t been dealt with. That’s the real frustration for everybody,” she said, as the group makes plans to tackle a second ghost-estate.
Ireland’s state-run National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), which has been accused by the opposition of being too soft on the country’s property developers and for not doing enough to help taxpayers, said recently it had invested 500 million euros ($666.30 million) on completing unfinished projects.
But the agency, dubbed the “bad bank” is bound to secrecy on the projects for which it holds loans, prompting outrage at the lack of transparency.
“It’s about taking a civil action against the grey area of a state body that doesn’t allow for any transparency…There is no transparency in NAMA, and nobody knows what is happening with it,” said Brabazon.