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‘I’d rather be in hell’: Unrealistic expectations highlighted in north tourism reviews

Urquhart Castle on the shore of Loch Ness, which was criticised in a tourist review for not hosting regattas.
Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness

Tourist hotspots are being forced to contend with wild complaints from visitors – with one saying they would “rather be in hell” than on Balmedie Beach, and another slamming the lack of a Loch Ness marina.

While many venues in the north receive praise from their customers, some are being plagued by irrelevant or unfairly low rankings online.

And while these can have little impact on the venues with hundreds, if not thousands, of glowing reviews, others are suffering as their average scores are being pulled down.

In turn, this could lead tourists prioritising other locations when planning activities through review and booking websites.

Visitors are being advised to do their research before venturing out to prevent disappointment when their unrealistically-high expectations cannot be met.

One tourist left a review complaining it had rained at Balmedie Beach. Picture by Kath Flannery.

A one-star Tripadvisor review of the celebrated David Welch Winter Gardens within Duthie Park, Aberdeen, told potential guests not to visit.

“Unless you are head over heels in love with glasshouses, don’t bother,” they wrote.

“Absolutely nothing to do but walk and talk. I can do that in my back yard.”

Another said they would “rather be in hell” than visit Balmedie Beach.

But rather than reviewing the miles of award-winning dunes and wetlands, the tourist complained they had not left their car because of rainy weather.

Further north, a one-star review of Fort George, an 18th Century fortress actively used as a garrison, was described as “unwelcoming” and “very austere”.

And a visitor remarked Loch Ness was “desolate” and “totally lacking in activities”.

They added: “Nothing ever happens on the water – no sailing, no regattas, no motor-boating – not even a marina.

“There may be reasons for this – winds, cold water, building regulations etc. – but this all makes it a very dull water to look at.”

In 2014 a tourist review of Ben Nevis garnered worldwide attention after one walker grumbled it was “very steep and too high” – without so much as a cafe or toilet block at its summit.

They said: “Be warned – there are no facilities at the top.

“The climb basically went on for far too long and the last part was particularly steep and difficult.

“It was also cloudy at the top so the view was non-existent.”

Websites wield ‘huge influence’

Grampian Transport Museum custodian Mike Ward, who has spoken of the importance of tourist reviews
Grampian Transport Museum custodian Mike Ward next to a 1920s steam road roller. Picture by Chris Sumner.

Mike Ward, the curator of Grampian Transport Museum in Alford, said review websites “wield huge influence” over potential visitors.

“Very often, people who complain are just not thinking about the wider issues, constraints and circumstances,” he said.

“Our favourite is: ‘Why do we have to pay, the museums in Aberdeen are free’.

“We then gently point out they’re not free exactly, as you pay to visit them – whether you do or you don’t – in your rates.”

Mr Ward added: “Reviews are really important to Grampian Transport Museum and have taken over from previous rating schemes to a great extent.

“They do wield huge influence – but mostly for the good.”

Chris Foy, the chief executive of VisitAberdeenshire, commented on the importance of tourism reviews
Chris Foy, the chief executive of VisitAberdeenshire, at Marischal Square, Aberdeen.<br />Picture by Jim Irvine.

Chris Foy, the chief executive of tourism body VisitAberdeenshire, said: “As is the case with any purchase, care should be taken when reading any review in isolation.

“However, online reviews can serve as a useful guide for visitors, and also provide constructive feedback for tourism businesses.

“VisitAberdeenshire’s development programme helps local suppliers to make sense of customer insights, and to use this intelligence to improve its product offer and online marketing.”

Setting realistic expectations

However a spokeswoman for Tripadvisor said the average user will read nine tourist reviews before deciding to book a hotel or restaurant – meaning a single negative comment “isn’t likely” to have a great impact.

She said: “We believe that consumers can judge for themselves if the information provided is accurate and overwhelmingly our users say that the reviews they read provide an accurate picture of the experience they go on to have.

“If they didn’t, they wouldn’t keep returning to the site.

“We believe the best way consumers can set a realistic expectation before they go somewhere is to check the reviews from other travellers’ first-hand experiences before they go.

“That is the best way to get an accurate picture of a place.

“So if you plan to hike up Ben Nevis and you want to know if you can buy a latte at the top, check Tripadvisor first.”

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