prospero

I recently returned from a quite excellent trip to Georgia (country or, Sakartvelo to be more exact) and spent a fast week and a half there eating the fantastic food like a pig, drinking the wine, and checking out the ancient sites they have. It was a great trip, although all the articles in English language media that have come out this year describing it as “undiscovered” are ludicrous as the Russians “discovered” the country years ago and head there in hordes, so be prepared for that.

Along the way, I ate at many cafés such as Prospero’s in Tbilisi. It is well-known due to being a café and bookstore that happens to specialize in having a great many English language books. Given this, it’s quite popular with expats and tourists so I wanted to stop by to see how it was.

The café is simply dreadful. Customer service is admittedly not one of Georgia’s strong points but I can easily forgive it as the prices are quite reasonable and the food some of the best I’ve had while traveling in a long time. Prospero’s fails on many fronts. The first being that it took 45 minutes to get two coffees as the girls behind the counter both needed to try and make some salad wrap for some picky American girl who kept emphasizing her vegetarian needs to them.

This was annoying but it was also the fact that the prices are massively higher than anywhere else as this café is little more than a tourist trap. Wanting to share that, I took to Tripadvisor while there to write a review which was as follows:

Expat prices with subpar service
Worthless service with prices considerably more than other Georgian spots. Also full of dreadful, demanding Americans making the incompetent staff worse with all their dietary restrictions. No reason to go here and don’t understand why it’s so popular.

Nasty, but anyone who knows me knows I don’t mince words when describing places that are truly avoidable. I also gave it one star and in turn, after they sat on it for a week, I received the following response from Tripadvisor:

Dear TripAdvisor Member,
Thank you for taking the time to write a review of Prospero’s Books & Caliban’s Coffee on TripAdvisor.
We’re sorry, but we won’t be able to accept this review as written. TripAdvisor accepts reviews that describe your first-hand experiences with the facilities or services of an establishment. General discussion that does not describe a substantial experience or that does not contain enough relevant information about the establishment will not be posted.

I fail to see how my review didn’t meet their criteria, but a bit annoyed, I sent another review, re-worded as well as with an admittedly antagonist sentence at the end:

After waiting a half hour for two coffees, I found the service worthless with prices considerably more than other Georgian spots.
Also full of demanding customers making the incompetent staff worse with all their dietary restrictions. No reason to go here and don’t understand why it’s so popular. Your money is better spent elsewhere in Tbilisi as they have great coffee throughout the city.
Please note this review was resubmitted as TripAdvisor didn’t like the first one despite it being my firsthand account.

Naturally, they rejected the review again but with a different response:

Dear TripAdvisor Member,
Thank you for taking the time to write a review of Prospero’s Books & Caliban’s Coffee on TripAdvisor.
We value your contribution, and would like to be able to post it to our website. However, we are unable to publish your review because it violated the following guideline:
*Relevant to other travelers
Please do not post content that is not relevant to trip planning and research. We accept reviews for trips or customer service experiences that occurred within a year of submission. Please refrain from using insulting language that is irrelevant to customer service, (such as hurtful physical descriptions or unnecessary name-calling), and attempting a smear campaign by taking extreme efforts to damage the reputation of a brand or individual, or inciting the community to do the same. Users should refrain from including personal political, ethical or religious opinions, discussion or commentary in reviews.
Please do not submit questions directed to TripAdvisor users (including property representatives) or disparaging comments about other reviews, reviewers or management responses. Questions for TripAdvisor staff should be submitted via the help center and will not be posted as reviews. TripAdvisor will not publish reviews written in an attempt to obtain money or services from a property owner, in exchange for withholding or offering to remove a negative review.

So essentially what Tripadvisor is saying is that you are absolutely forbidden to criticize as the wording is so incredibly vague that they reserve the right to not allow any review they please, which I’d interpret to mean any review with low stars. This does nothing to instill trust in their website for me.

In fact, if you poke around, you’ll see what seem to be statistical impossibilities with profiles have 93% of some 1,400 reviews giving five stars. Sure, it could be that there’s score inflation online by normal people or it could be the case that those dissatisfied don’t bother to leave a review but any interpretation of Gaussian distribution shows that this can’t happen and there there should be considerably more negative reviews on Tripadvisor, yet there aren’t and it keeps getting more skewed.

I can only surmise that they pulled a move out of the corrupt dictator playbook and realized that you need to game the votes before they’re tallied and it makes one wonder if they’re doing this just to appease businesses who grew tired of negative reviews as Tripadvisor has positioned itself as a gateway to travel reviews online.

As sites like this release no data publicly, all I can do is guess as to what they may or may not be doing. But the one thing I can be sure of is that Tripadvisor reviews hold zero grams of trustworthiness to them and shouldn’t be used by anyone to plan their holidays.