Saturday, 16 August 2014

Travellers who advise

Joshua Tan in front of the Rumah Adat Belitung in Belitung Island, off Sumatra, Indonesia.

Joshua Tan in front of the Rumah Adat Belitung in Belitung Island, off Sumatra, Indonesia.

It’s a big world out there, with much to explore, so travel websites with crowd-sourced reviews make a good tool for those planning a vacation.

PLANNING ahead is always best for your holiday. The most important thing, arguably, is deciding where to stay and what to see or do at the destinations you have picked. Of course, choosing the destination is the first thing to determine.

It’s easier these days to do research as we have the Internet and travel websites to turn to. TripAdvisor, for instance, has an impressive 280 million unique monthly visitors with over 170 million reviews and opinions covering more than four million accommodations, restaurants and attractions. Little wonder it’s the world’s largest travel site.

It’s pretty much human nature that you would probably trust a fellow traveller’s review over endorsements from other sources. And TripAdvisor, with its large database of reviews, seems a pretty good option to check out.

But what is the appeal of contributing and writing a review, you may ask. Two of TripAdvisor’s top reviewers in Malaysia with different travel styles share the reasons that motivate them to document their travel experiences on TripAdvisor.

The road less travelled

Joshua Tan, 43, is a Kuala Lumpur-based freelance website developer, mobile app developer and Android programming trainer by profession, and an avid explorer outside of work. He is also TripAdvisor’s top reviewer in Malaysia for “Most Attractions Reviews” and “Most Trips Abroad Reviews” under the pseudonym “JoshShoeString”. These awards say a lot about his love for travelling which often includes off-the-beaten-path adventures like covering a total of 800km – from Medan to Drasdadi, in Sumatra, Indonesia – on a motorbike.

This motorbike was Tan's trusty mode of transport while travelling in Sumatra.
This motorbike was Tan’s trusty mode of transport while travelling in Sumatra.

It all began in 2008 when Tan was researching the best travel deals and tips. He soon realised that physical travel guides usually only feature the advice of one writer and may not contain the latest information about a destination. He also started becoming more wary about marketing brochures from hospitality organisations which would showcase their best photos.

He then stumbled upon TripAdvisor.

“After that first encounter with TripAdvisor, I’ve not looked back and TripAdvisor is now an indispensable trip-planning tool before, during, and after my travels,” he says, adding that TripAdvisor provides a fairly accurate sense of a place.

For Tan, going from consumer to reviewer was a natural progression as he had benefited substantially from TripAdvisor. He remarks: “Simply put, this is my way of giving back – by helping others plan the perfect trip and sharing what I’ve experienced during my travels, including the good and the bad.”

New place, new friends: Joshua Tan - aka JoshShoeString on TripAdvisor - with local friends enjoying their island-hopping adventure off Belitung Island, Indonesia. - Photos from TripAdvisor
New place, new friends: Joshua Tan – aka JoshShoeString on TripAdvisor – with local friends enjoying their island-hopping adventure off Belitung Island, Indonesia. – Photos from TripAdvisor

He is also active in TripAdvisor’s forum, often exchanging with other travellers useful information about budget-friendly accommodations and lesser known attractions. “I’m grateful for the permanent friends I’ve made on TripAdvisor,” says Tan.

When asked to divulge his “secrets” in deciphering reviews, he promptly explained, “There is no hard and fast rule, but I usually read five to 10 reviews to obtain an average picture of the place.

“As for writing reviews, it’s as simple as writing from the heart and capturing personal and authentic experiences, ” he adds.

The history buff

Meet Susan Chow, 58, a former hotelier and a living testament that adventure is not just for the young, but for the young-at-heart. As her TripAdvisor username “Worldglutton” suggests, Chow has visited many countries around the world, such as Britain, Sudan, the United States and many parts of Asia.

She loves places steeped in history, and what better way to capture the moment than with breathtaking photographs of, say, the iconic Arc de Triomphe in Paris or quaint Casa Mila in Spain? Malaysia’s top TripAdvisor reviewer for “Most Photos Contributed” shares how this “love affair” began.

In 2010, Chow was planning a holiday with her family to unfamiliar parts of the world in Europe and the Middle East. Turning to travel agents, she quickly realised that they lacked first-hand experience in less-publicised places such as Davos, Switzerland. She knew then that she needed an alternative source of information about the destination.

A view of Pura Puseh Batuan Temple taken during
A view of Pura Puseh Batuan Temple taken during Chow’s trip to Bali, Indonesia.

Familiar with TripAdvisor from her hospitality background, she decided to try out the platform – and fell in love with it when she saw the amount of reviews and information available.

Becoming completely comfortable with sharing reviews and pictures on TripAdvisor was a gradual journey for Chow; she quickly warmed up to it when she realised there was nothing to worry about.

Her growing desire to share information with other travellers on various destinations that are relatively unknown eventually led to her becoming TripAdvisor’s top photo contributor in Malaysia. She also felt compelled to write positive reviews for deserving hospitality organisations as well as to help other people plan their trip, especially female travellers who may have concerns over safety in certain countries.

Chow believes that a review that is accompanied by many pictures indicates how much the reviewer enjoyed a trip.

Chow with her family in front of the iconic Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

She also shares: “When it comes to negative reviews, it is important for users to research further on issues that have been highlighted and not merely take it at face value, such as by taking note of an organisation’s response to a bad review.”

As for writing reviews, Chow encourages users to treat TripAdvisor like a travel journal as it can rekindle memories, and offer others the opportunity to experience a good time on their holidays as well.

“It’s a two-way street as I seek information from, and share information with, other people. I’m honoured to be part of TripAdvisor’s vision in empowering travellers with access to an incredible wealth of travel opinions written by travellers like you and me.” – TripAdvisor



Tags / Keywords: TripAdvisor , review , traveller , Malaysia


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