Okay, I’ll admit: as a 20-something, I definitely make jokes about people who spend their time leaving poor reviews on Yelp. There’s actually a really funny bit from comedian Sebastian Maniscalco about people who have the extra time to leave comments about their meals online. “Why would you do that??” he asks his audience. I used to think the same thing. Who has time to go onto Yelp, log in, and trash an establishment? Don’t people have better things to do?
Well, this trip to Thailand and Cambodia changed my mind on that. When visiting an NGO called Freedom Story, our group learned that Thai society is quite hierarchical. Depending on who you ask, age, occupation, gender, and even skin color matters a lot. Foreigners are placed on both the bottom and the top of this hierarchy. We are both outside of society and powerful forces within society during the time we spend abroad. So, what does that mean for Americans traveling abroad? As I learned from my professors and experiences with many service works, it means that one bad review can cost someone their entire livelihood. Travel agents and individuals plan trips to Thailand and Cambodia months in advance, and we use sites like Trip Advisor and Expedia to learn about hotels, tours, restaurants, and transportation services half a world away. So, if your pad Thai was a little cold and you review a small restaurant on Yelp, a site used by tons of tourists, that can cause huge consequences for the owners of the restaurant. Maybe the sink in your hotel leaked water (true story), or the laundry service took a few extra hours. What you say about these events matters. That’s not to say you shouldn’t speak up, especially if something was really wrong or even dangerous. I suggest, however, that tourists do their best to settle an issue with management before going online to leave a poor review. In my experience in Thailand and Cambodia, people were more than willing to correct a situation gone wrong. Give people a chance to solve a problem before taking action online.
Additionally, good reviews matter too! You might notice that the bartender or server asks you to review them online. They might even give you a card with their name written on it. That’s because reviews mean promotions at many establishments. During my first week in Thailand, our server told me candidly that she’s up for a promotion, and just needs a few more good reviews. That means you, a tourist, can literally change someone’s life with the tap of your fingers—for better or for worse. I’m not writing this so people can travel and pat themselves on the back for a job well done in changing lives. Rather, I’m writing this post so people can realize the responsibility we carry as tourists abroad. Our American passports come with privilege. We didn’t specifically ask for that privilege, of course, but we have it nonetheless, and that means we need to be conscious of our actions and decisions while abroad.
The extra five minutes it takes to leave a nice comment on Trip Advisor or another site can make a world’s difference. If you liked your hotel, taxi service, or meal, I highly recommend leaving a quick comment online if possible. Your comment can help other tourists find that service, and in turn help someone’s business. If you can, try to catch peoples’ names and include that in the review too. If the woman that brought your laundry to your room or applied your eyelash extensions (another true story) was nice, take a minute to pay it forward. Travel smart, travel safely, and travel kindly.