Tuesday, April 17, 2012

You know people actually read these reviews, right?

So what if it's a peaceful room in a tranquil paradise for an unfairly low price?
If you can't provide Wi-Fi in the sea, prepare to be destroyed

I can be a bit of an asshole sometimes. When I was a teenager, I could try to blame my temper and disgraceful attitude towards my younger brothers on a perpetual lack of sleep that was directly related to the fact I drank three litres of cola a day, but now that I'm supposed to be an adult it's less excusable when I let petulance or a bad mood cloud my judgement and I give unfairly harsh feedback on hostel booking websites, when I've actually had an alright stay.

I guess I could still play the nationality card and blame it on stereotypical British consumer outrage. Or maybe writing these blogs in a vacuum has made me forget that sometimes people actually read the stuff I write elsewhere, especially when they're trying to weigh up the pros and cons of staying at one place over another in an unfamiliar city or country. I do feel a sense of obligation to inform these potential customers about the good and bad aspects of places I visit, though admittedly only based on my own needs and desires from a place - but there have also been a couple of times when I've witnessed the repercussions of the things I've written in a fit of spiteful haste, and have felt a little guilty.

I've worked in the digital marketing industry for a while, and compiled reports for companies based on consumer feedback from these sorts of sites, so I know the powerful influence these seemingly innocuous reviews can have. I've left some pretty harsh feedback for hostels and hotels in the past that I've felt was completely justified, when a place was falsely advertised or the owners were even bigger assholes than me. But rating down a hostel based on the quality of its guests or slightly inconvenient Wi-Fi (I have to go into the lounge to receive the completely free high-speed internet access? Outrageous!), I sometimes forget these places are actually owned by people who might be affected by the thoughtless things I'm typing.

So for some self-critiquing fun, here's an anthology of the more critical reviews I've left over the past 18 months, analysed with the cool head of hindsight.

Unnecessarily harsh reviews?

Hostel location: Florence, Italy

Date: September 2010

Rating: 57%

My hostel review: 'No sound-proofing against those church bells and a bit of a weird set-up, but the staff were always helpful.'

Review review: The review isn't too critical, and it perks up at the end, but 57% is pretty low for a place that was perfectly livable. I was new to hostels at the time, and compared to some of the shitholes I've stayed in since, this wasn't too bad at all. I blame it on inexperience - buy some earplugs already.

Hostel location: Athens, Greece

Date: October 2010

Rating: 50%

My hostel review: 'Helpful and chatty staff. Everyone's right about the dodgy area, but after probably getting lost the first time (even taxi drivers don't know where this street is) it's easy enough to get around on the metro.'

Review review: This seems commendably fair - I didn't even go into the details of having a bottle thrown in my direction when I walked outside, or the guy allegedly shooting up in the alley. Calling it a 'dodgy area' seems almost charming, but I guess I was preparing myself for worse things to come, which fortunately never really happened (or haven't yet). Athens is a bit of a shithole.

Hostel location: Jerusalem, Israel

Date: October 2010

Rating: 43%

My hostel review: 'The traffic outside is far too loud at all hours, I moved into the Old City after two nights. Staff were a little lazy too, not recommended.'

Review review: Ooh, take that! It was impossible to sleep (I still hadn't discovered earplugs, clearly), but that's not really the hostel's fault. On the other hand, the owner was a bit of an asshole. You'll notice I'm not naming any names, but you can probably find out through Google if you're that bothered.

It's not all bad - I didn't even write a bad review the time I booked what was advertised as a dorm but turned out to be a mattress on a roof, in a city where the competing religious loudhailers never sleep

Hostel location: Cairo, Egypt

Date: November 2010

Rating: 70%

My hostel review: 'Really friendly staff who are determined to make your stay a pleasant one, and will get you the best deals on tours. However, a female friend was made to feel very uncomfortable by the advances of one man, which was practically sexual harassment - Egypt needs to sort this attitude out.'

Review review: A surprisingly positive score and review, given the bombshell I drop in the review itself. I uncharacteristically debated for a while about whether to mention the full-mouth-kissing someone told me they experienced from the aged hotel owner (who presumably wasn't satisfied with just four wives), even asking for people's opinions on a travel forum. If I'd managed to stay this level-headed, I might actually be proud of myself, rather than writing blogs like this one out of shame.

Hostel location: Luxor, Egypt

Date: November 2010

Rating: 50%

My hostel review: 'Staff were helpful, but with the objective of getting a good review, which they asked for about 5 times per day. They should consider cleaning this place up if they want people to rate it higher. My room was infested with ants and the floor was covered in permanent dirt, even after asking them to clean. If staff see you out in the street, they will happily use you in their bid to hassle strangers. There are two much nicer hostels on the same street for the same price - stay there instead.'

Review review: Some of these are pretty funny, if I say so myself. But mainly for bringing back memories of things that seemed incredibly annoying at the time, but have become quirky through nostalgia - maybe similar to the mechanism that makes women forget the pain of childbirth so they're silly enough to go through the ordeal again (you can use the comments box to review me, by the way).

Hostel location: Alexandria, Egypt

Date: December 2010

Rating: 53%

My hostel review: 'WiFi didn't work, so I had to leave - and found the much cheaper, much nicer hotel across the road! ([name removed]). During my brief stay at [name removed], I did notice that my door had no lock, which wasn't promising. Quite tough to find without a taxi, even if you're armed with a Google map.'

Review review: What, you didn't even stay there? No, but I made a booking, so I still have the technical right to review (if not the moral right), dammit! To his credit, the owner refunded my money after I'd already checked in, based on the Wi-Fi not working at that particular hour of the day. He seemed pretty eager to get rid of me, I think he could smell the British consumer outrage and wanted to escape the bad review - well, too late, my friend! This one is probably unjustified, considering I didn't even sleep there.

I guess an outdoor bathroom is still technically en suite

Hostel location: Bangkok, Thailand

Date: February 2011

Rating: 50%

My hostel review: 'Incredibly cheap, so you can't really complain for the price. There were bed bugs in the main dorm so it was closed for 4 days and we were vacated, and it's a bit far from the city itself, but if you're looking for budget accommodation and don't mind dirt, it's fine (just don't expect taxi drivers to have any idea where it is).'

Review review: Wow, that's actually pretty fair - I didn't mention the asshole owner, the asshole guest who hogged the fans or the lack of pillows and sheets, which I maybe assumed were explained by the low price. Every other place I've stayed has had a pillow at least, even the other cheap places in Bangkok and similarly bed-bug-ridden rooms in central Malaysia (which were cheaper still).

Hostel location: Bangkok, Thailand

Date: February 2011

Rating: 50%

My hostel review: 'Single room was a lot better than the dorm - had my own fan and air conditioning. Hostel isn't that convenient though, I'll find a more central one when I next pass through Bangkok.'

Review review: A review of the same hostel as above, after I moved into a private room, though the 50% rating really doesn't reflect my experience - I even got down to business in this one, which should have bumped it up to unprecedented heights! I guess I was just resentful of giving this place a shining review overall, so this is a semi-unjustified harsh review.

Hostel location: Bangkok, Thailand

Date: March 2011

Rating: 43%

My hostel review: 'Broken door, unhelpful staff, loud music at night, no sign of breakfast. Other hostels in better locations for better prices.'

Review review: Goddamn, there's some unnecessarily harsh reviewing right there! This is another place I have good memories of, due to getting down to business again (twice in one year? Who am I, Russell Brand?) Actually, this is probably the reason I was miffed - each time I passed through Bangkok on my Thailand trip I booked what I mistakenly believed to be an improvement on the previous room, and suitable for my nice lady friend to visit, until I finally got it right the third time and we stayed in a place that even had a mini-bar. Yeah, that's right, ladies - stick with me and things will only get better, until they peak on your third night and it's vertically downhill from there.

Some of my fondest memories of accommodation are cheap huts on Malaysia's islands,
which I got pretty nostalgic for recently - mysterious/terrifying arachnids and all

Hostel location: Malacca, Malaysia

Date: May 2011

Rating: 50%

My hostel review: 'Cheap but dodgy place. The old American guy working there (Gary?) is a bit of a pervert, and boasts about how he selects young women to stay at the hostel. I left after a few days to escape his sleaziness, but turns out he hangs around [name removed] doing his thing too, so there's no escaping him. The place itself is okay, but there's no security in the dorm as lockers aren't provided.'

Review review: And so the rating of hostels based on people staying there begins in earnest - though to be fair, this asshole was actually some sort of staff. This was the first example of a review coming back to bite me, when I returned to Malacca and the owner of this hostel (not the sleazy American guy) was canvassing for guests at the bus station - he recognised me and tried to explain how Mr. Gary had left. But they still didn't have any security lockers, and I'd booked elsewhere, so I didn't give him a second chance.

Hostel location: Singapore

Date: July 2011

Rating: 70%

My hostel review: 'Wi-Fi connection is terrible and didn't work most of the time - staff didn't seem interested in resolving this, no matter how many people asked. Dorms are average, free breakfast is good.'

Review review: I don't actually give that many bad reviews, which this list should at least show to my credit (out of 75 reviews I've written at present, only eight are 50% or below), but even when I rate a place fairly as an above-average hostel, that doesn't stop me getting petty.

This might be the worst offender, as I came back here a couple of times over the next couple of months so they must have been doing something right. One time an American guy was going through the hostel reviews with the owner as some part of business improvement strategy and they discussed the subject of the Wi-Fi from this specific review, which the owner confirmed they'd looked into. So maybe it did do some good? I just felt a little guilty as I sat on a couch nearby, using the reasonable Wi-Fi to do my work and considering the small amount of customers I might have driven away from this nice man's business. I gave some nicer reviews subsequently, as damage control for the hostel and for my conscience. This wouldn't be the last time I had to do that.

There's an alarming lack of bad reviews from the second half of 2011, almost like I was learning my lesson or something. Check it out, some places even did that thing with the toilet paper - the two-ply seal of quality accommodation

Hostel location: Busan, South Korea

Date: February 2012

Rating: 63%

My hostel review: 'Laundry isn't free, it was 3000 won - so this needs updating. Staff seemed confused as they moved me into a different room after my first night. Directions to the hostel are good, and it's an okay price by Busan standards.'

Review review: Because this one's pretty recent, I can intimately remember the details behind the confusingly okay score and critical review. So the laundry wasn't free, and I had to move my two light bags to a different room for the second night - big deal. It was being woken by drunk dorm sex noises on my check-out day, and being left in an angry and slightly disgusted state for the rest of that day, that soured my impression of it.

But I wasn't enough of an asshole to mention this irrelevant fact against the hostel - I came back here twice and I think the staff knew who I was, as the lady apologised about moving me the last time. She was very nice - I deliberately bumped up the score on my subsequent reviews, to remedy my previous rudeness.

Hostel location: Seoul, South Korea

Date: February 2012

Rating: 47%

My hostel review: 'The worst place I've stayed in Korea by a long way. Seemingly no lights-out policy, the 'staff' (out of work English teachers?) keep the drinking going on well into the night, with no respect for anyone who doesn't keep the same hours. On my last night, everyone in the dorm was woken at 4AM by arguments and fighting. It's cheap, but don't stay here if you want any sleep - try other [name removed] branches instead.'

Review review: The angry review that launched this blog post. I had a rubbish time at this 'party hostel,' entirely due to the type of guests that stayed and worked there - if it wasn't for the working part, I wouldn't have felt justified in slagging it off so badly.

As recuperation, I stayed in a private room at another guest house the next week, perhaps unwisely choosing the same chain as this led to an encounter with the enraged owner who came into my room wafting some terms and conditions of his hostel around and asking why I hadn't contacted him about changing to a different hostel, rather than putting up with the noise and writing a bad review. I explained that I'd already booked this other place for a few days later anyway, and that he was hardly ever around if I'd thought to ask about moving.

I defended my position, however unjustified it might actually have been (I'm too heavily involved to tell), but my lack of apology or general attitude led to him telling me that he thought I was a bad guy, and that he didn't like my 'style' (his actual words were 'fuck your style'). Apparently I'm banned from staying at any of his hostels again, which I think is the first time I've been barred from anywhere since Mark Smith's mum said my behaviour was 'too silly' at Mark's seventh birthday party and I couldn't ever visit their house again.

I take these criticisms to heart, which might explain the overwhelming confidence I display daily, when I'm not hiding behind a semi-anonymous hostel website account that turns out not to be so anonymous after all.

If you enjoyed this peek behind the cool facade I desperately try to construct, I can probably find more petulant emails and things for you, like the stuff I send to my bank and friendly reminders to people who owe me money. Stay critical, everyone! But let's not be dicks about it.


  1. I quite like the idea of reviewing reviews of reviews, but right now I'm more interested in what your 'too silly' behaviour was when you were round at Mark's gaff.

    1. I can't really remember - I probably just got into the sort of silly mood that (many?) kids get into. But I remember his mum being really stern and annoyed, and she made a point of telling my mum when she picked me up.

      I was twenty eight years old.

      (Actually I was about six).

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