What TripAdvisor Doesn’t Want You to Know

My sister and I are headed to Nicaragua for a weeklong vacation. We’ll be flying to Managua early Thursday morning, and traveling to the Corn Islands, Granada, and la Isla de Ometepe.

To plan our trip, we tapped many of the usual travel resources: recent magazine and news stories about Nicaragua, guidebooks, acquaintances who had been there, travel websites and forums. But during this research process, I stumbled upon something I found a bit unsettling.

I was trying to find recent information about safety on Little Corn Island, a tiny, remote, largely undeveloped island in the Caribbean. Moon and Lonely Planet both mentioned how the island has been the site of sporadic violence against tourists, and that women should take caution when traveling there. (The crimes are due to growing tourism coupled with a lack of police presence on the island. Until a few years ago, the island had no law enforcement. Now, it apparently has one police officer.)

On Lonely Planet’s and TripAdvisor’s forums, I found posts about a recent incident that occurred at a Little Corn hotel. According to the posts, two women from the UK were robbed at machete point in their casita, in the middle of the night. “Good to know,” I thought to myself. A few days later, when I tried to pull up the TripAdvisor post, I saw that it was gone. (The Lonely Planet post is still up.)

I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Two other Trip Advisor users commented about the post’s disappearance on a new thread. At that point, TripAdvisor responded with the following message:

“Tragic circumstances occur in every city of the world, including crimes that involve both tourists and locals. We close or remove topics that include graphic descriptions of violent crimes or accidental death and injury; the subject matter does not conform to our rules regarding family-friendly topics and our requirement that forum threads be travel-related discussions.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.”

That explanation didn’t sit well with me. First of all, I think every traveler knows that every destination comes with risks, and that crime can happen to anyone, at any place, at any time. Secondly, it was a travel-related post: It was an incident that could have been reported in a newspaper. I didn’t find the post “graphic” or overblown at all. Plus, I think it’s always good to learn as much about a destination as you can, whether the information is positive or negative. And when it comes to remote destinations that don’t get a lot of news coverage, other travelers can be an invaluable source of info. You can’t help but wonder how much information TripAdvisor is censoring — and what other topics are deemed not “travel-related” or not “family-friendly.”

Once again, others in the TripAdvisor community shared my sentiment. Several members vented their feelings on a new thread, questioning TripAdvisor’s interest in removing the post, and decrying it as a blow against the site’s credibilty.

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