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Rostra rating: 1
One of the major disappointments of our five month grand tour is repeated confirmation that The Rough Guide has become no different from any other guide book company catering to the lowest common denominator, unable to distinguish between tourism and travel, and brimming with out-right disinformation and egregious mendacity.
Long before MagoGuide was conceived, The Rough Guide was our bible for travel and living abroad. We discovered the joys of the Italian Mezzogiorno and Sicily with its quirky, irreverent, individualistic, but always brutally accurate assessments of sites, restaurants, and hotels. When we first moved to Rome at the turn of the century, a little pocket-sized Rough Guide to Rome led us to many of the restaurants we still patronize or mourn the closing of. Though each guide had its own voice and focus, they were clearly designed for and written by travelers and based on extensive local knowledge. For decades you were either a Rough Guide gal or a Fodors, Frommers, Loney Planet, insert tourist-centric bullshit here, guy.
This all began to change at least ten years ago, and The Rough Guide’s decline has fueled (although not sparked) our growing interest in providing global access to local knowledge for a rifle shot niche of the long tail that shares our high-end DIY approach to travel. The demise of the last of the independent and author-driven travel guides leaves users caught between the Scylla of infrequently massaged hard copy or (at best) e-paper churned out by wage slaves (often at a non-trivial geographic remove from their subject matter) or the wisdom of crowds Charybdis in the form of TripAdviser and its odious digital kin. Thus, the raison d’etre for MagoGuide as I aim to prove in this review.
Here is what The Rough Guide says about the Rosemount House B&B in Wexford Ireland:
“This spruce Georgian town house offers plush, en-suite rooms furnished with antiques and a fine array of breakfast goodies.”
Here is what MagoGuide found: the spruce town house was permeated by an overwhelming smell of rising damp. It was not clear what was plush about the rooms, certainly not the bathrooms, which were basic refits of cheap toilets, sinks, and showers into whatever came before. It was also difficult to tell where the antiques began and ended. The carpets, beds, and mattresses were all approaching mid-century, if not antique, status and not in a good way. The plumbing was also old and balky. If antique means uncomfortable, slightly smelly, and rather ugly, then the bedroom furnishings as well as those in the common living room area were definitely antiques.
That fine array of breakfast goodies never made an appearance during our two night stay. Just about everything on the menus came out indifferently over-cooked. The coffee in particular sucked, which would be par for the course in a UK B&B, but we found in over two weeks in Ireland that they know how to make good coffee regardless of venue, except at Rosemount House. Also, breakfast is strictly confined to one hour between 8:30 and 9:30 AM (see below for the “early ferry limited breakfast” and its drawbacks).
Decent or even friendly service would have made up for some of these flaws, but the owners seemed to go out of their way to make our stay even more unpleasant. Carol in particular needs to find a job in which she does not have to interact with people. Upon arrival she never offered to get us any help with our luggage, which had to be lugged up two fights of stairs. Her husband Terry (there are only the two of them) seems to have at least one other job that is not associated with the B&B, and is usually absent when needed. He was able to (temporarily) repair a bathroom towel rack that fell apart spectacularly under the fearsome weight of the smallish bath towel (singular emphasized because there were two of us in the room).
Carol’s modus operandi is to hole up in the family living area and act as if any request is a serious imposition. We had an early ferry and needed to load the car with our heavy bags by ourselves. Carol informed us that we would be permitted a limited breakfast, but not until an hour before the ferry left. The ferry tickets explicitly state that one must arrive an hour prior to departure, but Carol refused to serve breakfast earlier and kept telling me to calm down in a very exasperated and irritating tone. She and Terry regaled me with assurances that we only needed to leave a half hour before the ferry like all their other guests.
I might have retorted that 1) given some very important connections and events in the UK we simply could not afford to miss the ferry, 2) that I had purchased tickets that gave us access to the premium shipboard lounge and knew from recent experience that the quiet room where one can actually get work done without blaring TV, shouted cell phone conversations, and incorrigibly loud and over-indulged children, filled up very quickly, and 3) that I really did not give a sweet damn whether Terry used to work at the ferry site and his rambling stories about how late he used to board the ship were quite beside the point. But I decided to write this review instead.
The limited breakfast was even worse than the regular one and I arrived at the appointed time to find that another couple had been accommodated with an earlier breakfast time than we had been allowed. Universal bad service depresses me, but retaliatory treatment when I am just trying to get someone to do her job tends to infuriate me. I probably got dissed because I had tried to get Carol to run my credit card the night before so as to streamline things upon departure. She assured me that it would be no problem to run the card the next day and when I insisted that she do it that evening, she was unable to make the machine work over the course of a half hour that involved moving into various rooms with the device and whining to me about how hard it is to make any electronics work in such an old house. It still took 15 minutes the next day to get the card to run and she clearly did not want to do it, asking me to leave the card number with her and depart without a receipt, because I would eventually see it on my statement. I just glared at her until the card went through.
What else sucked? Well the Wi-Fi was spotty at best. You had the choice of significant street noise or a very hot room at night. The free parking is a pain and you have to wait for Terry to open the gate in the AM, another little source of delay and irritation as the clock on the ferry continued to tick. Oh and the power was cut for 8 hours during the day for scheduled work that we were informed about at check in but assured that they had a back-up generator that would supply power for everything we needed except Wi-Fi, bathroom outlets, in-room kettles, or TV. Great, a little warning would have been appropriate (the street work had been scheduled for weeks and I had made the reservation months before). However, Carol does not really do e-mail; it took me weeks to secure a simple reservation confirmation and I had to call internationally to give her my credit card number since she does not have a fax (it’s an old house after all).
So Rosemount gets the dubious honor of being MagoGuide’s first single rostra lodging venue.
How does this really, really bad property stack up on other platforms? Many of the sites characterize Rosemount as a “four star B&B” but none of them say what organization has bestowed this stellar rating. I would keep quiet about it too. Lonely Planet has much the same complimentary descriptions of the rooms and breakfast as The Rough Guide (hmmm), but Looney Planet goes so far as to claim that the bread is homemade. Really?
I can guarangoddamntee you that Carol cannot properly toast bread, let alone bake it dude. Booking.com, which makes a big deal about their refereed reviews, gives Rosemount an 8.9 “Fabulous” score based on 190 reviews. They call out the food and Wi-Fi for special cudos, but their basic description is verbatim identical to Lonely Planet (hmmm). Google rates the property at 4.5 out of 5, although it is unclear what this is based on since one is offered the chance to be the first reviewer of this property. TripAdvisor ranks Rosemount at 3.5 out of 5 based on 29 reviews, but 3.5 seems to be TripAdvisor’s default setting for sparsely reviewed properties.
The positive-to-very-positive rankings for Rosemount House were such a disconnect with Team Mago’s experience that I felt compelled to read many of them. While it did whittle away at my only life (as far as I or anyone else knows in an objective sense), the experience was informative. Across all platforms I discerned a similar pattern in the reviews: the majority were gushy, over the top complimentary accolades amounting to digital dopplegangers of all the flaws listed above, while the minority touched on every negative aspect we experienced during our stay. A series of explanations come to mind:
- Reverse trolling: a claque is easier to pull off vis-à-vis a platform’s review policy than trashing the competition. Where else would people get the idea that the bread was home baked, the accommodations plush, and the staff friendly and helpful unless it was at the instigation of Carol and Terry in some fashion?
- Reviewer madness: it is easier to rack up review cred with positive reviews than negative ones. This is the user side of reverse trolling. For reasons I do not understand and never will, many frequent reviewers (regardless of platform) strive for status within their niche, even if it has no tangible utility to them. The best example is TripAdvisor’s brilliant TripCollective Member Recognition Program where frequent reviewers are awarded points, badges, and other digital trinkets that cannot be redeemed for anything.
- No honor amongst thieves: the explicit duplication of descriptive language and eerie similarity of review language, percentages, and scores leads one to believe that there is a lot of oligopolistic sharing of data going on amongst the various “competing” platforms and guidebooks. This really should not be surprising, given that you can squeeze a lot of costs out of what is in essence a cut rate digital booking site if you do not have to employ anyone to actually visit a property or even go to the trouble of determining whether the reviews you post are written by someone who has.
- Phases of the moon: if you look at the number of negative versus positive reviews concerning Rosemount House, you could be forgiven for positing that Carol and Terry lose their collective shit about once a week. The night before this happens, they pump some vile smelling odorant into the structure, replace all the antiques with kitsch and junk, get in a bunch of store bought bread, practice cooking eggs badly, tear out all the modern bathroom fixtures, especially the towel racks, etc. and then let the guests have it the next day.
I will leave it up to MagoGuide’s readers to decide on the precise explanation, or appropriate mix of underlying causes, for such a bad B&B getting such glowing and similar treatment by so many review outlets. But I would like to take credit for MagoGuide’s exposé of a crappy B&B leading to a devastating generalization of the on-line travel and guidebook industry. Tourists may be content with following the “wisdom of crowds” but travelers ought to know better, in fact now they do.