Is TripAdvisor committing a travel scam when they claim to offer “real hotel reviews you can trust”

We will be taking a lot at all sorts of travel scams by online travel sites and bloggers which obscure the truth about travel and confuse the spirit of free speech.

We will start with this little gem recieved from the very talented and creative people at Trout Point Lodge of Nova Scotia. There is much more in store including eery details about TripAdvisor practices and policies!!!!

All are welcome to comment and share their stories here.

Press release:

TripAdvisor meets out “punishment” and “official notices” over intellectual property policies it doesn’t like

Canadian lodge clashes with travel review giant and claims deceptive trade practices

September 17, 2011

For Immediate Release

East Kemptville NS     The online travel review site TripAdvisor stands to loose its lucrative control over hotel, restaurant, and vacation rental reviews submitted to it by most-often anonymous sources. And guests of one small hotel stand to gain an additional measure of peace and privacy. Currently, TripAdvisor, LLC’s web site conditions include language giving “TripAdvisor and its affiliates a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable and fully sublicensable right to” all submissions received from users of the site. TripAdvisor earns income from advertising and also providing reservation links to sites like Expedia and that are part of businessman Barry Diller’s media empire. Without the new content constantly provided for free by users—which is then copyrighted by TripAdvisor–the site would loose income.

Although TripAdvisor claims to have “real hotel reviews you can trust” and to not allow reviews that are, among other things, “libelous, defamatory, . . . harassing, threatening, . . . abusive, inflammatory, [or] fraudulent,” numerous published reports have found the site to be replete with fake reviews. The company is currently being investigated by the Advertising Standard Authority in the United Kingdom and has had complaints filed against it with the Federal Trade Commission in the United States.

One small hotel in Nova Scotia has grown tired of reviews its management views as libellous, abusive, fraudulent, and inflammatory, and also other online content from anonymous contributors that violates its privacy rights and those of its guests. Trout Point Lodge now has a publications privacy policy as part of its Registration Card agreement signed at check-in. The agreement gives the Lodge control over anything published as a result of a stay at the hotel, with some exceptions for journalists representing mainstream media.

TripAdvisor became aware of this component of the registration process, and sent the Lodge an “official notice” about 2 weeks ago, as though acting with some legal force. TripAdvisor has absolutely no right to interfere in agreements freely made between unrelated parties, says the Lodge.

Today, TripAdvisor published a warning in red font with an exclamation point on the Trout Point Lodge listing page, stating:

Message from TripAdvisor: TripAdvisor has reasonable cause to believe that this property requires guests to agree not to post any opinions or photos of their stay on review sites such as TripAdvisor without the approval of the property. Please take this into consideration when researching your travel plans.

This warning is similar in nature to other “warnings” placed on some accommodation listings when TripAdvisor allegedly believes the hotel involved to be trying to manipulate its allegedly objective popularity rating system. Based on its own monitoring of the site, Trout Point management believes TripAdvisor manipulates the rating system and it is not objective. The Lodge’s position is that if TripAdvisor wants to make this a public dispute, its side should be heard.

Trout Point Lodge management also does not agree with the warning, as it does not accurately portray the Lodge’s intention. Trout Point is not trying to prevent objective reviews with accurate statements of fact or clear-cut opinion. However the policy now gives this small business the clear-cut right to have material that it considers libellous or inflammatory removed from TripAdvisor or any other web site, including blogs. The Internet has grown into, at least in part, an uncivil sphere of communication; the social contract has been torn up with alleged “free speech” no matter how irresponsible the only value.

Trout Point management have tried having TripAdvisor remove defamatory material in the past—not only at the Lodge but also at another property they previously operated—but without success. TripAdvisor seemingly has little incentive to strip its site of useful and free third-party content, despite the statements on its “conditions” page. Such defamatory reviews are demoralizing not only to the Lodge’s owners, but also the staff and other guests.

Online reviews are often replete with misstatements of fact as well as 1-5 star ratings that would tend to damage the hotel’s reputation, for instance a 1 star rating for “cleanliness.” (TripAdvisor is well known for publishing sensational annual lists such as the top 10 filthiest hotels.) More objective sources such as professional inspectors, journalists, guide book writers, and rating agencies generally give Trout Point high marks.

An agreement freely entered into between the Lodge and its guests circumvents TripAdvisor’s own immediate copyrighting of any submission it receives. It also protected the privacy and peaceful, secluded nature of the Lodge.

Trout Point, a nature retreat in a wilderness area with no cell phone reception, has made no bones about the policy. It clearly states on both its policies web page and on its accommodation web page what the policy is and the reasoning behind it. Guests read through the policy in full at check-in, and only one has expressed qualms about signing it.

In an age when every cell phone and digital device has a camera, when anonymous libel runs rampant, each day’s events are texted or tweeted, and many routinely even dine with an electronic device as their companion, Trout Point Lodge tries to remain an antidote to and respite from such commercial culture. To maintain an idyllic and secure environment of privacy and seclusion, Trout Point Lodge, Limited (TPL) asks that all guests agree to its privacy policy with regards to publications. This policy is intended as a positive measure to both provide for our guests’ ability to seek rest & relaxation and to protect both the Lodge and its guests from online attacks and defamation from anonymous sources so common in the Internet 2.0 age.

“In exchange and consideration for TPL protecting the privacy of TPL guests from unwanted publicity while on the property, guests at the Lodge agree to the following: that all publications– writings, photos, & video–via the internet or in any other form, whose subject is the result of a stay or other experience with TPL is the exclusive intellectual property of TPL, and that prior written permission to publish or post is required and shall be sought before publishing TPL-themed materials; failure to do so is actionable in a Nova Scotia court of law for breach of contract and copyright infringement; damages will be assumed at a minimum of $3000.00. The undersigned grant TPL exclusive right to request the removal of any materials from any place where undersigned have/has published or posted TPL-themed materials including travel review sites and blogs. The above surrender does not apply to mainstream print or broadcast media as defined by the Nova Scotia Defamation Act, as amended, whether or not they may also have a virtual component.”

The Lodge believes other innkeepers will find their actions of interest, and it was only when the Lodge published the agreement on its own blog that TripAdvisor published its “warning.”

This entry was posted in Is there anything true at TripAdvisor, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Is TripAdvisor committing a travel scam when they claim to offer “real hotel reviews you can trust”

  1. the watcher says:

    great post

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