What was that supposed to mean?
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What was that supposed to mean?
TripAdvisor launches hotline for disgruntled hoteliers
November 9, 2011 — Travel review site TripAdvisor has beefed up its customer care in the UK following criticism from accommodation owners that it’s guilty of unfairly damaging their reputations.
The site is facing legal action from one UK hotelier for defamation and the Advertising Standards Authority is investigating a complaint from online reputation management firm Kwikchex about the level of defamatory comments on its site.
TripAdvisor said today it had appointed a customer care manager to lead a new European unit to support registered business owners and managers, who will be given a dedicated phone number.
Hoteliers who believe users have posted unfair or defamatory comments on the site will be able to call the number to complain. Accommodation owners who have been ‘red flagged’ by TripAdvisor for allegedly posting favourable reviews of their own properties will also be able to use the direct line.
The new customer care team will be led by Sue Worth, who has joined TripAdvisor from a division of Invensys Operations Management, a FTSE100 company specialising in carbon and energy solutions, where she led their customer experience unit. She was previously guest relations manager for the Gloucester Hotel in London and has been responsible for implementing customer experience programmes for a number of companies in the technology and hospitality sectors, including Gulf Air Holidays.
“We’re delighted to have Sue on-board,” said director of customer care John Dila. “Her years of industry experience and her natural inclination toward superb customer service delivery will be integral in developing excellent customer care for the EMEA region, an integral part of our global operations for success.
This appointment, along with our new dedicated customer support number sends a strong message about our commitment to delivering quality customer care for accommodation owners.”
In a further attempt to stave off mounting criticism of its review site, TripAdvisor is inviting acommodation owners to learn more about the organisation and online reputation management. There will be an event in Liverpool on November 15 and in Exeter on November 17.
“The décor reminded me more of my mother-in-law’s nursing home as frankly, I have stayed in more up-to-date Travel Lodges.”
— Excerpt from a review by a hotel guest on TripAdvisor
“What a wonderfully written review! I strongly recommend that you take up writing fiction for a living.”
— Excerpt from the hotel manager’s response to the review
User-generated reviews have been alternately hailed as giving voice to consumers and denounced as unreliable, open to fakery and other abuse.
For consumers, they can be a valuable tool, tapping in to the collective opinions of others on everything from the reliability of a particular toaster to the quality of food at a restaurant to the welcome they can expect at a resort.
For businesses, they can be an important barometer of customer relations and provide a potential boost in custom. But unfavourable reviews can cost them business, plus the anxiety of coping with critics who can shelter, at least initially, behind the Internet’s cloak of anonymity.
Some businesses — such as the United Kingdom’s Saint Martin’s on the Isle Hotel — appear to take the “best defence is a good offence” approach to online reviews, if the above excerpts from TripAdvisor are any indication, reacting with stinging rebukes of their own when a guest posts an unfavourable review.
One Nova Scotia eco-retreat has taken the fight against user-generated reviews a step further, insisting guests sign an agreement promising they won’t post about their experiences at the lodge on any online sites without written permission.
Most recently, a Florida food company sued Yelp for defamation, claiming the site showed negative reviews ahead of positive ones.
And in the United Kingdom, the Advertising Standards Agency has launched an investigation into TripAdvisor following a complaint by the online reputation-management company KwikChex, which represents 2,000 hotels, alleging that many of the reviews are fake or simply unreliable.
Online reviews may give consumers the power to become published critics, but others maintain that power is being abused, with stories of bogus reviews and manipulated rankings raising questions about the reliability of user-generated critiques.
Reviews, for a price
To write a review, all you need is an account with Google Places, Yelp or one of the many other sites that host such critiques. While such reviews may appear legitimate, some are bought and paid for: The going rate seems to be about $5.
“We are looking for people who already have accounts or would create an account on one or more of these Review sites: Google Places, Yahoo Local, Yelp, Insiderpages or CitySearch so that you can write reviews for businesses for us,” reads one Craigslist ad.
“Many businesses and Marketing Agencies contact us that want positive reviews for their business and clients.” Another ad offers $5 each for 100 reviews, promising they “can be done easily in one day.”
Bogus reviews are such an issue that Cornell researchers developed an algorithmic method to detect fake online hotel reviews, which successfully identified fakes 90 per cent of the time in a database of 400 genuine and 400 planted reviews.
The “opinion spam” can range from “annoying self-promotion of an unrelated website or blog to deliberate review fraud,” the researchers said. And depending on the product being reviewed, up to 30 per cent of reviews might be fake, estimates a researcher from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Fake reviews may not just extol a product’s virtues; they could also be negative, posted by a rival business to hurt its competition.
In one case of faked reviews in 2009, Belkin — maker of networking and computer-related products — issued a letter of apology after it was discovered that one of its employees was paying people to post positive reviews of Belkin products.
But despite the pitfalls and the controversy surrounding them, online reviews — like the genie that won’t be stuffed back in the bottle — are here to stay.
Consumers aren’t about to start keeping their opinions to themselves now that they have found a global audience.
That is not a bad thing.
The sheer volume of reviews may function as a bit of a filter for the bogus ones. Reading one review may give a skewed perspective, but looking at a number of reviews can balance out biases.
“I trust them in aggregate,” said Darren Barefoot, co-founder of Vancouver’s Capulet Communications and co-author of Friends with Benefits: A Social Media Marketing Handbook. “No one is particularly reliable.”
Just as asking one friend’s opinion of a movie isn’t as helpful as getting that of 10 friends, he said, online reviews are most useful when considered collectively. And Barefoot said he tends to look at star ratings such as those on Amazon.com.
A kind of rate-the-reviewer system, some sites let readers vote on whether they find a review helpful, and many will deliver a star rating based on the average rankings of all the posted reviews on the particular item or service.
Difficult as it can be for businesses to take the criticism levelled against them online — often from anonymous posters — Barefoot advises them not to ignore it.
“Leaving something alone is almost always a bad idea,” he said. “Ignoring comments, putting your head in the sand is not going to make the critics go away. You have to engage with critics and you have to engage with the people who love your organization.”
In seminars and workshops for businesses, Barefoot uses the example of Saint Martin’s on the Isle Hotel as an illustration of how not to respond to unfavourable online reviews.
“The first piece of advice we give on that is to treat the person like they are standing in front of you,” he said.
Not all businesses take that advice. Indeed, some are taking a more aggressive response to online critics, in some cases suing for defamation.
The Federal Communications Decency Act in the U.S., however, provides a degree of protection for user-generated review sites, giving them immunity from liability for content posted by the site’s users.
While defamation laws are different in Canada, practically speaking it can be costly and time-consuming for businesses here to seek redress for what they may consider defamatory reviews.
Vancouver lawyer David Wotherspoon — a partner in Fasken Martineau whose practice focuses on intellectual property, technology and defamation — said if someone is publishing words that are defamatory, it is almost impossible to get a preliminary injunction to stop that because of the high value courts place on freedom of speech.
The very nature of the Internet almost guarantees the offending words will spread widely and there is the so-called Streisand Effect.
That term refers to how attempts to stifle online publications can sometimes backfire. It dates back to 2003, when entertainer Barbra Streisand attempted to have images of her Malibu home removed from the Internet, a move that only focused attention on them and led to a huge increase in online viewing.
Even in cases where a plaintiff gets a favourable ruling, if the defendant is based in a different country, enforcing an order for damages can be an onerous undertaking. With online user-generated reviews it may be more effective to simply write a letter asking that the offending post be removed, according to Wotherspoon.
“Say I post something you don’t like [on a review site such as Yelp],” he said. “The easy solution for Yelp is they just pull it off. I can complain and receive a solution through one letter that I would likely never get in the courts.”
Companies that host user-generated reviews, meanwhile, are protected by the defence of innocent dissemination.
“Because they don’t in fact have knowledge of the content that is posted, at least initially, they are not going to be held liable,” said Wotherspoon.
As soon as the company is put on notice about defamatory content, however, it is no longer covered by innocent dissemination.
Wotherspoon said he thinks legitimate organizations such as Yelp act responsibly. “That may be why I am not seeing a lot of disputes over the abuse of user-generated reviews,” he said.
Yelp, which has been the subject of defamation suits in the U.S., changed some of its practices last year after class-action lawsuits were brought against it. One change was a provision that now allows businesses to see reviews that have been filtered out by the site’s algorithmic process, which seeks to weed out fake reviews.
“We were pretty quick to implement the review filter,” said Yelp spokeswoman Stephanie Ichinose. “Basically it is looking for patterns of abuse or suspicious behaviour. I am the first to say the filter is not perfect. From time to time it will suppress the review of a legitimate customer.”
Ichinose said 85 per cent of the reviews on Yelp give a three-star or higher rating. A three-star rating ranks the business as “A-OK.”
David Doyle’s company has experienced the good and bad of user-generated reviews. Doyle, vice-president of sales at the Apple specialty dealer Simply.ca, said the important thing for businesses is to track and respond to comments, whether they’re positive or negative.
In one recent incident, a customer who used the company’s service department wrote what Doyle described as “a terrible Yelp about us.” When Doyle investigated, he discovered the customer’s phone number had been written down wrong — which meant Simply hadn’t been able to contact him regarding an item left for servicing.
The Yelp reviewer withdrew the unfavourable post when the confusion over the phone number came to light.
Doyle said Yelp has so far filtered out two reviews posted about Simply, one a four-star review and another a critical review.
“I think they are making an effort to make it a more credible experience for people,” he said. “At the same time, they’ll take out the good ones with the bad ones.”
Still, other companies are less willing to join the discussion, upset not just by negative reviews but by consumers who use such tools as negotiating devices, threatening to post bad reviews unless the business acquiesces to their demands.
Nova Scotia’s Trout Point Lodge has come under criticism for its policy forbidding guests from posting anything online about the lodge or their experiences there.
But co-owner Vaughan Perret said since the policy was instituted last May, only one guest has refused to sign the legal agreement, which is a condition of staying at the hotel.
The lodge gets an average four-and-a-half star rating out of five from the 56 reviews on TripAdvisor, but a prominent advisory on the page now warns: “TripAdvisor has reasonable cause to believe that this hotel requires guests to transfer their intellectual-property rights for any online publications or reviews related to their experiences as a guest to the hotel, which will discourage publicly available online feedback. Please take this into consideration when researching your travel plans.”
Perret said the lodge relies primarily on word-of-mouth when it comes to recommendations.
“We have had problems with TripAdvisor,” he said. “Many innkeepers have had problems with TripAdvisor.”
Perret said the anonymity of the Internet can make it “a really uncivil place.” That, he said, plus the lodge’s commitment to ensuring privacy for its guests, prompted the policy regarding online postings.
“I really haven’t had any choice but to take the road I’ve taken,” he said.
Perret said that on at least three occasions guests have threatened to post bad reviews unless the lodge agreed to their demands for discounts.
“The blackmail thing has come up, for sure,” he said.
Although user-generated reviews may be more common than ever, the concerns being raised are almost as old as the Internet.
Robert Slade, a data communications and security specialist who follows the issue of online reviews, had his first experience with suspect reviews back in the 1990s. His first book on anti-virus technology had just been released and virus writers, he said, launched a determined attack through Amazon.
“They wanted to do as much damage to my book as possible,” he said.
Slade doesn’t put much store in user-generated reviews, speaking instead of a new type of caveat emptor: buyer beware, not only of what you’re thinking about buying but of what’s being written about it.
“I seldom look at users’ comments,” he said. “I may look at a few, but I certainly hesitate to make a decision on that basis. I’ve found the quality of comments really is not worth looking at. There is an awful lot of ‘I liked this, I didn’t like that, this is the best thing in the world, this is the worst in the world.’ ”
ON the hoteliers’ list of most despised things, TripAdvisor is near the top – along with bed-bugs, trashed rooms and guest mini-bar malpractices.
I’ve never particularly been a fan of TripAdvisor’s reviews since being a journalist I have to put a name to any critiques.
I’ve been shocked by the tone, pettiness and lack of balance of many of the reviews.
On the occasions that I do use the site I spend a lot of time scrolling through the reviews, attempting to establish some pattern to the critiques in order to get a proper perspective of the hotel in question.
Despite the attacks that TripAdvisor – which posts an average of 21 reviews and opinions every minute – has attracted, Accor has become the first global chain to put TripAdvisor on its website. Comments, unedited, now appear on the hotel’s reservation site, featuring hotels such as Sofitel, Mercure and Novotel.
Accor says that constructive comments on such sites can lead to real changes and improvements at a hotel.
Australian accommodation booking site wotif.com is also reportedly expecting to launch TripAdvisor-style reviews on its website.
My advice to wotif.com is to strike out and make it compulsory for reviewers to provide their real names, not just their disguised email ones.
And for all those looking to use TripAdvisor or similar consumer-feedback-based sites – here are some constructive tips on how to get the best out of the websites:
There’s no point complaining about the absence of fluffy white bath-robes if you’re staying in a three-star chain hotel (though you may find them in boutique hotels). The same goes for other inclusions, such as parking, that aren’t included in the property’s website in the first instance or aren’t likely to be provide due to the hotel’s rate and star status.
Don’t just write a critical review simply to retaliate against the hotel after a bad experience, which may well have been an aberration. Discerning readers will likely judge you as much as the hotel in terms what you have to say about the hotel and the tone in which you choose to express your gripes.
The party’s over
Now that the worst effects of the GFC have passed, hotel occupancy rates have risen while the number of bargains have declined. Don’t expect to be upgraded to that ocean view room – even if you ask nicely – in the current climate (unless you’re a member of the chain’s loyalty club).
Don’t write-off a hotel just because of what’s written on TripAdvisor. Google the hotel and see what else has been written (yes, even by experienced travel journalists).
I also find TripAdvisor, critiques aside, as a good way to determine what accommodation is available in a city and what’s new.
Do your homework
Check out TripAdvisor’s help centre, it’s actually rather helpful and shows how the site has been working in recent times to lift its standards and be more accountable.
There’s some great advice on how to write a review. I like the apparently real example they used to show how not to write a review: “There were bugs everywhere and the fat unhelpful, ungracious host should be ashamed to work in NYC.”
Don’t play the defame game
A lawyer was quoted on News.com.au last year warning that Australians posting false or exaggerated reviews could be sued, with the legal penalties having the potential to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Robert Tood from Blake Dawson advised that when posting a critical review be sure of your supporting facts. It may not always remain the case that reviewers’ name remains anonymous, or that hotels, rightly or wrongly, won’t retaliate.
Don’t always tell the world
TripAdvisor and such sites aren’t the last word in complaint. No one writes letters these days but do send an email to the general manager of the hotel if you’ve had a bad experience.
My partner had a bizarre experience at a Thai resort a few years ago when the masseur announced thought she’d felt a lump and immediately diagnosed breast cancer. Fortunately, it wasn’t the case at all but the insensitivity wrecked the last days of our trip. I wrote a carefully-worded email of complaint to the general manager who wrote straight back with an apology. Matter settled.
Then again, had he not replied there always was TripAdvisor…
The User Review Phenomenon: Big Money & Retaliation
“Objective” review sites sell a new kind of entertainment in part through sensationalist reviews and forum chatter, and make money by selling advertising and links to Internet reservation sites. A glance at www.tripadvisor.com will reveal numerous links to its sister enterprises such as hotels.com and expedia.com. TripAdvisor is about selling advertising and acting as a gateway for corporate reservation sites. Checking on the veracity of the review content is often left aside. As a TripAdvisor employee put it in a forum discussion, explaining their editorial policies: “The ‘truth’ is always subjective.”
TripAdvisor claims to publish “more than 20 million unbiased reviews and opinions, covering 250,000+ hotels and attractions.” Travel writer Vijay Verghese of Bangkok has recently (September, 2007) noted the increasing trend of the traveling public using review sites as weapons, often perpetuated by persons he calls “Aesthete Travellers”:
Times have changed. These days you don’t simply call a hotel to make a reservation. You call them, bully them, hint at legal action, threaten to leap off a high place – like from atop the toaster – and, finally, mention that dreaded “online review”, all to get $5 knocked off your bill. Sometimes it works. Despite travel giant Expedia’s best efforts to filter out scams – including complex algorithms to detect fraud – the “unbiased” hotel reviews on TripAdvisor.com are often peppered with blackmail and stealth attacks.
Verghese’s independent observations are confirmed by numerous other investigators, including the Times newspaper of London quoted below.
Our research has found similar instances at several properties where people looking for discounted rooms have threatened posting bad reviews on tripadvisor.com as a way to coerce management.
In one e-mail to a small inn in Costa Rica in 2006, one person who received a polite e-mail telling him that the Inn was full, continued to demand a reservation over a long period of time and ultimately wrote the following:
I will be detailing these unfortunate series of non-communication events on Tripadvisor and giving you the lowest possible rating. Your lack of responsiveness has delayed my reservations making for three weeks while waiting for your reply. Best Wishes, Mike
[name of inn and listing page on tripadvisor.com]
(The next one won’t be too good.)
Should sites such as tripadvisor.com be able to act as weapons of blackmail for anyone with Internet access? Is it still the innkeeper’s prerogative to refuse accommodation to those it considers undesirable or has no room for?
In a similar instance, a couple seeking a discount off of a stay wrote scathing reviews and posted negative comments to forums on tripadvisor.com and travellibrary.com. They contacted the property to demand a refund, and ultimately received it. In return, they pulled the reviews and forum postings.
Giving in to such blackmail by hotel management may seem as bad as the blackmail itself, however many innkeepers (and increasingly restaurateurs) are at the mercy of these powerful travel “review” sites that exercise no true editorial control over their increasingly influential publications. Such is not what the U.S. Congress anticipated in 1996 when it passed the Communications Decency Act grating sites like tripadvisor.com immunity from legal action for its role as an Internet publisher.
Even when tripadvisor.com in Boston was contacted by the hotelier to report the latter instance of blackmail, nothing was done until the reviewer him- or herself pulled the review and forum posting. travellibrary.com did pull the review when notified of its nature, but this web site has since been bought by TripAdvisor, LLC.
In another example, a small inn recently received threats of posting bad reviews to tripadvisor as a way of getting out of a cancellation policy. Staff found their behavior so strange and threatening that they recorded more than 45 minutes of conversation with them, including the threats of posting bad reviews. Without fail, two bad reviews full of untruths appeared on tripadvisor.com within a month. The inn’s management contacted the party to inform them that if they did not correct factual errors or remove the reviews, that a legal action for defamation would be forthcoming. They also wrote to TripAdvisor asking that the blackmail reviews be removed. TripAdvisor refused to do so.
A Tourism Business’ Dilemma & Rights: TripAdvisor Acting as Judge & Jury
What’s more, when TripAdvisor learned of the inn’s communication with the “reviewers” it wrote the following message to the inn attempting to cow the accommodation owners into dropping their threat of legal action:
Travelers rely on TripAdvisor to be an unbiased source of travel information.
TripAdvisor has reason to suspect that you and/or others in your organization have attempted to influence your position on our site by threatening reviewers to get them remove or edit unfavorable reviews.
As outlined in our FAQs at
it is a strict violation of TripAdvisor’s guidelines to attempt to manipulate our ranking system. We have a procedure for penalizing businesses who make such attempts.
This is official notification that your property is now being actively monitored by TripAdvisor for suspicious activity. You must discontinue any attempts to subvert our system.
Please respond to this email to acknowledge receipt of this notice. (emphasis added)
The inn responded by telling TripAdvisor that it was fully within its legal rights, and in many common-law jurisdictions it is mandated by law, that a party defaming another be contacted and asked to remove or correct the offending material, no matter what TripAdvisor’s “guidelines” might be.
This non-U.S. based accommodation owner was not trying to “manipulate” a ranking system, but merely and lawfully to have defamatory material removed or corrected, material being used to defraud and blackmail.
A brief investigation has found at least three other properties with the same pattern: if any accommodation business threatens legal action either against TripAdvisor or reviewers, they receive this “official notification,” have defamatory warnings placed on their listing, and have their rank on the web site manipulated. So much for objectivity.
Moreover, TripAdvisor will not honor requests to have a listing removed completely, and routinely buys ad words on sites such as Google using the business’ trade name.
Indeed, the mainstream media and the traveling public most often blame the tourism industry for posting fake reviews to buoy their ratings on TripAdvisor and gain more business. For instance, Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times in a piece circulated by the Tribune Newspapers, emphasizes the 1st Amendment right to free speech and even promoting the idea of “strategic lawsuit against public participation” (SLAPP) with hoteliers who threaten those writing defamatory reviews or reviews written with the attempt to blackmail. According to most legal experts in common law jurisdictions, when a review is defamatory, or is written with the intention to do harm, or is so negligent that it does harm a hotel business, the 1st Amendment or similar legal rights end.
TripAdvisor pretends to take on quasi-judicial status itself, giving out “official notifications” as though they had some right to do so. Hamm quotes a communication received from TripAdvisor about the issue of the hotel threatening legal action for defamation:
Brooke Ferencsik, senior manager of media relations for TripAdvisor, said, “It is rare that a hotelier threatens a reviewer with legal action, but if we are made aware of such an instance, we will send out a letter to the owner alerting them that their property will be actively monitored by TripAdvisor for suspicious activity and that they must discontinue any attempts to subvert our system. We also make them aware that we have a procedure for penalizing businesses who make such attempts.”
This begs the question: how, exactly, does TripAdvisor, LLC and its parent company Expedia “penalize” businesses; and are these quasi-judicial actions, “official notifications” regarding “suspicious activity” and their attendant “punishments” legal?
The Inn that threatened legal action for reviews published by TripAdvisor that attempted to blackmail it? TripAdvisor has never responded to the management, but did place the following “punishment” message on the inn’s tripadvisor.com page in 2008:
Alert: This property has attempted to manipulate our popularity index by interfering with the unbiased nature of our reviews. Please take this into consideration when researching your traveling plans.
This “alert” has subsequently been changed to the following, published prominently in red:
The same message appears on dozens of hotel property listings—those that TripAdvisor is “punishing.”
Thus, a hotel property being blackmailed by defamatory material published by tripadvisor.com with no exercise of editorial responsibility is then damaged and defamed further by TripAdvisor itself! As travel expert Pauline Frommer commented in a 2008 interview with ABC News, “online hotel ‘reviews’ are often more like advertisements. ‘A good review, or 10 good reviews, or 20 good reviews translates into thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for that hotel,’ Frommer said.” TripAdvisor clearly knows that it is damaging a property’s business with such editorial content.
Notably, informational content on tripadvisor.com not authored by 3rd parties is not subject to the immunity granted to web site owners by Congress in 1996, under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Thus, TripAdvisor, LLC can be sued for content—like the “alerts”–that it is responsible for writing and publishing. In 2008, Deirdre Kiely sued TripAdvisor for its employment practices. She was a “web content editor” hired (allegedly illegally) as a contractor—exactly the kind of person who manufactures and fine tunes content for the web site in a way not immunized by legislation in the U.S. The same could be said of TripAdvisor’s “Popularity Index,” its listing of the Top 10 Filthiness Hotels in various regions, and other content authored by TripAdvisor itself.
Several lawyers in the United Kingdom have said that a law suit against the web site’s parent company is likely, as reported by The Times and Travolution.com. One attorney told a Times reporter that TripAdvisor’s claim that it only publishes the subjective opinions of others “may not be a strong enough defence where reviewers have defamed a hotel by making unfounded claims that could affect its reputation.” Indeed, in most jurisdictions outside the United States—such as the United Kingdom and Canada—TripAdvisor has absolutely no immunity as a publisher of defamatory material.
Our investigation has concluded that there is a very strong likelihood that actions by TripAdvisor to “penalize businesses” include controlling the property’s rank by:
• removing positive reviews
• causing TripAdvisor employees or contractors like Deirdre Kiely to write negative 1- and 2-star reviews
• strategically withholding or posting reviews
• otherwise manipulating the supposedly scientific “popularity index”
Examples of such punitive “reviews” include those written by the following TripAdvisor users:
Our investigation has unearthed at least 3 specific examples of TripAdvisor content editors removing positive reviews to manipulate the ranking and “popularity” of individual accommodations listed on its site: one each for properties in Costa Rica, Canada, and the United States. In all of these instances, positive reviews were removed and negative reviews appeared within a very short period of time. In one example, a bed and breakfast went from ranking #1 in its geographic area to ranking last because of these editorial manipulations.
The Power of Internet Reviews and TripAdvisor’s Decaying Reputation for the Truth
Travel writer Vijay Verghese continues his tongue-in-cheek analysis:
Aesthete Travellers will stop at nothing to secure a harmonious stay. Hoteliers report they’ll even threaten to “blow up” the place if the rate is not dropped. And it’s not just the Hamas delegation we’re talking about.
Others hint at brutal online hotel reviews with deeply disturbing outcomes fraught with bad grammar and misspellings. Guests who have enjoyed a perfectly comfortable stay will turn up at the check-out counter complaining about trivialities hoping to get “compensation”. Usually this means a free night, or a free stay.
The Times of London has kept a keen eye on tripadvisor.com and other travel “review” sites:
These examples are just the tip of an iceberg. The entire industry of reviewing hotels and restaurants is in the midst of a revolution that risks leading customers up the path to Fawlty Towers.
The traditional published guides, often compiled by independent inspectors, are struggling, while online sites where checks are few are proliferating.
A London Sunday Times investigation has shown:
1) “Guests” who have never even stayed at a hotel can boost or depress its rating by posting fake reviews.
2) Poorly rated establishments can lift their reputations from one to four stars in a matter of hours by posting fictional positive reviews.
3) Some establishments attempt to damage the reputations of rivals. So tough is the competition that even top hotels and restaurants would consider placing fake reviews to maintain their status.
The best travel guides have traditionally been compiled by professional inspectors who visit hotels and restaurants incognito and fiercely guard their impartiality. But it is a costly business and one that can no longer compete.
Travel & Leisure has published on “Who can you trust,” detailing fake negative and positive reviews appearing on tripadvisor.com for New York hotel that had not yet opened. As travel blog beatofhawaii.com has noted “Perhaps TripAdvisor’s motto, ‘get the truth, then go,’ needs to be changed to, ‘try to find the truth, and go.’”
TripAdvisor pretends to its viewing public to have established editorial criterion and methods for catching false postings. However, investigations have shown this is far from the truth. Competitors routinely run smear campaigns using tripadvisor.com as a weapon. In addition, as already shown, guests or potential guests use such sites as a means of blackmail, demanding discounts or free stays from management.
As www.beatofhawaii.com has noted, it goes against TripAdvisor, LLC and its parent company Expedia’s financial interest to combat fraud and thus reduce content:
TripAdvisor, a unit of Expedia, obviously serves first and foremost to further their global travel marketing business. TripAdvisor makes money through their affiliate (link click) program and through advertisements. The value of that marketing business is in no small part based on the number of reviews as well as the number of visitors to the site. Reducing the number of visitors and reviews in order to limit the amount of fraud will likely also have significant negative financial impact on their marketing.
Our investigations have revealed two examples of obvious fraudulent reviews and postings: a Canadian property was maligned for months in the TripAdvisor forums with TripAdvisor refusing to act to prevent the activity in any way, when a user suddenly also announced they had submitted a terrible review of the property. It was early May, and the accommodation had not yet opened.
A Costa Rica eco-lodge recently had a review posted giving it an overall rating of 1 out of 5, saying the owners were haughty, and stating that the place was filthy. The reviewer stated that he stayed there in October, 2008—the place was closed the entire month and the owners had not been present for months, having turned management over to locals. The company has written to TripAdvisor asking them to remove the review. After 5 days, the TripAdvisor “Hotel Relations” department wrote back:
We have looked at the review in question and determined that it does meet TripAdvisor’s listing criteria. Therefore, it will not be removed. Please understand that TripAdvisor is not an arbitrator of disputes between guests and hoteliers, but is merely an open forum for guests to express their experiences. In order for us to maintain our integrity as an open forum, we must allow our members to freely express their opinions as long as they meet our listing criteria. Our decision to allow this review to remain on the site is not an indictment of your hotel or the situation in question in any way; we are simply staying consistent with our policy.
In fact, TripAdvisor supposedly has zero tolerance for fake reviews, and all reviews must be based on an actual traveler’s experience. In this example, TripAdvisor is manipulating content, position on its popularity index, and star rating with malicious intent or at a minimum editorial negligence.
The Times continued:
Last week The Sunday Times was able to post reviews on TripAdvisor giving top ratings to six London hotels that had consistently been criticised as “the worst ever”, “a horror” or “disgusting”.
One hotel in west London had received consistently bad reviews on TripAdvisor, with guests describing it as a “hovel” with “stains everywhere”. Yet when a Sunday Times reviewer awarded it top marks, no one checked on the discrepancy.
TripAdvisor, which insists that all its reviews are read by moderators, later admitted that it could not spot all fake postings but aimed to stop concerted campaigns to raise the reputations of establishments.
tripadvisor.com’s registered trade mark is “get the truth, then go”; yet our investigation has also revealed that non-existent hotels and resorts can get a listing on the web site within days—that is, TripAdvisor performs absolutely no due diligence to even determine if a hotel actually exists or not. More importantly, TripAdvisor itself hires people to write content, including creating listings for fake hotels. Under federal legislation, if TripAdvisor is an “information content provider” and not just a web site that posts the content of others, it loses any immunity from being sued for its web content. It is certainly within a tourism or accommodation business’ legal and ethical rights to protect itself against the negligent and intentional harm perpetuated by TripAdvisor, LLC.
WBIR: The owner of a Sevier County (Tennessee) hotel that was named the “dirtiest hotel in America” is suing the website that gave them that distinction.