Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

TripAdvisor 300x256 Are TripAdvisor ratings worth the paper theyre (not) printed on?Have you ever visited La Scaletta? Until recently the top rated restaurant in Brescia, Italy?  If not, you aren’t alone, as Italian newspaper Italia a Tavola invented it just to prove the flawed nature of the TripAdvisor review system.

The newspaper decided to create a fictional restaurant, and then add fake glowing reviews, as an experiment to expose TripAdvisor’s vulnerability to fraudulent reviews. Within a month, the imaginary eaterie was the best restaurant in town. After contacting TripAdvisor for comment, La Scaletta’s listing was removed.

TripAdvisor, of course, deny that this means their system is flawed. A spokesperson for the company told The Independent:

“It is a pretty meaningless experiment to create a fake listing or reviews just to try and catch us out, since that is completely different from the fraud we see and catch on a daily basis. We know that, when fraudsters attempt to manipulate the rankings on our site, they leave behind patterns that we can and do trace.”

They added that they are “absolutely committed to ensuring that the content on TripAdvisor provides a trusted and useful source of information for those planning a trip anywhere in the world,” highlighting the fact that they removed the listing and the reviews from their site since they realised it ‘failed to meet guidelines’.

TripAdvisor, which currently lists over 170 million reviews, has become somewhat beleaguered of late. Last December, Italian authorities fined TripAdvisor €500,000  after ruling that it had failed to adopt sufficient mechanisms to protect consumers from misleading information, and last week it became the centre of a storm over accusations that they had deleted negative reviews of a National Trust property after a request from the PR department, who’d much rather not have those pesky ratings on the site.

TripAdvisor reportedly deleted more than 200 reviews of Wakehurst Place, a National Trust estate leased by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, with many of the negative reviews complaining about a £10-a-day parking charge and about National Trust staff at the property. TripAdvisor said that the deletions were made because they had determined that they did not relate to a genuine first-hand experience. Which is a convenient excuse.

All of this is, of course, great material for the current CMA investigation into the reliability of review sites…

TripAdvisor 300x176 CMA to investigate review sites to see if they are misleading consumersEver used TripAdvisor to check a hotel or restaurant? Checked out your plumber on Checkatrade? Read a blog that reviewed the latest gizmo? All of the above are the subject of a new consultation by the Competition and Markets Authority on how information in online reviews and endorsements is used.

The CMA (which took over the things previously looked at by the Office of Fair Trading) is asking consumers, businesses and other interested parties to come forward with their views. In simple terms, the CMA, which is “committed to looking at evolving online markets”, has realised that “large numbers” of consumers read and rely upon online reviews when making purchasing decisions. These include sites like TripAdvisor and Checkatrade which do so formally, and blogs that have less formal reviews.

A lot of review sites have been accused of having misleading or downright fake reviews, with stories of hotels offering sweeteners to guests who offer good reviews on the site-as well as tales of customers trying to hold hoteliers over a barrel with the threat of a poor review. The CMA is “aware of a number of potential concerns about the trustworthiness or impartiality of information in some reviews and endorsements that is being provided to consumers” and wants to investigate if there is anything it ought to be doing something about. It is also mindful of the effect negative reviews can have on businesses, and that is why those affected by review sites are also being asked to comment.

To be honest, the CMA isn’t sure what exactly it will do if it finds Things To Be Concerned About, but possible action includes: launching a market study covering this sector, or a part of it; initiating consumer enforcement action; advocating legislative change to government; providing guidance to industry or consumers, or both; and /or seeking voluntary action from the industry. Or doing absolutely nothing.

Nisha Arora, CMA Senior Director, Consumer, said:

The information contained in online reviews and endorsements can be a powerful force in the hands of consumers. Informed consumers make better decisions, driving competition on price and quality. Businesses have always known that ‘word of mouth’ is one of the most important factors for potential customers; what online reviews and blogs do is to provide a greatly amplified version of this. However, for this sector to work well it is important that this information is genuine, relevant and trustworthy.”

More detail is available on the call for information page, and the deadline for responses to the call for information is 25 March 2015.

TripAdvisor 300x176 Are TripAdvisor blackmailers the new scourge of the internet?

You know what it’s like- you’re visiting somewhere new and you want to check out what the places to eat in, or stay at are like. While every hotel and restaurant will likely extol its own virtues, if you want an impartial assessment of the quality of a hostelry or eaterie you’ll check out Trip Advisor, right? After all. All those millions of people can’t be wrong…

However, it seems there is a growing trend for these people to be really very wrong indeed. While people’s own opinions can, by definition, not be incorrect, the actions of the new breed of TripAdvisor blackmailers can be called into question.

Research shows that even half a star’s rating can have a significant impact on the business of some hotels and restaurants, particularly if they are remote, and these unscrupulous sorts are using this to their advantage, demanding free drinks, dessert or even rooms in exchange for a guaranteed good TripAdvisor rating.

Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said that he was in talks with TripAdvisor to improve the service:

“People threatening restaurants and hotels with bad TripAdvisor reviews to extort free things is a problem which has been growing,” he said.

“People will either attempt to blackmail during the meal, or sometimes, more worryingly, people who have not even been to the restaurant will post a bad review to try to get a free meal, or a free stay in a hotel’s case. While it can be difficult to prove that somebody has blackmailed you, we would advise that business owners do not respond – or make free offers – to reviewers they suspect are malicious.”

TripAdvisor urges hoteliers who are being targeted in this way to contact them immediately as they have “procedures” to pre-empt such malicious reviews, although how effective this is in practice is perhaps questionable.

So is a TripAdvisor rating worth anything at all, or is it at least better than going in completely blind? Or are we simply suffering from too much (unreliable) opinion- as restauranteur Alex Proud put it in the Telegraph “Where once we had dozens of critics who knew what they were on about, now we have millions of critics who have no idea what they’re talking about.”

An Internet wag has fooled diners by posting 5 star reviews of a brilliant restaurant on TripAdvisor. Unfortunately though, when enthusiastic foodies they turned up with their forks twitching, they found…an alleyway full of bins in Devon.

oscars 300x199 An alleyway full of bins gets 5 stars on TripAdvisor

Bookings flooded in after countless different comments pronounced the food at non-existent Oscars in Brixham, Devon as ‘divine’ and ‘mind blowing’. Using different profiles and writing styles, the internet prankster said that Oscars served Michelin starred food which was so good ‘it bordered on sorcery’.

‘The staff will swim to get whatever fish you want’ said one of the bizarrely detailed reviews of the made-up restaurant, which was apparently in a hull of a boat and run by a couple called Colette and Alfredo.

It’s pretty elaborate stuff. But why bother? Well, the creator was moved to set up the fake accounts after a friend’s hotel was smeared on TripAdvisor by a rival, and they wanted to show how easy the site was to misuse.

In fact, it was so easy that TripAdvisor didn’t even notice it was a hoax for two months. Oops.

IMG 0371 300x225 ASA dispute TripAdvisors claim that its reviews can be trusted

A hotel room, yesterday

Love it or hate it, you simply can’t ignore it. Unless you, erm ignore it. We speak, of course, of TripAdvisor, the website that is filled to the brim with holiday reviews by keen-eyed amateurs and the pathologically disgruntled.

But the site has ran into problems over its marketing, after the Advertising Standards Authority took issue with TripAdvisor’s claims that its reviews could be ‘trusted’. As the majority of the site’s content is user-generated, and isn’t verified, the ASA came to the conclusion that ‘trusted’ is a powerful word that had been misused by the site’s operators.

Two hotels and and an ‘online reputation firm’ called Kwikchex complained about the manner of TrustAdvisor, sorry TripAdvisor’s marketing spiel, which is probably fair enough when a hotel’s reputation and profitability can be hampered by the online witterings of some keyboard warrior who had a dripping tap in his room.

We’re not sure how the site is supposed to pimp its services from now on. Might we suggest: ‘TripAdvisor: You DO realise that most of this stuff is written by headcases don’t you?’

Before we head off on holiday, many of us consult one or more of the many travel review sites that are filled with praise or gripes from delighted or disgusted holidaymakers. One of the ones you might like to avoid is – that’s because it could be filled with false positive reviews courtesy of

Avid reader Tom tells us…

I got back from a holiday last week that I booked with

Over the weekend they sent me the below email which I thought might interest/amuse you. They are offering me £25 off of my next holiday to write a POSITIVE review. I think this is a bit of a joke. Fortunately, we had a great holiday and I would have written a positive review, but I don’t like that they are encouraging people to publish positives where there might not be any! My girlfriend and I spent hours trawling through review sites, looking for the best holiday (based on reviews and value for money) that we could find and I would have been massively pissed off if the holiday had been worse that the reviews that we read.

Here’s a screengrab of the email in question…

Screen shot 2011 09 13 at 12.21.01 Are paying punters to post positive reviews?

Astroturfing at its murkiest. So don’t forget to take those online reviews with a large pinch of salt from now on, eh readers?

Bitterwallet woman refusing food If you only buy one photographic print of a woman rejecting a plate of food this year...

Picture 12 If you only buy one photographic print of a woman rejecting a plate of food this year...

[Amazon] thanks to avid Bitterwallet reader Emma

This is getting quite worrying. The Next tablet PC is clearly a lot of junk according to everyone who’s tried it; nobody seems to have a good word to say about it. We’ve happily made it the booby prize in our birthday competition, but the concern is for Android fans that this type of product (unfairly) drags the OS into the gutter. On a wider level, cheap tablets like this aren’t going to do the market any favours.

Following yesterday’s review, here’s the marvellous Rory Cellan-Jones putting the Next tablet PC to the test. At least, he would if he could get past the homepage:

CiaoLogo 300x118 Why some product reviews are as valuable as a chocolate fireguardUser generated content is a wonderful thing; websites and the like receive their content for free, while contributors feel they’re adding to the greater good. Whether the third party in this circle – the passive consumer – finds any value in the content, is quite another matter.

We draw your attention to Ciao!, Microsoft’s price comparison site, and this unbelievably detailed review… of a bag of Minstrels. The author is a faultless investigator, and leaves no stone unturned in discovering the truth:

The most common packet of Minstrels is the 42g packs. Each packet contains close to 16 Minstrels (I have actually found one less, or one extra in various cases). They can be found in Newsagents and local supermarkets for about 35 pence to the price of 45 pence. 10 pence difference – so look out for those deal prices!

Good grief.

The new wrappers look quite ‘classy’ in some respects. It is mainly a deep chocolatey brown and looks smooth and silky. A white text with a hint of brown spells the word ‘MINSTRELS’ in the centre of the packet. To the top left, a small Galaxy logo is present, thus now naming these: Galaxy Minstrels. Scattered around the packet are the images of deep brown Minstrels, with their shells shining slightly. To the bottom right is an example of a bitten Minstrel!

Shit the bed.

The bag opens easy enough, it’s just like opening a bag of crisps up. Once opened up, you can smell the sensational smell of Galaxy chocolate.Each Minstrel has a crisp chocolatey shell. You can also smell the sweetness from the sugar glazed shells.

Minstrels are about an inch in diameter. A minstrel is the same shape as a Smartie. Minstrels are bigger than average Smarties however (unless compared to giant smarties, where they are about the same).

Go to the pub, for crying out loud.

I have only ever had one problem with these – this was many years ago when the Minstrels tasted very strange and horrible. But don’t let that put you off.

We won’t. Actually, it’s quite wonderful that somebody would care so much to focus their energies on an entirely unnecessary product review. Make time in your day to read the rest of the reviews by the same author - KP Chocolate Dips, for instance:

You will see white chocolate smothered on the underside of the foil lid as you peel it off, and you may want to lick it off.

Now, what’s this…!? Inside you will see that the carton is split in to 2 compartments down the middle. The other half is chocolate. One half a sections holding roughly 10 stick like biscuits, less than an inch wide. Hum, that means we should have about a compartment of chocolate that reaches to the bottom of the carton then! Right!? Wrong!

It really is the gift that keeps giving.

Hoteliers have been getting quite the arse concerning TripAdvisor lately. Now, according to the Blackpool Gazette, one owner appears to have taking matters further, by apparently evicting two guests for penning a bad review while he was still staying there – even though the guest denies ever writing it. To be fair, the Golden Beach Hotel already had a lousy score as far as TripAdvisor is concerned, and given that it’s over a mile from the sea, you’ll probably require reasonable eyesight to see a beach, golden or otherwise.

In this instance, the proprietor clearly felt the timing and detail in the review identified the occupants, who was two days into a three day booking:

Picture 25 TripAdvisor review see guests chucked out of Blackpool hotelBut what can a hotel manager do about a poor review? Apparently, they can phone the police – Blackpool’s finest turned up at the Golden Beach Hotel and asked the occupant to leave. Guests ejected, the hotel manager then jumped onto TripAdvisor himself:

Picture 33 TripAdvisor review see guests chucked out of Blackpool hotel

So a bad review equates to “bad behavior” and the need for police involvement, even when the guest denies writing it? The story will no doubt go viral in the next day or two, meaning a knee-jerk reaction to criticism may cost the Golden Beach in Hotel more than a lost booking.

IMG 0371 TripAdvisor braced for legal action from huffed hotels

A low-quality hotel

If you’re planning a trip away, the TripAdvisor website acts as a good guide as to whether you’ll be holidaying in luxury or a rat-addled hell-hole. But where there’s a hit, there’s a writ and it was only a matter of time before legal action was threatened against TripAdvisor and that time is now.

Over 300 hotels are preparing themselves to take on TripAdvisor, unhappy at comments left on the site by disgruntled customers. They’re saying that some comments are untrue and damaging to their business or “legally unsubstantiated”.

The hotels, believed to be located mostly in the UK and US, have enlisted the help of KwikChex a British ‘reputation management service’ and their CEO Chris Emmins says: “We have decided to present TripAdvisor with a list of the worst specific cases, plus a general call to correct certain aspects next week, together with a formal notice of action which means that we will add to the list as we clear them.”

Looks like TripAdvisor might have to take on a couple of extra members of staff over the next few weeks…


Most people I know will glance at TripAdvisor before booking a hotel, but they won’t treat it as gospel. That said, if TripAdvisor goes so far as to promote a guide to the filthiest hotels in the world, travellers are going to sit up and take notice. And it won’t just be those checking in who are curious.

Picture 4 Dirty hotels, dirty tricks? TripAdvisor guide under fire
So it’s unsurprising to learn there’s already talk of hotels suing TripAdvisor for its 2010 Dirtiest Hotels list, which gives the lowdown on the shoddiest shacks around the the world. According to the Independent:

“At least one of the hotels named on the list said it was considering legal action against TripAdvisor, claiming the comments were based on out-dated observations made before a major refurbishment. Another London hotelier included on the list, who asked not to be identified, said he had received cancellations since being named.”

It’s not as if TripAdvisor could have feigned surprise when hoteliers took exception; there have been numerous claims that fake reviews are passing by both their automated and manuals checks and balances – not only are some companies offering a paid service to to post fake reviews, but TripAdivisor has flagged the issue themselves.

Companies offering fake review service to hotels

January 22nd, 2010 2 Comments By Paul Smith

picture 71 Companies offering fake review service to hotelsIf you’re needing some pocket money in these cash-strapped times, why not form a covert business that offers to post positive reviews on travel websites? Industry know-it-alls Travolution report that hotel chains and managers are receiving constant offers to have fake reviews posted on TripAdvisor and other sites in return for a monthly fee. The companies claim that the content will be posted from around the world to ensure it doesn’t appear suspicious.

Senior management at TripAdvisor said the integrity of its reviews was protected through a screening process, in-house technology and the community reporting suspicious activity. The website also pointed out its staff are aware of several companies engaged in posting false reviews and has already penalised the hotels involved.

That said, one hotel owner quoted mentions a particular hotel he knew of received several reviews before it had even opened to the public. And it seems the TripAdvisor members can spot an alleged fake even if the management can’t – one recent commenter in the forums points to this hotel review, noting that nearly all the five star ratings have been the result of a first review by newly registered individuals. The fiends.


Wanted – online review makes customer an outlaw

September 1st, 2009 No Comments By Paul Smith

picture 3 Wanted   online review makes customer an outlawSocial recommendations are all the rage and have been for years – Amazon have built their business on them (even if they haven’t figured out that spamming customers isn’t a good thing) and plenty of web 2.0 companies are creating networks based on our opinions of the servies we use. Two of the biggest sites of this type are Qype and Yelp – users submit reviews of restaurants, shops and bars which create a reasonably comprehensive overview of a neighbourhood and what it has to offer, for better or worse.

Not everyone likes social recommendations, however – in particular the businesses that are being reviewed. One such business – an antique store in San Francisco – took a so-so write-up rather badly. One customer reviewed the shop called Perish Trust last December, pointing out that while the shop was very inviting, one of the pieces purchased took a substantial amount of effort to clean, and given the significant mark-up this probably shouldn’t have been the case. Fair enough.

The reviewer didn’t go into the shop again until a fortnight ago – eight months later – at which point the infuriated owner produced a Wanted poster of the individual featuring their Yelp profile picture, and warned that all the other stores in the neighbourhood knew of her antics, making it clear she was no longer welcome there. Since the story reached the press however, the shop owner has had an attack of the humble pie and offered to make amends. Odd that.


41glbyfzngl aa280  More Amazon review greatness   all hail the Three Wolf Moon t shirtOne of the many wonders of the internet is how, every now and again, a bunch of people latch on to an Amazon product and rag the life out of it with sarcastic but beautifully-crafted reviews.

In case you’ve missed some of the best ones from the recent past, we recommend the 20” canvas picture of Paul Ross, the black Bic ballpoint pen and the Playmobil security checkpoint – hours of fun there for you.

The latest addition to the hall of indisputable greatness is the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt – a garment you’d be proud to wear to any social occasion. Among the glowing praise the t-shirt has received are such succinct tributes as…

“After wearing it for a day, in the hot sun, my back sweated out what appeared to be the face of our Lord and Savior. I brought it to a friend of mine and his assumption was that the cloth must have been from the shroud of Turin.”

“I bought the three-wolf shirt for protection. And let me tell you, it’s a blessing. I put it on straight out of the box and now pigs run when they see me coming.”

“OK, so I thought, whatever – wolf shirt with moon – no big deal, but it’ll go nice with my blue/grey/black camouflage pants. But lo and behold, my supernumerary nipple disappeared!! Go Wolf shirt!!”

But it’s not all positive stuff. Witness…

“As I wolf I am incensed at the commercialization of my image. It perpetuates the strong wild virile myth of wolves. I think I can speak for all wolves in the desecration of our sacred lunar ritual of howling at the moon. That someone would wear our faith as an adornment, it just make me want to rip their throats out and gorge myself on their naughty bits.”

There’s around 130 reviews there at the time of writing. You might want to read them all before you decide if you want to buy the t-shirt or not.