Posts Tagged ‘tripadvisor’
With fake reviews very much in the news following the news that Amazon has plans to sue over 1,000 fake reviewers, our dear friends over at Which!!! have decided to put the integrity of TripAdvisor under the spotlight and have sent in some “undercover researchers” to expose the sites flaws. And they have found some.
But why have Which!!! targetted TripAdvisor? Well, in a survey of nearly 900 of their subscribers, 85% said they trusted reviews on TripAdvisor. Which means it’s even more important that these reviews are reliable and trustworthy. However, owing to the fact that TripAdvisor don’t verify the identity of reviewers, and that reviews aren’t validated or even checked by a real person unless it has already been flagged, Which!!! theorised it would be comfortably possible to post fake ones.
Additionally, rumours abound that certain, less honest of establishments would actually pay actual money for fake reviews to help them climb the slippery slope of TripAdvisor ratings- evidence showed that a single favourable or rubbish review can cause a listing to jump or plummet dozens of places, and this can be lucrative- research by Cornell University in New York found that even a small lift in TripAdvisor’s rankings increased a hotel’s per-room revenue. So it’s serious business.
As a result, and in the name of espionage, Which!!! successfully posted a series of fake listings and reviews in a test of the popular site TripAdvisor. They didn’t just post fake reviews, Which!!! submitted three hoax listings to the site, and wrote 54 fake reviews about them. Every one of our listings was published along with 18 of the 54 reviews.
While the watchdog’s investigation proves it’s possible to create fake listings, which they claim could lead to ‘accommodation fraud’, in which non-existent establishments solicit payments from unwitting travellers, this is not breaking news, as an Italian newspaper did the same thing earlier this year
Ultimately, Which!!! admit that two of their listings were “merely” flagged for suspicious activity, and only a quarter of their fake reviews actually made it on to the site. So the system isn’t prefect, but perhaps it is adequate- TripAdvisor claims its sophisticated fraud-detection tools ultimately identified and removed 90% of the fake reviews Which!!! submitted although some were removed after they were initially published. TripAdvisor’s own study also says that 93% of users felt the reviews they read accurately reflected their experiences.
So what do you think? Is TripAdvisor a valid and useful tool when researching travek and leisure options or is it all a load of bunkum?
Ever 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.
A couple went to a hotel in Blackpool and they didn’t have a nice time. So, like many disgruntled customers, they complained about it on the internet. After leaving a critical TripAdvisor review, they found themselves being fined £100.
Tony and Jan Jenkinson left some negative comments on the review site after being thoroughly unimpressed with their stay at the Broadway Hotel. Later, when checking their credit card bill, they found an erroneous £100 charge. The hotel, it turns out, has a policy where they take money from you for bad review.
Of course, the Trading Standards are now investigating as it looks like The Broadway Hotel has breached unfair trading practice regulations.
If you look at the hotel’s policy, which is contained in the booking document, it says: “Despite the fact that repeat customers and couples love our hotel, your friends and family may not. For every bad review left on any website, the group organiser will be charged a maximum £100 per review.”
You can almost admire the cheek.
If it is in the t&cs, then what is the excuse of the Jenkinsons? Well, when Mrs Jenkinson signed the papers, she didn’t have her glasses on so she couldn’t read the small print. Mr Jenkinson isn’t having any of that though. He is vowing to fight the fee, and told the BBC: “Annoyed isn’t strong enough for how I feel about this, what happened to freedom of speech? Everybody we have spoken to says they (the hotel) are not allowed to do this.”
Councillor John McCreesh, cabinet member for trading standards, said: “Customers need to be free to be honest about the service they’re getting. Other customers depend upon it. Hotel owners should focus on getting their service right rather than shutting down aggrieved customers with threats and fines.”
“People should have the right to vent their disappointment if a hotel stay did not meet their expectations and should not be prevented from having their say.”
Oh dear. Over on TripAdvisor, a seemingly nice lady called Mary Johnston has signed herself as a place, rather than a user, and as a result of mischief, become the 87th most popular place in Glasgow.
As the screengrab below shows, the page poses the existential question of “Have you been to Mary Johnston?” You can also update her “attraction details” and find out which restaurants are near to Mary.
You can see the page here, but it’ll probably get removed once a load of people take the joke too far and start calling her horrible names.
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.
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.
Few of us go further than the local chippy these days without first consulting Tripadvisor to try and gauge what sort of perils might lie in store for us. But the best bits on the hotel and resort review site are the ones where the reviewer is clearly nuts. For example..
And now some helpful sort is in the process of collating the finest ones and archiving them on one blog. Make yourself a cup of tea/coffee/juice/milk/water/lager/vodka and sit down for ten minutes with TripAdvisaargh…
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?’
TripAdvisor? FibAdvisor more like. See, thousands of hotels are claiming that the travel website isn’t checking its reviews, leaving up articles that are misleading or defamatory.
As such, they’re being investigated by advertising watchdog ASA after receiving a complaint from KwikChex.com on behalf of thousands of hotels that is essentially saying that reviews aren’t above board.
KwikChex.com – a company that helps companies manage their online reputations – has been gunning for TripAdvisor for a while over fake reviews, and now the ASA have launched a formal investigation into the very thing that underpins its business.
The company claims that, with them, “you’ll find real hotel reviews you can trust”. If this transpires to not be the case, they’re in trouble.
Kwikchex’s complaint is that TripAdvisor are not verify any of the 50m reviews, and the travel company will have to somehow prove that the reviews are the real deal to the ASA. No easy task.
As a consumer, you have to take customer reviews with a pinch of salt anyway, so could this be the first in a line of companies suing sites for the reviews of non-paid customers?
So it’s holiday time again, and those pesky statisticians are telling us that more and more people have left it late to book a holiday this year, after uncertainty over job security and having the money to go. So if you are looking at booking a break now, perhaps you will be turning to the trusty TripAdvisor to help you find the best places to go?
Back in January we reported on the increasing number of hotelier complaints over false or misleading reviews, including Dragon Duncan Bannatyne, but now, thanks to The Times, there is more murkiness to be found. Not only can you leave a review if you are not a real person, but are merely in PR*, but you can also get paid in kind for leaving bogusly lovely reviews following reports that some hotels are offering bribes to customers.
TripAdvisor is sold as an independent source of advice on accommodation and restaurants all over the world, receiving 25 contributions, including reviews, photos and forum posts, every minute. Its own website boasts “More than 40 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travelers around the world”. Putting aside the cynic who wonders how a hotel review site owned by a company that sells hotel rooms (Expedia Inc.) can possibly be independent, the hospitality industry is struggling with ‘honest’ reviews from ‘real travelers’. American ones, obviously.
TripAdvisor prides itself on ease of contribution- anyone can do it, all you need is an e-mail address and username, which can be entirely anonymous. Unlike reviews on sites like Laterooms.com, there is no need to have actually booked a hotel through the website, which critics say is what leaves the site open to abuse.
Adam Raphael, editor of The Good Hotel Guide, told The Times that he believes as many as half of all reviews on TripAdvisor are ‘collusive’, written by hotel owners or their friends and family, and that reviews are not checked in the way TripAdvisor protests. “I have posted several obviously bogus reviews to test the site. I picked the worst hotel I could imagine and wrote a totally over-the-top review of how brilliant it was, using a bogus name, bogus e-mail address and bogus postal address. It was so obviously bogus that if we received it at our Guide we would have thrown it straight in the bin. TripAdvisor posted it on the site within 12 hours.”
But aside from suggestions of PRs ‘doing their job’ for hotel clients, by leaving great reviews for their own clients as well as bad reviews for competitors, a new way of skewing the system has emerged. According to reports, some hotels are now offering guests bribes in exchange for good reviews on the site.
One such hotel allegedly using this practice is the Cove Hotel in Cornwall who are accused of offering meal discounts and free room upgrades to guests who left “honest but positive” reviews on the site. Lee Magner, the owner of the Cove Hotel, denied misusing the website, saying “in no way are we paying people to put positive reviews on TripAdvisor.” However, he then spoiled his indignant denial by adding “We are merely rewarding their loyalty.”
Our January poll showed that almost 65% of you, our lovely readers, confessed to regularly using TripAdvisor, along with a dash of common sense. I wonder whether common sense would now suggest taking a seriously large pinch of salt with those reviews…
*OK, people working in PR are technically still people. Just.
Looking for a hostel in Amsterdam? No need to read up about the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel on TripAdvisor – the hotel’s website will leave you in no doubt what to expect when you check-in:
Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, Amsterdam services and amenities include:
• A basement bar with limited light and no fresh air.
• A concrete courtyard where you can relax and enjoy whatever sunshine is able to pass the high buildings on either side on the extremely infrequent days when it’s actually sunny.
• An elevator that almost never breaks down between floors.
• A bar serving slightly watered down beer.
• Amusing witticisms and speculations about former guests’ sexual preferences scrawled on most surfaces.
• The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, Amsterdam Luxury Ambassadorial Suite (featuring the Hans Brinker’s one and only bath-tub).
• Doors that lock.
All of which goes to explain why a bed will cost you as little as £20 per night. As for Hans Brinker’s TripAdvisor rating, in case you’re still interested – it scores 58% overall, with reviews ranging in typical TripAdvisor style from “the best hotel in the world” to “this is the worst hotel ever”.
Another day, another massive security breach by a large online organisation. Yesterday it was play.com and today it’s travel review behemoth TripAdvisor. They’ve told their registered members that a ‘portion’ of their email list has been pilfered. How ‘large’ a ‘portion’ this is we do not know as there are 20 million email addresses in their database.
TripAdvisor are being fairly vague about most of the fine details and have only said that the theft of the addresses happened ‘recently’ – although they have confirmed that it was email addresses only and that no credit card numbers or other financial info has been plundered.
They have warned members that they may receive some ‘unsolicited emails’ as a result of the incident – we don’t know whether or not those emails might come from BangCD or even someone pretending to be BangCD.
That the email addresses have gone missing hasn’t come as a surprise to some people – according to a tnooz report, most technical staff at TripAdvisor used to have access to all files, making their system a datastealer’s paradise.
Tut tut, TripAdvisor. Tut tut tut.
There’s a lot of stuff and nonsense about TripAdvisor flying around today, after the Guardian published an extensive article that said much the same thing three times over. At the nub of it was the fact that hoteliers still aren’t happy with the hotel review site and are still considering legal action, while TripAdvisor are still holding their ground.
There is a little more to it than that; there’s the commentator who points out that some people are never happy – even when offered the opulence of five star accommodation, they will piss and moan about the ripeness of their breakfast watermelon and leave a one star review as a result. The point is that the views of the ludicrous carry as much weight as the views and the reasonable and sane, and it’s left to consumers to figure out which are which.
Other issues are more difficult to deal with; the fact that PR agencies can be employed to astroturf the site – not only planting positive reviews about their client’s hotels, but leaving negative reviews about competitors. Perhaps the more interesting claim came from TripAdvisor themselves with regards to Duncan Bannatyne; that “in the case of Bannatyne’s hotels we have had several worrying examples of individuals being intimidated by Bannatyne and his hotel representatives.”
Ultimately, the article doesn’t answer the question that matters – for all its faults, are consumers ultimately better off with or without TripAdvisor? We’re fans of the site, but then we’re also able to prevent ourselves plunging our hand in boiling pots of water and stepping out in front of moving traffic. In other words, we don’t live our lives by it – it’s just one source of information alongside many others.
So over to you, the avid Bitterwallet reader and occasional traveller. What do you make of TripAdvisor? Place your vote and comments below.