Bribery and Corruption- no its not the NOTW, it's TripAdvisor.com

18 July 2011

who's keeping an eye on whom?

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.

TOPICS:   Travel   Consumer Advice

13 comments

  • Rob
    "Author of competing product slags off competition shocker." I imagine The Good Hotel Guide's sales are well down considering TripAdvisor is free to use ... and where's the independent analysis of his product ? ... at least TripAdvisor allows other users to add their "ten cents" to the reviews . I use TA all the time and it's usually spot-on, whereas the last time I used a book, the hotel had been knocked down ... it was quite an old book, mind.
  • M4RKM
    Hotel Upgrades for a favourable review.. yup. I've had that a few times before, and a discount on the standard room rate.. Just have to ask and point them to the nice review I left them. Thing is, if you're a normal person, you'll see through the awesome and awful reviews, and make your own judgement. Bit like scoring in the ice skating where they cut of the top and bottom scores, and you get an average out of the rest. I'm all for discounts and upgrades, I'm just a regular user, and not in PR.. help someone out, and they help me out.
  • Steve
    I've used Trip Advisor several times in the past and found it pretty spot on. If people offering dodgy accomodation object to reviews maybe they should look to rectify the problems/issues people are complaining about. That said, I'd never use just one website and any review site that shows only positive reviews (ie that BestOf... Franchise thing) is set to fail. Recently I found a review site full of glowing reviwes for a local resturant that I never saw a single customer in for the whole 6 months they were open, they've now closed funnily enough, however the review site was full of reviews of how busy it was and how people had been lucky to get in and that the food was just fantastic. All were clerly written by the same person, it was funny but I don't think anyone would've been swayed by it.
  • MrRobin
    Of course there's a level of 'astroturf' reviews going on in TA, but 50% is extremely unlikely. But then Adam Raphael would say that to turn people off TA and buy his books, which are obviously 100% objective, I'm sure...
  • Mark C.
    I imagine that offering upgrades and meals in exchange for good reviews probably doesn't skew things too badly, as anyone sufficiently incensed to want to leave a bad review is unlikely to want to revisit the place to claim any freebies on offer.
  • The H.
    This is a perfect example of the media trying to create a story, from nothing. It should be clearly stated that our hotel has received countless rave reviews from recognised publications such as The Times who recently voted us No 5 in their top 20 British Rooms , The Guardian in their Top 10 Hotels of the Decade, The Telegraph and countless other national publications. It should also be duly noted that The Cove Cornwall received its Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor on May 27th nearly 1 month prior to the set up of their Friends of The Cove Scheme. Why then should be have been in need of "bribing" customers to post positive reviews on their site? It simply makes no sense! The press are forever themselves creating "incentives" for their readers to endorse their name and products to increase their customer reach. All we were trying to achieve, was to thank our loyal return customers, Brand Champions in a tangible manner. Also, the quoted statement made by the owner Lee,Magner, used by both The Sunday Mirror & The Daily Mail are inaccurate. We would very much like to see this problem resolved and are more than happy to respond to any and all queries.
  • Malcolm H.
    Our company is to sue TripAdvisor over false reviews on their website, we have retained a lawyer experienced in defamatory and Slanderous cases. We own a holiday resort in Gran Canaria, we had planed for a year to renovate the resort, work to be done involved the city and we were given two weeks notice to start the work, we asked our booking agents to relocate our clients, which we can do as per our terms and conditions, one client who was relocated, slandered our resort with a false statement, with a heading " DO NOT BOOK THIS PLACE" the client claimed we took their money and did not care, they said we sent them rude e mails which was not true, the clients were relocated and filed a glowing review on the hotel they were moved to, they said that we would not tell our worse enemy to stay at our resort. we have done nothing wrong but have been damaged by these slanderous remarks and TripAdvisor refuses to remove the untrue review.
  • Tim S.
    Im surprised this debate is still going on, having read many of the various review's positive and negative on TripAdvisor and also having visited the hotels for which these review's are based, it is clear to me TA is not credible.. Hotels should be asking their guests when checking out "How did you find your stay?" and any genuine complaints dealt with and commendations accepted and shown to staff (everyone likes to be thanked when they have done well) this to me seems a better option than having to respond to TA review's that may not be from real guests.. Hotels and any business for that matter need to start taking some control back about how they deal with feedback and stop chasing after these OTA sites.
  • Martin
    Do they actually check the reviews before being posted? If not why does it take 24 hours or so before they go live. Because on this review the holiday-maker openly states that they haven't been to the hotel, yet the review has been accepted. Idiots. http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g293734-d2177899-r115496184-Pickalbatros_Aqua_Fun_Club-Marrakech.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT '“going to aqua fun club 20/7/11”'
  • La R.
    TripAdvisor claim that they do check reviews, but this is not true, it takes 24 hours because they have no staff doing it. but it takes a management response 2 weeks to be posted. last week I had a client call who had stayed at one of our hotels, he told me that having see all this going on, he would post a review.. no prompting, just a genuine review, that is 10 days ago and its not been posted. We also had a bad review on one of our hotel that had been closed for 3 months.
  • Loafer1946
    I have noticed that some hotels have a huge variation in reviews either crap or glowing, nothing in between. The glowing ones are often in PR speak as well.
  • David A.
    Trip Advisor fails to follow its own policies. After not giving in to an attempt of extortion, nonguest filed 3 negative reviews. That is fine with TA. The site is an absolute joke. They even asked us to renew our membership! We declined
  • Top C.
    [...] that friends and family of hoteliers  write positive reviews with a conflict of interest (link here for [...]

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